The Elastic Racial Identity of American Hispanics
The ability to declare a status as a racial minority amounts to social currency in America today. To call this a dirty little secret isn’t exactly accurate. It’s a fact that everyone knows and largely ignores, despite some public criticism of affirmative action programs. Public servants, particularly, are likely very familiar with the controversy surrounding racial quotas. Firefighters around the country, for example, have engaged in legal battles to litigate the injustice of promotions having been given to less-qualified individuals on the strength of minority status alone. And as any high school guidance counselor will tell you, there is tremendous value in claiming minority status on college applications.
If the social engineers that crafted the doctrine of political correctness and affirmative action initiatives in recent decades were truly seeking equality among racial demographics, these facts make it clear that they have failed spectacularly. The political and social figures influencing the public discourse in our nation have succeeded in placing a premium on specific racial distinctions, which is a far cry from equality.
But interestingly enough, there seems to be a certain malleability of the racial distinction Hispanics are able to enjoy. On the one hand, when amnesty or state identification requirements are discussed, Hispanics are oppressed minorities that require the utmost protection against racial profiling and discrimination. On the other, if a Hispanic guy shoots an unarmed black teen in Florida, he is nothing more than a symptom of white America’s lingering racism against blacks.
It is a rather strange anomaly, and pretty personal for me. You see, George Zimmerman and I have something in common. Like him, my mother is Hispanic, and my father Anglo-American, with each of my grandmothers having actually been born in Mexico and England, respectively. My maternal grandfather was an American born to Yaqui Indians, and my paternal grandfather was an American of Irish descent. Yet if, God forbid, I were to become embroiled in a situation where I must defend myself against a black aggressor under obscure circumstances- and if the backlash against Zimmerman serves as a control for this hypothetical exercise- it would be pretty safe to say that I might be judged by the more vocal mouthpieces of the black community as a symptom of white American racism, too.
This poses a curious question. After all, if Barack Obama- who was born to a white mother and a black father, yet widely regarded a black man- were not the president, and had he acted in a similar scenario allegedly defending against a Hispanic assailant, would his actions be similarly judged as a symptom of white racism against Hispanics? Certainly not. So why has the discourse been so manipulated?
Trayvon Martin’s death was deemed a racially motivated crime and the result of institutional white racism prior to any examination of either party’s character. And that, to me, is rather disturbing. If the content of their character was the measure of judgment, as a sagely civil rights champion once suggested, the conclusion might have been different. Evidence has since come to light establishing Martin’s questionable character, including a history of disciplinary problems with drugs, involvement in fights at school, an incriminating tweet from his cousin suggesting that he had taken a swing at a bus driver, and a much more menacing demeanor than the public was originally offered. Zimmerman’s character, rather, has been seemingly redeemed by certain facts, including his role as a mentor to black children, and even activism in association with the NAACP in public calls for justice for the beating of Sherman Ware, a black man that was beaten by the local sheriff’s son who had escaped prosecution.
But none of this matters to those who immediately took an emotional position when they saw that a man with the surname Zimmerman killed an unarmed black teen under circumstances that the media reported to be far more suspicious than they now seem. And it is extremely curious that the revelation that Zimmerman is Hispanic has not changed the discourse from being an indictment of white America’s alleged assault on black America. If we are so intently focused on the racial implications of this event, as is evident, why does this discussion not include the relationship of blacks and Hispanics in America, rather than the wholesale condemnation of white America?
We must recognize that America is being offered a new reality for acceptance. That when groups and individuals like the New Black Panthers and Al Sharpton are bent on stoking racial tensions for their own personal reasons- with a media more than willing to exploit it- a Hispanic can serve as a fitting straw man to imply white guilt.
The problem, however, has much less to do with any real racial problems in America, and more to do with these incendiary groups and individuals shaping the discourse- not to mention entire demographic classifications- to suit their needs.