Trayvon Martin: A Victim of Institutional Racism

Lenice C. Emanuel, CEO of YWCA Tampa Bay

On February 26, in Sanford, Fla., Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, is believed to have been killed because of racial profiling. It is of little significance that the alleged perpetrator, George Zimmerman, considers himself a minority. It does, however, poignantly underscore the powerful and systemic implications of institutional racism, defined by William McPherson as “the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their color,
culture or ethnic origin.”

For example, Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, established in 2005, reflects the type of statute that fuels institutional racism, because its application can be based on factors that reinforce negative stereotypes. Racial profiling, all too often, leads to negative actions against its target. The “Stand Your Ground” law exacerbates conditions that minimize the value and rights of marginalized groups and individuals, and can serve as a license to kill given an individual’s racial biases and stereotypes.

In retrospect, Zimmerman’s reported behavior is indicative of an often-unyielding need of those who see themselves as superior to assume psychological postures consistent with that perceived superiority. Adherence to this type of thinking becomes ingrained in the human psyche, leading to behavior that is often inhumane. Be it a physical manifestation, as in the case of Trayvon Martin, or the incessant psychological assaults endured by people of color, countless people living as “black” in America suffer such offenses each day as a matter of course.

YWCA Tampa Bay’s mission of eliminating racism remains critical as hate groups and hate crimes continue to flourish in the United States. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are 1,002 known hate groups across the country, 55 of which operate in the state of Florida. Our organization works daily to combat racism, through the delivery of our anti-bias curriculum, which is taught in our preschool centers to over 300 children annually, and our advocacy efforts, such as our April 27 Stand Against Racism, an annual event that aims to eliminate racism by increasing awareness. People of all ethnicities and backgrounds should speak out against racial injustice and join with the YWCA in its mission of promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.