News Column

Zimmerman Trial Thrust Hispanics Into Difficult Debate

July 25, 2013
george zimmerman acquittal
George Zimmerman leaving court after his acquittal (photo: Voice of America)

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 stirrred 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 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.

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 nonwhites do not receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system.

Maybe that's one reason 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.

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.

For more stories covering politics, please see HispanicBusiness' Politics Channel

Source: Copyright Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)

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