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George Zimmerman Autographs are the New Lynching Photography

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George Zimmerman signed autographs at the New Orlando Gun Show last weekend.

His claim to fame? Killing Trayvon Martin.

A question. What type of person would want George Zimmerman memorabilia? What type of person would want to endorse his stalking and murdering of an unarmed teenager whose "crime" was walking home and not being sufficiently submissive to a racist, gun toting, street vigilante?

Autographs are sought from celebrities. The man or woman on the corner; the local drunk; the town loser; or the anonymous median percentile average person is not a real "star". Nor does their signature or photo have any cache or quasi magical power as a type of totem or fetish which can be channeled by its owner.

Zimmerman's autograph is a way for his fans and public to idolize him.

Zimmerman's signed photo is also a way for his supporters to be closer to him, and to "own" part of his "success" and "power".

The autograph of George Zimmerman, a man who is "famous" only because he stalked, hunted, and killed an unarmed black teenager, is for those who seek it, a validation of their right to kill and murder at will those people that they deem to be the Other and somehow "less than". The South's hyper-masculine and racialized norms of honor both legitimate and sustain such logic.  

If one cannot be the hero who slays the dragon, at least he or she can touch the blood soaked sword or keep company with their idealized selves.

Consequently, for a particularly racist and pitiable part of the (white) American public, George Zimmerman is their knight and role-model because he sanitized, cleansed, and protected his community (read: castle) from an outside (black) invader.

Trayvon Martin's literal body--black and male--was deemed suspect and a threat by virtue of its existence in the white space policed by George Zimmerman, what was a racist police action legitimated by infamous "Stand Your Ground" laws.

The black body under Jim and Jane Crow was judged a threat in the same way. Sundown Towns and other types of de facto and de jure laws and customs served White Supremacy by controlling the movement, labor, and bodies of African-Americans across the United States. When African-Americans violated those norms of White authority and power they were subjected to lynchings and other types of extra-judicial punishment.

The spectacular lynching was a ritual that was designed to purge the white body politic of what it saw as the toxic, invasive, citizenship and presence of African-Americans.

It is important to note how black Americans during Jim and Jane Crow were not killed in an efficient way such as by a bullet to the head or a knife to the throat: instead, they were tortured, dismembered, burned alive, and reduced to trinkets and prizes for the white crowds in attendance.

The recent TV show True Detective featured the satanic and ritualistic murders of girls and women. True Detective's violence was not new; it is a pale echo of the spectacular violence which was visited upon African-Americans for almost 100 years.

Lynching was a ceremony that reinforced the group position of whites over people of color. Because they were acts of group terrorism, lynchings also helped to create a cohesive and intact white community across widely divergent lines of class and property.

Ultimately, lynching was a type of magic that used racial violence to give power to white people by ceremonially taking it away from African-Americans.

The lynching of thousands of African-Americans spawned a type of national popular culture. During the 19th to 20th centuries, lynching photographs and postcards were a way for white people across the United States to enjoy the power that came with their supposed total control over and intimidation of the African-American community.

In many ways, lynching photography was one of the country's first types of mass popular culture.

The vast majority of white Americans would never attend or participate in a spectacular lynching. But, they could buy a postcard or photo of such barbaric events as a way to reinforce their full allegiance to Whiteness, and membership in what was then a still expanding and evolving notion of the "white race".

The people who buy George Zimmerman's autographs and photos are contemporary heirs to a long tradition of White Supremacist violence against people of color in the United States. It is true that Trayvon Martin was not hung from a tree, forced to eat his own genitals in order to stop the torture, or burned alive before being physically dissected for souvenirs.

However, the idea of Trayvon Martin's murder, and the symbolic power of the black male body being vanquished and killed by someone such as George Zimmerman, holds a special place in the political imagination of the American Right-wing with its gun obsessions, neo Confederate politics, "black crime" fantasies of the "knockout game", Birtherism, and twin myths of "reverse racism" and "white oppression".

The defenders of George Zimmerman--and especially those who buy Zimmerman's "art" or autographs--are worshiping their hero and his "great" feat of vanquishing a "threatening" and "uppity" black person.

In the 19th and 20th centuries such racially resentful and bigoted white people would trade and traffic in lynching photography and postcards. In the age of social and digital media this same type of person, and those who identify with them, use the Internet and cable news to circulate their idealization and hero worship of men like George Zimmerman.