Column: Joining the conversation, reluctantly
By Ruben Navarrette
SAN DIEGO — Now that the George Zimmerman murder trial is over, let’s hope we’ve heard the last of the awkward term “white Hispanic.” For the most part, it is a media concoction that has only served to stir resentment from both whites and Hispanics.
Whites think the media were intent on telling a tragic tale in terms of a white villain and a black victim, and so that’s why they tacked on the modifier “white” before “Hispanic.” Hispanics are just as cynical. They believe that a half-white, half-Hispanic person who wins the Nobel Peace Prize will likely be referred to as “white” but one who kills an unarmed black youth and becomes a reviled member of society will always be called “Hispanic.”
Welcome to multicultural America, circa 2013, where you can’t tell the players without a program.
The confusion started just a few days after the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting when Robert Zimmerman Sr. insisted that his son George couldn’t be racist because, well, after all, he’s Hispanic. Soon thereafter, Robert Jr. seconded the motion, telling reporters that his brother identified himself as “Hispanic.”
I’m sure the Zimmermans meant well, but they tried to defend George based on the faulty assumption that Hispanics couldn’t be racist. That would mean Hispanics couldn’t be human.
We may never be sure just how authentically “Hispanic” George Zimmerman really is or how much he relates to the language, food and culture of his mother, who was born in Peru. Like many people with mixed cultural backgrounds, the 29-year-old was able to choose, I suspect, whether to identify more with his mother or his father, who is white and of German descent.
In any case, since the verdict, when liberals feel like slamming Zimmerman, a lot of them forget the “white” part and take the express train right to “Hispanic.”
Exhibit A is Nancy Grace, the HLN talk-show host, who was upset over comments from Zimmerman defense attorney Mark O’Mara about how his client should be given back his life.
“Give Zimmerman back his life?” she questioned on her show. “He’s out on bond driving through Taco Bell every night, having a churro. You know, long story short, he’s got his life. Who is going to give life back to Trayvon Martin? I find that, at the very least, a very poor choice of words.”
Grace’s word choice was worse. Not only are her comments racist, they’re also inaccurate. Zimmerman isn’t Mexican. He’s half-Peruvian. Guess what? Tacos and churros are not big in Peru. I don’t know whether to wash out Grace’s mouth or hand her an atlas.
From the beginning of this story, the media haven’t known what to do with Zimmerman, or where to put him in America’s racial and ethnic spectrum.
Media reports say that Zimmerman’s voter registration record lists him as “Hispanic,” and that’s good enough for me. For better or worse, he’s one of ours. However, this doesn’t mean that Hispanics are cutting him much slack for the mess he helped create by playing cop and ignoring the admonition of a 911 operator not to pursue Martin.
According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, Hispanics disapprove of his acquittal by a 2-to-1 margin, and 60 percent of Hispanics say that non-whites do not receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system.
Maybe that’s one reason why the national organizations that are supposed to defend Hispanics have, for the last year and a half, shown no interest in defending Zimmerman. A more likely reason is that groups such as the National Council of La Raza have strong relations with their African-American equivalents, and they’d like to keep it that way.
Still, it’s shameful that these organizations can’t even muster the courage to condemn what seems to be a rash of anti-Hispanic hate crimes in cities like Baltimore and Houston after the verdict. Besides raising money, and putting on conferences, what are these groups good for?
Given that the dominant media narrative in the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman saga is largely drawn in black and white, and that most of the commentators who were booked on cable television during the trial were either black or white, you might have thought it would be difficult for Hispanics to find an entry point into this story.
No such luck. The nation’s largest minority couldn’t have avoided this difficult national conversation if it wanted to. And now, unfortunately, we’re right in the middle of it.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.