Admittedly, the media holds a lot of responsibility in the confusion of why George Zimmerman has been termed “white” in some accounts of the Trayvon Martin shooting.
People are so accustomed to hearing “Hispanic” or “Latino” that they assume the terms describe race. They don’t.
Hispanics are an ethnicity. They can be of any race.
So when reporters identified Zimmerman, whose mother is Peruvian and whose father is white, as being white, the outcry was “race-baiting!”
Actually, “white” is accurate. White and black correctly describe the races of Zimmerman and Martin.
Deciding whether Zimmerman’s half-Hispanic ethnicity means anything in regard to his actions in killing Martin is a separate and foolish exercise.
It also reveals something about the convoluted nature of Hispanic racial designations.
Historically, they’ve been in limbo; sometimes Hispanics are treated with the disdain and segregation that faced African-Americans and sometimes not.
Consider that many Jim Crow-era statutes defined who was “colored,” but not white.
Mexican-American civil rights attorneys, especially in the Southwest, used to argue that Latinos should be considered “the other white.” They didn’t try to do away with segregation, they just didn’t want to be included in it.
As politically incorrect as that sounds, it was a legally feasible option. Latinos often weren’t discriminated against by law, like African-Americans were, but rather by the whim of a community.
Kansas City’s school desegregation case offers another example.
Hispanics were told to identify themselves as either minority or not when applying for entrance to magnet schools, which attempted to meet court-ordered percentages for black and white student enrollments.
Some saw this as a best of both worlds scenario. Others were offended they were being forced to check one box over another when they thought of themselves as neither black nor white.
Government reports following the 2010 Census emphasized that the growth in the U.S. white population was largely due to increases within the Hispanic population — because a majority of Latinos also identified as white racially. But many also checked “other” for race, likely a nod to the desire to be considered a distinct group.
It should be obvious that identity is personal. It certainly shouldn’t be in the eye of the beholder.
And it’s ridiculous to start the exasperating exercise of using “white,” “black” or “brown” as code to pinpoint an individual’s motivations or character.