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?