The US novelist and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison says the death of Trayvon Martin in February and the way in which law enforcement agencies reacted raises the question of systemic racism.
In an interview with Guardian Weekend magazine, the 81-year-old accuses police of bending to pressure from the state attorney and killer George Zimmerman’s family under what she calls the protective cover of a corrupt system.
The shooting of Trayvon, aged 17, who was walking home through a Florida housing complex, prompted weeks of public protest culminating on Wednesday with Zimmerman, 28, a neighbourhood watch leader, being charged with second degree murder. He pleaded not guilty.
Morrison, who won the Pulitzer prize for Beloved, her novel of slavery, said: “They keep saying, we have to have a conversation about race in this country. Well, this is the conversation … The police are ill-trained and they’re corrupt, and they’re protected, and that’s what they do. All over. I don’t mean all police, but the system itself is protective. So yeah, they’re going to lie.”
She extended her criticism to the legal establishment: “[Zimmerman's] father calls up, the ex-magistrate? He calls up. Then the state prosecutor comes to the police station to talk and the lead detective wants to arrest the guy and he says no. And now we’re getting the demonisation of the kid. He was this, he was that, he wore his pants down.” Morrison says the level of racial intolerance in the US is evidenced by the language used in political discourse. References by Newt Gingrich to Barack Obama as the “food-stamp president” and by Mitt Romney to the president’s “welfare state” are, she says, hateful in their racial overtones and “embarrassing for my country”.
Morrison adds: “That [language] is very deliberate. Welfare, food stamps, gangs. They have a whole vocabulary of code. Some overt, come covert.”
Rick Santorum, who dropped out of the Republican presidential race last week, claimed to have misspoken when he referred to President Obama as “a government nig – uh?”
Morrison says: “They used to say ‘government nigger’ when black people got jobs in the post office. And that’s what he was saying. And earlier he said: ‘I don’t want to take your money and give it to bla – people.’ He catches himself right at the vowel. I guess it was worse in South Africa before [Nelson] Mandela, but I can’t do it any more.”
The election of Obama was the first time Morrison says she felt powerfully patriotic and that her country belonged to her as much as to white people.
Morrison, who won the Nobel prize in 1993 and has spent her career writing about the experiences of black Americans, is not surprised by the tone of political rhetoric in the country. But she says: “At some level, you know, it hurts. It really hurts.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Seit 1996 bin ich freier Mitarbeiter der Salzgitter-Zeitung, als Experte für das Geschehen im hiesigen Kreisfußball. Daneben sind meine Kolumnen seit 2005 fester Bestandteil im Lokalteil der Salzgitter-Zeitung. Zusammen mit Frau und Tochter sowie zwei gefräßigen wie faulen Stubentigern versuche ich das zu meistern, was das Leben, das Universum und der ganze Rest an Absurditäten für uns bereithalten.