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Posts Tagged ‘Sanford’

As best I can remember, it started in high school. Being told I don’t exist, or at least that my understanding of myself either wasn’t possible or wasn’t allowed. The form looked something like this:

RACE (choose one)

  • Caucasian (non-Hispanic)
  • African American
  • Asian American/Pacific Islander
  • Native American
  • Hispanic/Latino

I sat in my desk, puzzled. I had no idea what I was supposed to check. I approached the teacher and asked him what he thought I was supposed to check. He advised me to pick whichever option seemed right to me. The other kids in my predominantly white class didn’t seem to be having this problem. They were already filling out other sections of the form. I returned to my desk, still puzzled. I am white, I thought, looking at my absurdly pasty skin. But I am hispanic, I argued with myself. OK, but I’m not Latino, I countered. Yes, but the form means Hispanic and/or Latino. I cannot check “non-Hispanic,” that definitely wouldn’t be true. I checked “Hispanic/Latino.” I would not deny that dimension of my identity.

Obviously there were other problems with this form. There was, for example, no multiracial option to speak of. But the problem for me was that it confused race and ethnicity, requiring me to choose between being white or being hispanic. The form told me that I don’t exist, or at least that my understanding of myself either wasn’t possible or wasn’t allowed.

Hispanic is not a race. Hispanic people come in all human colors. The t-shirt I acquired at a hispanic multicultural festival in college, however simplistic, attempted to illustrate this: a black person, a yellow person, a white person, and a red person leaping into a bowl with the caption “Diverse ingredients make the best salsa.” We are descended from peoples of many nations and cultures from every populated continent. Many of us are multiracial.

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Hispanic. Not all of us like the term. Not all of us use the term. But it includes all these people and more.

Some of us are white. In 2010, the majority of American hispanics (53%) identified themselves as white to the U.S. Census Bureau (see Table 2 here). I am a white hispanic woman, even when forms don’t allow it. I’ve got the knapsack to prove it. But despite the high profiles of people such as Cameron Diaz, Martin Sheen, and Alexis Bledel, it seems that a lot of Americans still haven’t caught on. They think of “hispanic” as a race, a race that excludes us from being white and receiving white privilege.

So the denial of my existence continues. Almost a month after Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, I started seeing claims here and there that the media had “invented” the concept of a “white hispanic.”

“He’s only a ‘white Hispanic’,” said Bernard Goldberg, “because they need the word ‘white’ to further the storyline, which is ‘white, probably racist vigilante shoots unarmed black kid.’”

“The media then created a special rubric ‘white Hispanic,’” wrote Victor Davis Hanson, “when its narrative of white-on-black crime was endangered by new information that Mr. Zimmerman had a Latino mother, although it normally does not use such terminology for others of mixed ancestry — Barack Obama himself being a good example.”

A Real Clear Politics headline explicitly shouted, “The Media’s Latest Invention: ‘White Hispanic.’”

At least some of the sources of this narrative got the timeline right, as Hanson did, even if they got many other things wrong. Others, such as Goldberg, didn’t even seem to get the timeline correct. Here’s what really happened, chronologically speaking:

  1. The initial police report on February 26 identified Trayvon Martin’s shooter, George Michael Zimmerman, as a white male. This was the basis of the earlier media identification of George Zimmerman as a white male.
  1. On March 15, the Orlando Sentinel published a letter by Robert Zimmerman, the father of the shooter, which claimed: “George is a Spanish speaking minority with many black family members and friends. He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever.” This letter led many news outlets to update their previous use of “white” to “white hispanic.”

Looking at the chronology, it’s clear that the media didn’t add “white” to “hispanic” in order to fabricate a “white-on-black crime” story. George Zimmerman was already identified by police as a white man who shot an unarmed black teenager, and reporters later modified Zimmerman’s race with his ethnicity to accommodate his father’s elaboration.

Comments like Hanson’s frustrated me in more than one way. “White hispanic” is not some novel invention of the media. It’s me. Being hispanic doesn’t mean I’m not white and don’t receive white privilege. For the love of God, quit telling me I don’t exist!

But I am also pissed off that Hanson, among others, adopted Robert Zimmerman’s flawed reasoning. The shooter’s father has suggested that hispanics cannot participate in white privilege, are somehow immune to the prevailing racial prejudices of our culture, and cannot act on those prejudices in ways detrimental to people of color. In reality, however, we can and we often do. Because I do exist, I know this from personal experience, and I have something to say. Those of us who are white are often the recipients of white privilege, whether we want it or not, even if some of us contend with other prejudices and discrimination against us on the basis of ethnicity. Everyone imbibes the prevailing racial prejudices and stereotypes of our culture, even if we harbor other racial prejudices, even if we dislike and resist the prevailing prejudices, even if we have family members and friends mitigating their influence on our thinking and acting. Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s “doll tests” illustrated that even black people can internalize anti-black prejudices to their own detriment. Hispanic people like me and George Zimmerman are not any more immune.

When people raise the issue of Zimmerman being a “white Hispanic,” to me that does not erase the fact that an African American male was targeted and killed. You could be a Latino or white or Asian and still wrongly target an African American male. That’s the issue that we’re looking at…. Whether you’re a black or white Latino, indigenous or mestizo, once you step into the U.S., you begin to get racialized by the way the U.S. defines whiteness because of the way in which the country operates. Even a white Latino at some point gets racialized in the United States, some also get privileges because of the way they look. There is a dominant race framework that everyone is fitting into, that society is defining. That’s the world that we live in. I have a son who has a black mother and a Latino father. And culturally he may be raised with the traditions of Louisiana, Costa Rica and Mexico, but at the end of the day, he’s not gonna be judged by those cultural traditions, he’s going to be judged by what he looks like. (Alberto Retana)

See also: “Conservatives baffled at idea of white Hispanic people: A brief primer on race versus ethnicity” by Alex Pareene.

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Warning – this post discusses the death of children as a result of racialized violence.
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Trayvon Martin

I’ve struggled to say much about this yet because it’s just so heartbreaking and terrifying.

Here’s the short version – Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old boy, went out to get skittles for his little brother and ended up shot at point blank range and killed 70 feet from his dad’s home, because a neighborhood watch captain thought he looked “suspicious” (“because he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and walking slowly in the rain”) and decided to go after him, despite a 911 dispatcher’s instructions that he not engage and remain in his car.

Trayvon’s killer, George Zimmerman, is claiming self defense, despite the fact that he had 10 years and 100 lbs on Trayvon, and despite the fact that Trayvon was unarmed. The local police have accepted this story and declined to arrest him. They have also refused to release the 911 tape to Trayvon’s family. One witness who says she heard Trayvon crying for help just before he was shot says she’s been “blown off” by the Sanford police.

Trayvon was black. George Zimmerman is not.

There’s a Change.org petition to bring Trayvon’s killer to justice. Please, please sign it. Please share Trayvon’s story with your friends and social networks. We need to bring this case to national attention and get this family the justice they deserve.

I don’t really know what to say about this. As a daughter and sister to men who have to live under a constant burden of nebulous “suspicion” just because they’re black, who can be stopped or challenged at any moment by cops or random vigilantes like Zimmmerman just because they’re black, this terrifies me. As a mother, it absolutely wrecks me. I cannot imagine the heartbreak and loss Trayvon’s family is going through.

I need people to try to understand how terrifying it is to be a black parent – or parent to a black child, especially a boy – in this country. It’s dealing with the ever present fear that your child may leave the house for the most innocent or banal reason but never come home. It’s dealing with the fear that if the worst happens to your child, none of the people who are in a position to help or get you justice will care.

I know some folks don’t understand why I post so much about race and racism. This is part of why. This is happening all the time. All over. To kids who’ve done nothing but exist in a society all too ready to see them as potential criminals and justify any kind of brutality and violence against them as a result.

Two years ago in Pittsburgh, Jordan Miles, a 17 year old black honors student on his way to stay with his grandmother – because she didn’t like to spend the night in her house alone – was ambushed and beaten so badly by 3 plainclothes cops that much of his hair was ripped out (he had dreadlocks) and his face was swollen beyond recognition (warning, graphic images). The officers filed a false report and false charges against Jordan. They’ve never been punished for their brutality or their lies – quite the opposite.

And these cases can’t be separated from the police and state violence that’s leveled against black families and communities in the name of “being tough on crime.” This rationale is used to justify raids on black homes by SWAT teams armed to the teeth – the kind of raid that ended with 7 year old Aiyana Jones shot and killed in her own home. A Detroit police special response team threw a flash grenade into Aiyana’s home while she and her grandmother were sleeping. In the ensuing confusion, one of the officers shot Aiyana. Aiyana’s killer has since been indicted on manslaughter charges.

Black communities and other communities of color are disproportionately at the receiving end of such extreme, militarized state force. Police raids or ambushes that repeatedly ended up in the brutalizing or death of white middle class people – least of all children – would never be allowed to continue unaddressed, much less for decades. We’re ok with it because, well, when it comes to black people and communities many people just accept it as the way things are. I’ve seen more outrage over SWAT raids that ended in the death of a dog than over a raid that killed a little black girl. If this happened to your family, to someone you know, wouldn’t you be outraged? So why are we so complacent about death after death of black youth? Where is the outrage? I appreciate very much my non-black friends who speak out about these things, but the sad truth is that the vast majority of anger or resolve to say or do anything about this is from black people alone. That’s inexcusable. These are fellow human beings, many of them just kids.

A month ago 19 year old Ramarley Graham was shot and killed in his bathroom by plain clothes NYPD who had been questioning him on suspicion of dealing pot. They thought he had a gun. So they chased him. He was unarmed. He had a little bit of marijuana on him. They shot him in front of his 6 year old brother and grandmother. All for what? The life of a black teen is worth so little that tracking down a little bit of pot and an unseen potential gun (assumed to exist because he was seen “[reaching] for his waistband” before the police approached him) is enough to justify taking it altogether?

Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Jordan Miles, Aiyana Jones, Ramarley Graham, now Trayvon Martin. Those are just a few of the names we know. How many times does this have to happen to a black man – to a black boy, a child – before we have a real conversation about the continued realities of racism in this country? Before we get real about the fact that we don’t value the lives of black men and boys?

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