Amidst all of the hoodie-wearing,the accusations, the posturing and prostelytizing that has gone on during the past couple of weeks over the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, I was intrigued by a passage in a recent New York Times article that referred to Zimmerman as a "white Hispanic."
George Zimmerman (Courtesy ibtimes.com)
“Mr. Zimmerman, 28, a white Hispanic, told the police that he shot Trayvon in self-defense after an altercation.” That line comes from a March 22 New York Times news story about a development in the case.
Of course, this mere reference has caused a signifcant amount of consternation and objections from those whom you'd expect - "conservative" media members particularly. And, while I don't deem myself conservative, in this case I can at least "understand" where they are coming from to some extent.
Fox News contributor Bernard Goldberg described his concern:
"The national media doesn’t do stories on black-on-black crime. . . . They don’t do stories on black-on-white crime. . . . The New York Times, in almost a caricature of a liberal media, refers to George Zimmerman as a ‘white Hispanic.’ I guarantee you that if George Zimmerman did something good — if he finished first in his high school graduating class when he was younger — they wouldn’t refer to him as a white Hispanic, he’d just be a Hispanic. . . . He’s only a ‘white Hispanic’ because they need the word ‘white’ to further the story line, which is, White, probably racist vigilante shoots an unarmed black kid."
National Review’s Jonah Goldberg took offense with the use of the “white Hispanic” term: “It’s the way the blame for Martin’s death belongs squarely at the feet of ‘the system.’ And ‘the system’ is a white thing, don’t you know?”
While these two writers/commentators - Goldberg and Goldberg - may be taking the arguments to their illogical extremes as representatives of their niche in the media, it seems odd that a new way of characterizing a person's ethnicity has now developed in this case. Have you ever heard anyone referred to as a "white Hispanic" before this?
Eric Wemple of the Washington Post conducted a Nexis search of the use of the term white Hispanic in the New York Times over the past five years. According to Wemple, the search yielded 112 results, but found that the number is deceptively large.
For example, Wemple found that a great deal of the search found stories like one described here from a March 2007 story on crime in Denver.
Once hailed as the Harlem of the West for its jazz scene, the historic black business enclave and its surroundings have given way to an influx of professionals, most of them white, and Hispanic immigrants.
Or from a March 2008 story on the Democratic presidential primaries:
Clinton advisers said her decisive victory in Ohio and her narrow one in Texas — where exit polls showed her winning the votes of women, whites and Hispanics in an extremely close race . . .
Clearly the "white Hispanic" reference is not something that has been used commonly to refer to someone born of one white and one Hispanic parent.
We know that race and ethnicity have been brought into the arguments on both sides of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman story. For example, would Congressman Bobby Rush (the congressman from the District where I live) wear a hoodie on the floor of Congress if my white son had been shot by a white Hispanic in Chicago while wearing a hoodie? No. How about if my black step-son were wearing a hoodie and got shot by a black crack addict in West Englewood? No. On the other hand, would Geraldo Rivera have blamed the hoodie in either of my examples? No to that as well.
Moreover, since race is an issue in this case because the specter of a "hate crime" hangs over the investigation, the characterization of Zimmerman as a white Hispanic is more compelling. If the New York Times' new description of a mixed race potential defendant in a criminal case persists, the media, sociologists, the legal system and all of the rest of us regular people will have to be taught a completely new way of describing ourselves and each other.
My parents are both white, so does that make me a white white? Or, in my case, since I'm Jewish and both my parents are as well, am I a white Jew or a Jew Jew? My wife's father is mixed race and her mother is black, so what does that make her, "white black black?"
And of course, my 8 week-old daughter is no longer mixed race according to the New York Times, I guess she is "black white" or "white black." (Or, as we like to call her mixture of Russian and black, "Blussian.")
Then, there is the President of the United States, commonly referred to as the first black President. That moniker would have to be revised if the New York Times were consistent and he would hereafter be known as the first (that we know of) black white or white black President of the United States.
And on and on it will go in this country... To what end? Does it really matter whether George Zimmerman's father is white or mother is Hispanic? Does it really matter that both of Trayvon Martin's parents are black? What if Trayvon's father or mother were white - would there be as much call for justice and would Trayvon indeed be "black" for the purpose of this case?
Here's a novel idea - let's wait for all the facts to play out and see how the justice system operates. Then, we can draw conclusions as to fairness and equality in this case. In the meantime, the focus on the color of everyone's skin and what to call people seems to be getting a bit overwrought.