DCentric » Racial identity http://dcentric.wamu.org Race, Class, The District. Wed, 16 May 2012 20:20:35 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Copyright © WAMU In Your Words: George Zimmerman And To Be White And Hispanic http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/03/in-your-words-george-zimmerman-and-to-be-white-and-hispanic/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/03/in-your-words-george-zimmerman-and-to-be-white-and-hispanic/#comments Wed, 28 Mar 2012 17:44:16 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=14890 Continue reading ]]>

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?

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Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman And Beyond Black And White http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/03/trayvon-martin-george-zimmerman-and-beyond-black-and-white/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/03/trayvon-martin-george-zimmerman-and-beyond-black-and-white/#comments Tue, 20 Mar 2012 15:28:26 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=14785 Continue reading ]]>

Werth Media / Flickr

A photo of Trayvon Martin appears on a protester's sign during a March 19 rally in Sanford, Fla.

A national debate about racism in the criminal justice system has been reignited by the Feb. 26 killing of an unarmed black teenager in Florida by a non-black man who hasn’t been charged with a crime.

Here’s what happened, according to news reports and newly-released 911 recordings: Trayvon Martin, 17, was walking from a convenience store to his father’s house in a gated community in Sanford, Fla. That’s when Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman, 28, spotted him. Zimmerman called 911, reporting a seeing a suspicious person. “This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something,” Zimmerman said to the dispatcher, and began following Martin. A struggle ensued and Martin, unarmed, was fatally shot in the chest. Zimmerman claims self defense and hasn’t been charged with a crime. Federal authorities announced late Monday that they would launch a full-scale criminal investigation following protests over local police’s handling of the case.

The narrative appears to be a sadly familiar one, of seemingly double standards, of little to no punishment when the shooter is white and when the person shot is black. Benjamin Crump, the Martin family’s lawyer, has said that if the roles were reversed and Trayvon Martin was the shooter of a white man, an arrest would have been made immediately.

Orange County Jail

A 2005 photo of George Zimmerman.

But a letter from Zimmerman’s father, Robert Zimmerman, to the Orlando Sentinel complicates the narrative. Robert Zimmerman writes that his son, George, is “a Spanish speaking minority.” (He also goes on write that his son has black family members. “The media portrayal of George as a racist could not be further from the truth,” the letter states.).

Orlando Sentinel reporter Rene Stutzman has been closely following the case and had an exclusive interview with Robert Zimmerman. Stutzman tells DCentric that George Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is Hispanic.

Does Zimmerman’s Hispanic heritage change the larger story? Maybe not, but it does demonstrate that America’s longstanding black-white debates about racism have been complicated by the country’s shifting demographics. Racial identity for Hispanics is much more fluid than for other groups. Many Hispanic immigrants feel they are accepted as white by larger society, but those with darker complexions still face plenty of discrimination, according to a 2010 American Sociological Association report. In other words, a light skinned Hispanic, such as Zimmerman, may be treated as a white man by larger society, while a darker Hispanic may be treated as black. And when it comes to racial profiling, anyone can discriminate against anyone else. A person can even be sued for racially discriminating against another person of the same race.

In the end, no matter how many debates about race this case spurs, one thing won’t change: a teenager who was carrying little more than a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea is dead. And for now, a community is torn apart as so many questions remain unanswered.

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The ‘Non-African-American’ Ethiopian Immigrant http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/03/the-non-african-american-ethiopian-immigrant/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/03/the-non-african-american-ethiopian-immigrant/#comments Thu, 15 Mar 2012 19:14:44 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=14714 Continue reading ]]>

Adrian Murphy / Flickr

Ethiopian flag

What does it really mean to be “African American?” Does the term refer to people with slaves as ancestors, or is it just as applicable to recent African immigrants?

It’s a conversation we’ve previously explored, and it’s front and center in an ongoing legal dispute involving a jazz club near Howard University.

Here’s the gist, according to the Washington City Paper: The Enterprise Theater & Jazz Lounge was opened by Charletta Lewis, who is now suing her landlord. She claims that landlord Michael Ressom racially discriminated against her by leasing her a building that wasn’t up to code, and therefore, she couldn’t legally open for business. Lewis is black, Ressom is an Ethiopian immigrant. Her complaint states that Ressom “is a non-African-American man.” Ressom and his lawyer declined to comment to the City Paper, while Lewis’ lawyer Jimmy Bell explained:

“He’s not African-American!” Bell says, when asked if Ressom’s ethnicity damages his case. “African-American means you are a descendant of a slave! This guy’s an Ethiopian immigrant, who wasn’t naturalized as a citizen until November 2010.”

General discrimination claims of this sort aren’t that all uncommon. Some taxicab complaints were officially filed with the D.C. Taxicab Commission by people who write they are black and claiming they were racially discriminated against by African cabbies. But for every story about animosity between D.C.’s black and Ethiopian communities, there is another about good will and unity between the groups.

Still, our question remains: is lumping everyone together as “African American” really the most accurate racial identifier?

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In Your Words: Black or African American? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/02/in-your-words-black-or-african-american/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/02/in-your-words-black-or-african-american/#comments Tue, 14 Feb 2012 17:47:29 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=14072 Continue reading ]]>

Leo Reynolds / Flickr

Last week we wrote about the ongoing debate over whether “black” or “African American” is the preferred term among black Americans born in the United States. A 2011 The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed that 42 percent of respondents preferred to be called black, compared to 35 percent who went by African American and 13 percent who said it didn’t matter.

We noted some complexities within this debate — what about African immigrants, non-black Africans and second-generation Americans with roots in Africa? A number of you with similar backgrounds chimed in to offer thoughts on what you preferred to be called, and how you’ve navigated racial identity in America.

Commenter Frenchie wrote she prefers to be called “Haitian-American:”

I prefer not to be called African-American because it doesn’t  correctly encompass my history or background. Additionally, there  continue to be tensions between “member of the African diaspora, “exotic” blacks  and African-Americans  “regular” blacks. That often painful and tense history continues to prevent black immigrants from feeling as if African-American can ever be an all-inclusive term and, thus, makes “black” our default.

Some readers were unsure of what to call themselves, such as commenter Cia0912:

My parents were born in the Caribbean islands.  (Their origins stem from Jamaica and Cuba).  I was born in England.  But because I lived in US, I was called African-American.  Really!!  Seriously!!  Now I live in the Middle East.  I wonder what I am called now.
Reader kgc31 also faces challenges in how to self-identify. Her husband’s family is Jamaican, while hers is Egyptian. “My parents were actually born on African soil,” she notes, but her husband is considered African American and she isn’t. “It’s just to complicated,” she writes.

Commenter Elijah405 noted that the origin of all black people traces back to Africa, a result of the slave trade. This painful history makes debates over racial identity “a hard conversation:”

Most of us don’t feel ties enough to Africa to be referred to as African American. But then again, do a lot of  ’white’ people go around identifying themselves as Australian American or  European American? Africa is a huge continent, who knows what country in Africa I’m from? I sure don’t! You see, this can get real muddled.

Another commenter noted the debate is “purely an American phenomenon:”

How is a person of Haitian or Carribean descent (who lives in the United States) served by “African American”?  Why are they accurately described by their ethnic origin in other countries but flattened into “African American” in the U.S. by virtue of skin color only?  It seem offensive and reflexive.

While some wrote they didn’t mind going by either term, a few people said that “African American” sounds too politically correct, such as Bakari Kamau:
Just call me Black. “African American” strikes me as guilty white-people talk. We can dice up ethnicity and heritage over a long conversation, but I like to make it easy.


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Black or African American? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/02/black-or-african-american/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/02/black-or-african-american/#comments Fri, 10 Feb 2012 13:00:09 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=14036 Continue reading ]]>

Paul J. Richards / AFP/Getty Images

The 2010 Census form had one option for "black, African American or Negro."

What do you say: “black” or “African American?” As someone who regularly writes about race and demographics, I often find myself using both terms interchangeably. But there is no clear on consensus on which term is most accurate or preferred, as Associated Press reporter Jesse Washington writes in a story this week on the debate.

Washington notes that the term “African American,” which came from the black intelligentsia, became popularized after the Rev. Jesse Jackson used it in the 1980s. Jackson told reporters at the time: “Every ethnic group in this country has a reference to some land base, some historical, cultural base. African-Americans have hit that level of cultural maturity.”

But not everyone today prefers to be called African American. According to a January 2011 The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll [PDF], 42 percent of respondents said they preferred to be called black, compared to 35 percent who preferred African American (13 percent said it didn’t matter). From Washington’s story:

“I prefer to be called black,” said Shawn Smith, an accountant from Houston. “How I really feel is, I’m American.”

“I don’t like African-American. It denotes something else to me than who I am,” said Smith, whose parents are from Mississippi and North Carolina. “I can’t recall any of them telling me anything about Africa. They told me a whole lot about where they grew up in Macomb County and Shelby, N.C.”

Gibré George, an entrepreneur from Miami, started a Facebook page called “Don’t Call Me African-American” on a whim. It now has about 300 “likes.”

“We respect our African heritage, but that term is not really us,” George said. “We’re several generations down the line. If anyone were to ship us back to Africa, we’d be like fish out of water.”

“It just doesn’t sit well with a younger generation of black people,” continued George, who is 38. “Africa was a long time ago. Are we always going to be tethered to Africa? Spiritually I’m American. When the war starts, I’m fighting for America.”

There are complexities beyond those who don’t feel a connection to Africa. As Washington notes, there are white people from Africa. I have Egyptian-American friends who find themselves torn when having to identify official forms as either “Caucasian” (which they feel is inaccurate) or “African American.” Black Latinos, who make up 10 percent of D.C.’s Latino population, face having to identify with one group over the other. D.C., which is home to 18,000 black immigrants from African and Caribbean countries, has one of the largest expatriate Ethiopian communities in the world. There have been tensions between the African immigrant community and D.C.’s “other” black community. So is lumping everyone together as African Americans the best way to describe a community? Is using “black” fraught with other kinds of pitfalls? What’s your take?

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Complex Answers to ‘Where Are You From?’ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/11/complicated-answers-to-where-are-you-from/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/11/complicated-answers-to-where-are-you-from/#comments Tue, 22 Nov 2011 16:03:27 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=12302 Continue reading ]]>

Paul J. Richards / AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. Census form first asks respondents whether they are Hispanic or Latino and then asks about race.

By A.C. Valdez

Asking someone “Where are you from?” may seem simple enough, but it’s actually a tricky question, particularly for mixed-race Latinos. For instance, before asking your race, the U.S. Census form asks whether you are Hispanic or non-Hispanic. What if you identify as both?

My father is a genealogy buff, and although I’ve generally been uninterested by it, I do owe it to him that I know at least a bit about where I come from. My ancestry is quarter German, quarter Irish and half Chicano. My father grew up in South Texas, an area heavily populated by Latinos. For many Americans, that would seem to indicate that most residents are immigrants who recently settled in the area. But going back far enough, it’s likely that my ancestors have been around since Texas was first colonized by Spain. In other words, the border crossed us, not the other way around.

Latinos who might, at first blush, appear to be “just” white, black or otherwise not stereotypically Latino, are left with complex answers to “Where are you from?” Upon reading a DCentric piece about how to ask people where they are from, my friend Ken posted this comment on my Facebook wall:

My first language was Spanish growing up and thankfully I speak it fluently today. But look at me and I’m [a] white boy with green eyes…I still get it now, [a] latino hears me speak Spanish and said “I had no idea you spoke Spanish, I thought you were American.” Funny thing, I thought I was too. [sic]

Underlying Ken’s comment is a set of complex issues Latinos face in the United States. Aside from not “looking Latino,” the mere fact that some of us have a foot in both mainstream culture and another in Latino culture can create conflict. Added to that, Latinos are, for better or worse, caught in the middle of the debate over immigration reform. And that means many Latinos are considered immigrants by default.

I’ve often made a point to have the whole “Where are you from?” conversation in Spanish if I can help it. Having the conversation in English can be frustrating. As a Latino, telling someone you’re American is sometimes insufficient, even if it is convenient shorthand (though I’ll admit to doing it). There’s some irony that in English, there’s no equivalent to the convenient Spanish shorthand for being from the United States, “estadounidense.” The term “American,” I’m often reminded by my Argentinian stepmother, refers to an entire hemisphere, not just the U.S. Oddly, it’s sometimes immigrant Latinos who have the hardest time understanding why one would identify as American rather than Mexican-American or Colombian-American.

Saying I’m estadounidense identifies me in an exact way. I’m a result of the unique blend of cultures that could only have resulted because of a United States story. I’m not trying to sound glib, or defensive or even particularly idealistic. I identify as such because I have more in common with someone in Miami or Los Angeles than I do with most Mexicans.

Given the rage and xenophobia engendered by the immigration debate, I’m a little surprised there hasn’t been a movement in certain circles to create a new term like “United States- ian.” If the right term could be found, I’d happily abide by it. After all, where am I from? Next door.

A.C. Valdez is a freelance producer currently working with WAMU 88.5. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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“Blackness that is uniquely and indisputably American” http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/04/blackness-that-is-uniquely-and-indisputably-american/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/04/blackness-that-is-uniquely-and-indisputably-american/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2011 15:39:20 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=6226 Continue reading ]]>

Flickr: Natalie Woo

Billboard from 2009 along California's Interstate 5 freeway.

More on race and perception, though this time, the issue is not what people see– it’s what they know about President Obama’s ancestry. In “For Birthers, Obama’s Not Black Enough“, Melissa Harris-Perry wonders if the President’s lack of connection to “the historical variation of blackness that is uniquely and indisputably American” is part of what makes him suspect to those who doubt his citizenship:

The American slave system disrupted the ability of enslaved Africans to retain or pass along their ethnic identities. Igbo, Ashanti, Akan, Yoruba and Hausa became interchangeable units for sale. While slaves nurtured fragments of cultural, religious and familial traditions, much of the specificity of their African experience was surrendered to an imagined and indistinct notion of “Africa.” Moreover, the law did not initially recognize slaves or their US-born children as American. So enslaved Africans were women and men literally without a country, defined solely in terms of their labor value. Their descendants eventually achieved citizenship, but to be an American black, a Negro, is to be a rejected child who nonetheless clings to her abusive father because she knows no other parent. To be a black American descended from slaves is to lack, if not a birth certificate, then at least a known genealogy—to have only a vague sense of where one comes from, of who one’s ancestors were and of where one belongs.

In this sense, Obama is not very black. He is not a Negro. As a black man, President Obama’s confident and clear knowledge of his lineage is precisely the thing that makes his American identity dubious. Unlike most black people, he has easy access to both his American and his African selves.

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When Part-Latino Men are Considered ‘White Dudes’ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/04/when-part-latino-men-are-considered-white-dudes/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/04/when-part-latino-men-are-considered-white-dudes/#comments Fri, 08 Apr 2011 13:00:18 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=5446 Continue reading ]]> In responding to a Wall Street Journal story about how white children are now the minority in many states as the number of Hispanic children grows, D.C.’s Matthew Yglesias writes:

I think this is a widely misreported trend. When the New York Times recently did a piece on me, Ezra Klein, Brian Beutler, and Dave Weigel exactly zero people complained about the massive over-representation of people of Latin American ancestry that reflected. People saw it as a profile of four white dudes. Which is what it was. But my dad’s family is from Cuba, Ezra’s dad’s family is from Brazil, and Brian’s mom’s family is from Chile. That’s kind of a funny coincidence, but the combination of continued immigration and intermarriage means that over time a larger and larger share of American people will be partially descended from Latin American countries.

The New York Times profiles four (white) pundits.

That Times piece on Yglesias and his fellow, young pundits did receive plenty of criticism (and even its own parody!). But Yglesias is right: no one criticized the over-representation of Latin American-ancestry among the four subjects. The reporter behind the piece even commented on the “white maleness” of the story.

When it comes to Latinos and Hispanics, racial identity has proven to be a much more fluid thing than for other groups. For instance, let’s take a look at Latino immigrants: a 2010 American Sociological Association report found that there are many Latino immigrants who are accepted as white by larger society, but those with darker complexions still face plenty of discrimination. It even suggested a new racial category to describe Latinos could form.

A 2004 Pew Hispanic Center report [PDF] zeroes in on how Latinos and Hispanics self-identify, showing that many “have seized on whiteness as a measure of success, a measure of belonging.”

The report also showed that how Latinos racially-identify isn’t just about the color of their skin; rather, it has plenty to do with their socioeconomic status. A summary of the report reads:

‘It is not that some are more Hispanic or Latino than the others because they all really have taken on the mantle,’ said Sonya Tafoya, a research associate at the Pew Hispanic Center and author of the report. ‘Nor are Hispanics saying that race does not matter to them. Rather, the message seems to be that Latinos in the United States experience race differently. For them, it is not something that pertains exclusively to skin color, let alone history and heritage.’

Yglesias, although pointing out the Latin American roots of the Times profile subjects, does write it was indeed about “four white dudes.” But perhaps that’s just as much a reflection of how the world views young men like these as how they view themselves. Maybe even more.

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