When a predominately white jury found the McMichaels and Bryan guilty of felony murder among other charges in the Ahmaud Arbery case, many assumed justice was served compared to the Rittenhouse verdict. The juxtaposition of images of the two trial cases conjured hope for change in our two justice systems: Rittenhouse went home, while the McMichaels and Bryan went back to jail.

The belief that the justice scales were blind and balanced in the Arbery case is confusing accountability with justice. In truth, both trials were merely opposite sides of the same coin, displaying the fragility of whiteness.

White fragility is shown in the discomfort and defensiveness when whites are asked to address front and center racial injustice—whether in the Deep South or the urban North. Not wanting to ignite white fear nor white grievance, Linda Dunikoski, the prosecutor in the McMichaels and Bryan trial, did not mention race except once in her closing argument: “The men,” Dunikoski said, attacked Mr. . Arbery “because he was a Black man running down the street.”

However, her one-sentence descriptor tapped a recurring theme: white men—like McMichaels and Bryan—chasing Black men to lynch in the Deep South. “He was trapped like a rat,” Gregory McMichael, 65, boasted to police after the shooting. William Bryant, 51, a neighbor of the McMichaels, said during his interrogation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that Travis McMichael, 35, said, “f—ing n-word” after fatally pumping three bullets into Arbery. As many Blacks know, hearing all this solid evidence does not assure a verdict.

The defense attorneys’ strategies, on the other hand, intentionally used dog whistles, racial tropes, and Georgia’s 1863 Civil War-era citizen’s arrest law to tap into white fear. During the antebellum period, the slave-catching law was for the sole purpose of returning fugitive slaves to their slave masters. The McMichaels attorney used that law to justify shooting Arbery, whose run took him into the white segregated section of town, as an imminent threat to white space and a dangerous bulgar. Greg McMichael told police he warned Arbery to stop running or would “blow your f***ing head off.”

One of the classic ways to stoke white fear and justify violence toward Arbery was to dehumanize his Blackness. Crude depictions of African Americans as ape-like, intellectually inferior, and hygienically unclean are enduring racial tropes that don’t die. Arbery was depicted running “in khaki shorts, with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails” by one of the defense attorneys. Another defense attorney attacked Black pastors, saying, “We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here… sitting with the victim’s family, trying to influence the jurors in this case.” As many Blacks know, hearing all these racist statements as defending evidence does not assure a verdict.

Dunikoski has been applauded for fighting racism, quietly. Many whites prefer racism to be spoken about softly, if at all, because it leads to the corrosive antics of silence and stalling change. Dunikoski’s strategy proved her knowledge of white fragility, and the defense attorneys displayed it.

The Rittenhouse trial, meanwhile, showed another aspect of white fragility: the damage of defensiveness.

Rittenhouse cried self-defense when he shot three white men, two of whom died during a protest in Kenosha over the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times in the back, leaving him paralyzed. (The police officer who shot Blake was acquitted too, but that’s a different trial.) Rittenhouse crossed state lines with an AR-style rifle and was acquitted of first-degree intentional homicide and four other felony charges.

Maintaining white fragility as a defense permits whites to universalize their human experience at the expense of people of color. It makes it difficult for whites to see BIPOC families reflected in theirs. The white judge and predominately white jury saw their son in Rittenhouse as a vigilante 17-year-old whose boyhood shouldn’t be ruined. In contrast, I wished the white judge and predominately white jury in the Trayvon Martin case saw their sons in him. Trayvon was 17 wearing a hoodie, holding Skittles, unarmed, and shot by the neighborhood vigilante.

White fragility also allows whites to weaponize their hurt feelings, making invisible the suffering of others. Rittenhouse sobbed during his courtroom testimony and the trial was paused by the judge – who also barred the word “victim” from being used to describe the men Rittenhouse shot but allowed the words “arsonists” or “looters.”

White fragility impedes justice. White fragility bolsters white supremacy’s bully stance against racism and its thin-skinned defensiveness to maintain it. These two court cases displayed white fragility’s modus operandi.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist, The Reverend Monroe is an ordained minister, motivational speaker and she speaks for a sector of society that is frequently invisible. Rev. Monroe does a weekly Monday segment, “All Revved Up!” on WGBH (89.7 FM), on Boston Public Radio and a weekly Friday segment “The Take” on New England Channel NEWS (NECN). She’s a Huffington Post blogger and a syndicated religion columnist. Her columns appear in cities across the country and in the U.K, and Canada. Also she writes a column in the Boston home LGBTQ newspaper Baywindows and Cambridge Chronicle. A native of Brooklyn, NY, Rev. Monroe graduated from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African-American church in New Jersey before coming to Harvard Divinity School to do her doctorate. She has received the Harvard University Certificate of Distinction in Teaching several times while being the head teaching fellow of the Rev. Peter Gomes, the Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard who is the author of the best seller, THE GOOD BOOK. She appears in the film For the Bible Tells Me So and was profiled in the Gay Pride episode of In the Life, an Emmy-nominated segment. Monroe’s coming out story is profiled in “CRISIS: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America" and in "Youth in Crisis." In 1997 Boston Magazine cited her as one of Boston's 50 Most Intriguing Women, and was profiled twice in the Boston Globe, In the Living Arts and The Spiritual Life sections for her LGBT activism. Her papers are at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College's research library on the history of women in America. Her website is irenemonroe.com. Contact the Rev. Monroe and BC.

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