Everyone has something to say about the death of Trayvon Martin and the current fate of George Zimmerman. Epithets are being hurled with vigor: racist, ‘hood’lum, liberal media, gun-haters. What can we call each other at a time like this? A time when a young boy is dead, and we should mourn the horror of that fact. A time when another man’s life may be sacrificed to the politics of race in America, and we should admit the horror of that fact, too.
George Zimmerman has been described as a ‘white Hispanic.’ The Huffington Post reviewed the current crisis in nomenclature which has brought that term to the fore. Along with the phrase ‘non-white Hispanic,’ it demonstrates the ways in which the people of the United States are being fractured into smaller and smaller segments by race and ethnicity disguised as race. The phrases ‘white Hispanic’ and ‘non-white Hispanic’ are the offerings of our government census bureau. They arose in the hysteria that says we have to track ‘Hispanics’ in America, fueled by an older fear that tells us we have to know who is ‘black’ and who is ‘white.’
In this case, the phrase ‘white Hispanic’ can be used almost as a buttress against allegations that George Zimmerman is a racist. After all, he’s ‘Hispanic’, and can be presumed to be more understanding of, or at the very least sympathetic to, the oppressions of racism in our country. As an ‘Hispanic,’ he must have suffered some of those oppressions himself. On the other hand, if he’s ‘white’ and not ‘black’ then he can be presumed to be a racist, who pursued Trayvon Martin as any ‘white-racist’ would. George Zimmerman loses on either side of the argument...either he’s a racist or he’s a member of an ethnic group subject to racism.
Of course, everyone knows that Trayvon Martin was black, not bi-racial, nor any other term that might indicate mixed ethnicity in his heritage. In America it doesn’t matter whether his antecedents arrived from Haiti or Ghana, France or Ethiopia...or even Brazil or Spain. What matters is that the predominant color of his skin allows him to be categorized as ‘black.’ Perhaps that’s better than having to be described as ‘non-white.’ Perhaps not. Trayvon Martin lost his life, and his right to be ‘just a human being’ because he lived and died in America.
What can we call each other at a time like this? Confused. Frightened. Fractured. Torn apart from one another (and our own emotions) by attitudes toward race that have wormed their way into all our lives. And, we can call each other to account.
-- Rev. Robin Gray
-- Rev. Robin Gray
(To learn more about the ways racism plays out in our society begin reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander and join the book discussion at UUCT -- sign up this Sunday.)