The announcement of a celebrity boxing match between George Zimmerman, and rap-star DMX, has generated quite a lot of anger. The Nation‘s Mychal Denzel Smith does not mince words about how disgusted it makes him feel. The backlash is well-warranted. The very notion of a celebrity match involving Zimmerman normalizes something very unpleasant. He has become a B-List star for killing a black teenager, Trayvon Martin, in a bout of vigilante justice.

That is just the surface. What does it say about America that the slogans of “justice for Trayvon” are being channeled into a heavily-publicized media event? This was clearly well thought out on the part of the event’s organizers. They saw a demand for Zimmerman to be brought to justice, in the bloodiest fashion possible, and have decided to capitalize on that desire. I have no doubt that they see it as a win-win scenario. Zimmerman gets beat up a bit, the audience is happy, and they make money. Everyone wins.

There is a lot more going on, though. The organizers only spotted potential for the match because of a structural problem. Cases like Martin’s murder often remind Americans, especially if they’re black, that they cannot trust state institutions to deliver on their needs for substantive justice. The criminal justice system is so fractured that even after Zimmerman’s criminal trial, no one walked away feeling as though the law was being upheld. Their ongoing demand for justice remained, and it was seized upon as a sensational money-making endeavor.

That sensationalism cannot be understated. DMX is fighting Zimmerman, but names like The Game were also floated. These choices are very meticulous. The main reason that Martin garnered so much media attention is because he looked powerless, as a skinny black teenager without threatening features like a beard or tattoos. People following the case projected children in their own communities on him, as well as their own weaknesses, and felt violated when Zimmerman evaded prison. Organizers are following up on this by choosing the paragons of modern black masculinity, hardcore gangsta rappers, to fight the man.

The promise is that for the duration of the match, black America and its allies can project themselves onto fighters like DMX. They can feel as though they are beating a torn social fabric senseless, and get cathartic joy from seeing it bleed in the boxing ring. Even Zimmerman’s supporters can join in on the fun, what with DMX seeming exactly like the “thuggish” caricatures of Martin that were circulated around conservative media. Then, everyone in the audience can feel relieved, with their collective outrage being channeled into a media event.

That is the most sinister part of this match. It promises to be profitable because it manages to be an outlet for much deeper wounds in American society. It is meant to be a twisted gladiator match, where every blow that the two men land on each other will be simultaneously enjoyed and felt by the rest of us.

 

Photograph courtesy of Curtis Gregory Perry. Published under a Creative Commons Licence.