03/05/2012 14:10 BST | Updated 03/07/2012 06:12 BST

Zimmerman: Ignorance and Nuance

The name Robert Zimmerman impacted on the international popular consciousness in the second half of the last century. It's a name associated with appraisal of the times; they were "a-changing." It was given to a native of a Lake Superior city, a slight Jewish lad who matured into a colossus of American song. He honoured Smokey Robinson by dubbing him America's "finest poet," even though -- a bit like Sinatra saying Tony Bennett was the "greatest singer" -- young Mr. Zimmerman was the finest poet himself. Texts devoted to Smokey Robinson's lyrics are not as evident in bookshops as tomes of Robert Zimmerman's are, abounding with visceral writings like "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," the story of a racist murder at the hands of a wealthy tobacco farmer. Still revered as a prophetic wordsmith and visionary songwriter, Bob has brought prestige to his family name. Is it at all possible that there is anything like a genealogical connection between this Robert Zimmerman and the other? As is often the case there is another: the other Robert's impact on the international consciousness is inconsequential. He appears to have served his country first as a soldier in Vietnam, Korea and at the Pentagon, and later as a magistrate. His impact on the international consciousness has been indirect. It is his son George who has imbrued the Zimmerman brand this century, associating it with apparent ignorance and ostensibly racist murder.

Interesting word ignorance: It means 'not knowing,' but our regular use of it is infused with an attitude that implies something else: danger, repugnance, bigotry. Information is presumed unavailable to the ignoramuses. Their plight is that of deprived unfortunates who have been denied vital insights. The word should be applied with compassion: it is unfortunate that the ignorant are denied knowledge. Yet the word is used to cast 'ignoramii' on the scrapheap. It is delivered with damnation, permitting its users superiority to their targets. Yet, Trayvon Martin was ignorant: ignorant of where his sweet tooth would lead him one fateful night. Zimmerman can be called ignorant too, but is ignorant adequate?

The headshot of a sulky, bloated, 'be-zitted' sad sack in orange overalls has appeared everywhere- a deeply unprepossessing image. He looks as if he has crammed Wendy's and Dunkin Donuts into his system for too long. Against the devastating youthfulness of the deceased Trayvon Martin - and that abhorrent phone call - it becomes the countenance of a racist psychopath. In this media age, is such an image an asset or a liability to a defence team? Or is it just fuel to the chattering classes on social networks? How could this fright of a face be allowed to get away with the alleged second-degree murder of a cute black kid in the greatest show (country) on earth? But since he turned himself in, pleading not guilty, armed with a behindhand apology to Trayvon's parents, another term has become applicable to Zimmerman's story. "Nuanced."

Images of a healthier looking Zimmerman have been circulating, cleaner looking and heavy on the contrition: smiling teen Zimmerman in kitchen, younger Zimmerman altar boy. He has been well mannered and agreeable on television, in court. The media's depiction of the re-humanisation of Zimmerman could mean the establishment of reasonable doubt is under way: Reuters in the US has apparently gone to great lengths to report on Zimmerman's nuances. The report from Reuters states that "a more nuanced portrait has emerged." News sites have seized upon the nuanced story that does much to say the incident wasn't racist. The article even advises us that Zimmerman's grandmother was hospitalised shortly before Zimmerman took Trayvon Martin's life, and that Zimmerman's father was troubling with a heart condition. Diminished responsibility anyone?

I for one would appreciate the emergence of a nuanced portrait of the innocent young life abruptly curtailed by this nuanced gunman. It is of course not for this 'bloggard' to say, but Trayvon Martin wasn't packing. He wasn't a criminal. He was walking and apparently running away, while the man who would shortly take his life- for being "high on drugs or sumptin-" stalked him. His stalker was advised not to follow by the police. In light of some burglaries that had recently menaced his gated community (what kind of gated community is so accessible to burglars?) maybe Zimmerman was right to contact the police. Everything that happened after he ignored their advice should be on him.

It could well be that the world wouldn't need to know how nuanced or ignorant Zimmerman was if he'd listened.