Column: ‘White Hispanic’ is not an agenda
by Raul Reyes on Apr. 26, 2012
In the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s death, several news outlets identified his alleged killer George Zimmerman as a “white Hispanic.” Although “white Hispanic” is an unfamiliar phrase, it is an accurate description of Zimmerman — and the Martin case shines a light on how multiracial identity is becoming more commonplace in our society.
In 2000, for the first time, the Census Bureau gave Americans the option to identify themselves by marking more than one race. The 2.9% who chose more than one box in 2010 might not seem high, but the multiracial population younger than 18 has grown almost 50% since 2000, making it the fastest growing U.S. youth group.
Maybe use of “white Hispanic” has been met with skepticism by some — especially conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh— because the U.S. is used to thinking about race in black and white terms. Perhaps these conservatives are accustomed to thinking of “white” as meaning descended from Europeans, or not being a member of a minority group.
But Hispanic is not a race. According to the Census, “Hispanic” refers to a person of “Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.” Hispanics can be white, black or Asian. By the Census’ criterion, Zimmerman, the son of a white father and Peruvian mother, is white.
Even among Hispanics, identity is complicated. A new Pew Hispanic Center survey found that 51% of Latinos identify themselves as “some other race” or volunteer “Hispanic/Latino.” Only 36% identify their race as white, while 3% say their race is black.
Still, calling Zimmerman a white Hispanic does not reflect an agenda; it reflects reality. Zimmerman has been accorded a level of privilege since the Feb. 26 shooting, one unlikely to go to an African American involved in a violent crime even under the state’s “stand your ground” law. In fact, it wasn’t until April 11 that a special prosecutor announced second-degree murder charges against Zimmerman, who was freed Monday after posting $150,000 bail.
Zimmerman’s background matters because he is at the center of a racially charged case. But describing him as Hispanic doesn’t make him less capable of profiling or bigotry. The irony here is that both Martin and Zimmerman have been judged on the basis of how others see them. Martin’s death illustrates that we live in a society with evolving views of race — and identity.
Source: USA Today
Raul Reyes is an attorney in New York and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.