What do the deaths of Sanford, Fla., teenager Trayvon Martin, Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi and former Marine Kenneth Chamberlain have in common? The fact that they are perceived as “the other” by mainstream society, due to the fact that they were not white (Martin and Chamberlain) or straight (Clementi).
It is this “otherness” which compels people to dismiss their deaths as acts of racism and homophobia. Racism and other phobias have evolved into the demonization of “the other,” a reflection and byproduct of changing demographics, and the inability of those to adapt to these changes due to either fear or the wish to return to the “good old days.”
These are not isolated incidents but a symptom of a new racism that is not perpetuated just by white but also by people of color, as in the case of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin's killer who is of Hispanic descent.
This new racism stems from the need to identify with the dominant ideal of being American, which in our society still means being heterosexual and white.
These perpetrators have internalized the new racism (and homophobia) by seeking to be a member of the dominant society and targeting individuals whom they don't consider their equals.
Examples of this disturbing trend abound in the press and are highly influenced by socio-economic factors such as education and class. In the case of Clementi, it was a young man of Indian descent who felt it was right to harass his white roommate as he felt his alleged homosexuality was his "otherness," an excuse to victimizing him.
In the shooting of Trayvon Martin, it was the same "otherness" which compelled Zimmerman,
a man of mixed heritage, to single out and target a young black boy perceived as "the other" assumes he was "up to no good."
Often people choose to believe hate crimes happen are isolated incidents and that they don’t reflect the feelings of the larger society. They prefer to define the criminal(s) as just "bad people" who are not necessarily racist or homophobic. But the reality is different and it reflects a still pervasive racism, or fear of "the other," by mainstream, white and heterosexual society.
These expressions of racism are not limited to actual killings. Every time a person thinks of the other as being less educated, or immigrants, or a from a different ethnicity, styles of dress or any reasons to justify the denomination of someone, this new racism is at work. Something we all should reflect as we see these hate crimes increasing in front of our eyes.