In Your Words: George Zimmerman And To Be White And Hispanic

Courtesy of Orange County Jail

A 2005 photo of George Zimmerman.

Race looms large in the story of Trayvon Martin, a black Florida teenager shot and killed by Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman claimed self-defense in the Feb. 26 incident and hasn’t be charged with a crime. The lack of charges have led to nationwide protests by those who believe Zimmerman would have been charged had Martin not been black.

But how much does the race of the shooter matter in the story? Zimmerman’s father is identified as white and his mother as Hispanic. Many believe Zimmerman racially profiled Martin, but Zimmerman’s family has used his ethnic heritage as a defense against such claims.

A number of you weighed in on the role of race in the story and the complexity of racial identity for Hispanics, who are considered a minority group in the United States. C_vs writes that Hispanic is an ethnicity, referring to “people of various backgrounds who are united by the Spanish language and Latin-American culture.” But Hispanics can be of any race.

Laribos writes that the Martin case highlights the need for more nuanced ways to identify Hispanics:

… As Latinos continue to increase in numbers and political power in the USA, I believe that we will need to get used to making this distinction between Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic whites.  As it currently is, we US Americans are so used to assuming that “white” refers exclusively to Anglo-Saxon or Nordic white people.  Now, we need to get rid of that assumption, and comprehend the complexity of white/European identity.  Not all white people in the USA are descended from northern/western Europeans; there are also millions of white people whose ancestors come from Latin America (but whose ancestors’ ancestors originally came from Spain/Portugal/other parts of Europe).

So yeah, it’s not so popular yet for US Americans to talk about “White Latinos” or “White Hispanics” or “Mestizos” in the national discourse, but again, now that Latinos (not only white Latinos, but also black and brown Latinos) are increasing in numbers and political strength, the rest of us US Americans are gonna need to get used to it.

Commenter Kathleen Rand Reed writes that Hispanics should explore their identity choices before going down the same route that other light-skinned immigrants have gone, such as the Irish and Italians. Lighter-skinned Latinos who identify racially as “white” and ethnically “of color” are traveling down “an identity two-way street,” Reed writes:

When benefits are distributed (especially those to assuage injustice and discrimination toward African Americans) or they are in legal trouble many Latinos want to be considered “minorities”.  But for the privileges, these same Latinos check “White” on the forms for racial identity, much like the Italians, Sicilians and Irish learned to do in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Other commenters wrote that the media shouldn’t treat Zimmerman as white. Janet Page wrote:

The media is constantly pitting ‘Whites’ against ‘Hispanics’ in immigration issues. Now when it is convenient to make a story racist the description changes and Hispanics are now white. You can’t have it both ways. There might indeed be a racist element to the story but you should stop calling it white on black.

Others felt focusing on Zimmerman’s race isn’t as relevant as Martin’s race. JayT writes:

… It’s not the fact that it was between what’s mistakenly pronounced as black and white males, by some, but the complete handling or mishandling, if you will, of the case, due to the fact that the victim was a black male. I believe those variables are what prompts one to then bring in the division of races along with the mere fact that Hispanics are not apart of the Black group although both sides are often synonymous with the term “minority”.

Federal authorities have gotten involved in the investigation and as the case continues to unfold, Zimmerman’s race has become less and less of a focus in media coverage. Do you think it’s irrelevant to the story?

  • Ele

    I have argued about the legitimacy of the term “Latino” also. Someone with no Latin blood like an immigrant of mayan or aztec descend can’t be called a “Latino”. I was born in Peru and came to this country less than 15 years ago. I am the daughter of a diplomat who has traveled and lived extensively in different parts of the world. I do not feel comfortable when people in this country assign me an identity of “people of color” or “minority” or “latina” I did not grow up seeing myself as a minority nor grew up with an image of myself as someone “of color”. When you come to this country you feel you must conform to one group even if you do not have anything to do with the constituents of those groups.  The fact that I speak another language and I have a different shade of skin tone doesn’t make me a person of color, it would mean someone doesn’t have any color and I am being compared to that person, the non colored one. :-0

  • Elijah405

    The arguments by Zimmerman’s family are way off base. Just because you are related to, or happen to have friends of different races does not mean one can’t or doesn’t racially profile others. Black people profile other blacks! Unfortunately implicit bias is something none of us lack. C’mon now, even Strom Thurmond had a black daughter! The only way we will find ourselves getting past these self-made constructs is if we begin to have honest conversations with others, and are willing to be more introspective as well.

  • Anonymous

               If Obama is black because his father was black then Zimmerman is white because his father is white. Beside black and white, Zimmerman’s father is a Jew and a  ex state judge with all the right contact in state administration and knowing how to use the laws to save his son. This piece of information is important to connect the dots and how the state prosecutors fail to put Zimmerman behind bars. This is  not about one race killing other… this is about how the administration failed to act against an obvious murder.

  • Nobody

    So as a Jew Zimmerman’s dad would be able to know how to save his son? That’s more racist than anything that I’ve heard from Zimmerman’s mouth. Don’t mean he’s not a racist, and it definitely doesn’t mean the death wasn’t wrong, but that’s just kind of silly in an article about racism.

  • christopher mahoney

    Who knew, but there’s an entire country in Europe made up of white Hispanics. In fact, the richest person in Europe is Hispanic (the Duchess of Alba).

  • Surloko13

    They are pulling out the “hispanic” part of his identity in an opportunistic way so that he gets off easy on this. As a person of Mexican descent, I see many rich light skinned people from Mexico act just as racist, classist and elitist as Anglo whites. Sometimes even worse, as they are overcompensating trying to distinguish themselves from all of the negative stereotypes about our people. Zimmerman may have a “hispanic” mother but the fact is that he is WHITE MINDED and born into institutional privelege. Not only by having a white father, light skin and being a male- but thru the fact that he has connections to higher powers that be that see to it thats he’s still walking free. I think we need to address ANTI-BLACK racism in this specific case. The fact that Zimmerman’s family decides to pull out the mixed card now that everythings said and dont does not dismiss the White supremacist root cause of this injustice. But how many blacks and Mexicans/Puerto Ricans/Salvadorenos etc are killing each other in the hood everyday and we dont hear about that shit? So what is really going on here?

  • carlito brigante jr.

    gimme a break. the guy didn’t say that Zimmerman’s dad would be able to get him off because he’s a Jew….he referenced Zimmerman’s father as white and a Jew, and goes on to say that his dad is an ”ex state judge with all the right contact in state administration and knowing how to use the laws to save his son.”

    Use your brain.

  • Guest

    the guy is not white, his skin is not white, peru is not located in europe so where the hell did anyone get him being european from? He is a registered Democrat who checked of the Hispanic non-white box. you can google it.  his skin is brown not white, his features are not ango.  there are many racist brown latinos.  If George Zimmerman had seen another latino guy his color walking in a hoodie, he would probably not stop him. or even an asian, or indian guy.  So please stop making this about white and black. dummies

  • guesh

    it’s really sad that you are ignorant to the racism that goes on in all cultures, in people of all colors, yes even brown people can be racist.  OPEN YOUR EYES!!!  only childish ignorant racists like yourself  believe that all whites are racist and brain wash other light skinned people to be racist as well. do you really think that whites are the only humans on this earth that stereotype black people?  if you do then i feel sorry for you

  • guest

    how do you know that he is his real father? you don’t know anything about this man, his skin is BROWN . his features are not anglo…..STUPID!!!!!!

  • Jacksonscribe

    He’s a murderer and should be arrested and sentenced. I have NEVER see a White man that looked anything like this man!!! Never. He looks fully hispanic and very Mexican. I see Mexicans who look like him all day. I’ve seen light black men that looked like him too. lThe fact that he has a Jewish last name is the only reason, people are claiming him to be fully White. Look at him, he is clearly not a pure White person. Nevertheless, he is a racist as is obvious on those 911 tapes. This was a murder and a hate crime and he should be charged accordingly.

  • Anonymous

    Race does not negate profiling. A black person in a certain neighborhood could decide that a young black kid walking down the sidewalk looks “suspicious,” too. Still profiling.

  • Goopdoop

    The detailed breakdown of American Hispanic identity has nothing to do with this! Some guy shot and killed a 17 year old and still hasn’t been arrested!  THAT is the issue here!

  • Tyrallion

    Holy WOW! Seriously? He’s hispanic. Looks hispanic, sounds hispanic, speaks hispanic, IS hispanic. Now… Because you realize how stupid you sound when they try to say that this is all a “white vs black” racial issue… You decide that hispanics should be white too? Seriously?! Laribos. You’re one of the few racists left in this country.

  • Tyrallion

    Surlok013 I’ll add you in there as well for some pretty obvious reasons. The race card died after two thirds of the country chose to elect a black man as the most influential person in the nation. It was tired and worn out even before then. Pull your heads out of your posteriors. The only racists left are the ones who just can’t let go of the fact that they can’t blame all of their problems on “whitey” anymore.

  • Tyrallion

    Thank you Ele. Seriously. Thank you. Believe it or not most of us have been dealing with that sort of categorization for our entire lives… And to be honest? I really wish that people would stop trying to use it to justify everything that happens.

  • Tyrallion

    Christopher I believe the new term for Latino is “White”. Please stop being so racist.

  • steve

    Are all of you Spainish Americans going to turn your back on one  of your own race. Just because the blacks can take a person who was kicked out of school for drugs and who had t he would disown you. o put a hoodie on and run from security and then attack him, and endanger his life and you listen to all of these blacks and they will go out in their own neighbor hood and kill each other and you ask who did it and nobody knows if Pancho Villa could see how you have turned your back on one of your spainish  he would disown you. Support Zimmerman Now !!!!!!!!

  • Hmckenna49

    Calling Zimmerman a “white hispanic” is like calling Obama a “white African”.  Never heard that done have you?

  • Galbanolli

    His dad is full white… and they say his mom was of hispanic DECENT. ummmm.. that’s white. Im of Italian decent, Im not going around calling myself Italian. All hispanic people of Spanish decent, do they call themselves SPANISH? umm no! stop trying to find a goddamn scapegoat! 

  • Galbanolli


  • Galbanolli

    You dont have to have blond hair and pale skin to be white idiot. Polish, Spanish, Eastern European people and Mediterranean people (Italian, greek etc) have dark skin and are white. 

  • Galbanolli

    people from different countries in Europe who are WHITE can have dark skin as well. Not all white people are pale, blue eyes etc. This is one of the most ignorant comments Ive read so far. 

  • Galbanolli

    wow you are utterly retarded. why would we want to defend a criminal if he was hispanic or not…really… you must be out of your mind

  • KristiAnn

    I’m just sick and tired of everybody using there “skin color”, or “ethnicity” as an excuse to get something or get out of something. Are we not all living human beings? Then maybe we should all just start taking responsibility for our actions. Quit making such a big deal about things. Maybe focus on the things that people cover up!! This kind of  publicity is just a diversion for what really goes on!! There is hate crimes taking place every minute!! Get real already!! That Zimmerman guy is a piece of crap and wanted the attention!! Too bad the media is programmed to eat it up.

  • Thorshammer1348

    ZIMMERMAN; is a wetback with a Jewish name, he could not join any White racialist group being what he looks like or (IS) & that is nothing more than a greasy spic!
    Sorry to sound so harsh, but at most he can be plainly be classified as a greaseball with a kike’s name.

  • luisferd63

    Guesh for your information you don’t have to be born in Europe in order to be white.Peruvians are mostly Amerindian,however,many Peruvians are  pure white,some are pure black and some are even Asian,like former president Alberto Fujimore.I invite you to open an encyclopedia and research about Peru and the Hispanic culture,thanks!

  • luisferd63

    galbanolli,did you know that most of Argentinians and Uruguayans are of Italian decent?,many Americans still don’t understand that Hispanic is NOT a race but a culture(the same way Americans are too)All countries (and people) related to Hispania (the original name of Spain) are considered Hispanic,  therefore they can be of any race.For instance they can be white (Alexis Bledel),black (Tego calderón),Amerindian (Evo Morales),Asian (Alberto Fujimore),mestizo( the mix of white and Amerindian like Mr Zimmerman),mulatto (the mix of white and black),Zambo (the mix of black and Amerindian) and the mix of all those races. Also,in the Hispanic community,we have other groups (not races):Jews (Mario kreutzberger),Arabs (Carlos Slim),etc.I invite all Americans to open an encyclopedia and conduct a research on the Hispanic culture,It is about time they correct all those misconceptions,thanks.

  • luisferd63

    Steve Spanish is NOT a race,it is a culture.For your information the first whites who came to America,came from Hispania,which is the original name of Spain, and  brought  with them,the Hispanic culture.Thanks!

  • luisferd63

    And the richest person in the world is a white Hispanic of Arab decent (Carlos Slim)