The White Hispanic Label: Yes, People, Racism Is a Latino Thing, Too

Mar 29, 2012
9:00 PM

Public Domain

Over the past few weeks, we have read A LOT about the fact that George Zimmerman is not “white” but that he is “Hispanic” (even though when initial media reports of his February 26 shooting of Trayvon Martin called him “white”). It started when Zimmerman’s father, Bob Zimmerman, shared this information in a letter to the Orlando Sentinel, and within hours, bloggers (mostly conservative ones) were quick to emphasize that Zimmerman’s Hispanicity: You see, race baiters, he is NOT white? He is Hispanic! Shame on you, liberal mainstream media! You were quick to play the race card. White people are not racists!

Then, when that all died out (well, except for on forums that still have some choice words for Zimmerman’s and ethnic background), we started reading mainstream reports calling Zimmerman a “white Hispanic.” Yes, you New York Times, and others. And then FOX NEWS’ Bernard Goldberg went off.

We asked ourselves: why? Why the change and why was the label used? Why even describe Zimmerman’s ethnicity? What does it matter? Why is Goldberg a tool who has no clue about Latinos? Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. He had a record of paranoia with “suspicious” (code word: Black) people. He is of Peruvian descent. So what.

Because, conservative bloggers and mainstream media outlets: Hispanics can be racist, too.

In fact, the basic social and economic tenets of colonial Latin America were based on race. And classism in Latin American is still racially charged. Many tell the story of ‘knowing your place,” and it is one of Latin America’s ugliest secrets, one that recently has started to be discussed with more honesty.

But back to Zimmerman, the White Hispanic. We scratched our heads about this and kept asking ourselves why do members of the mainstream media insist on using this term when reporting in Zimmerman and why did people like Goldberg felt the need to “attack” the liberal media?

CNN contributor Ruben Navarrette Jr. offered his take, and quite frankly, his concluding paragraph should have stopped after the word Hispanic, because after starting strong with his reason as to WHY the term was used, he failed miserably at the end:

…I think [the mainstream media] were looking for a way to avoid what would have been an embarrassing about-face. They didn’t want to stand up and say: “We were wrong. Without having all the facts, we made certain assumptions about the suspect. And now it turns out that it’s not simple, that this story is more complicated than we thought and that this suspect is both white and Hispanic.” So they turned to the term white Hispanic.

It is also possible that some in the media are afraid to frame the story as Hispanic versus African-American. I understand that. Relations between the nation’s largest minority and the group that used to hold that title are tense enough without adding fuel to the fire.

Whatever the reason for using this term, I don’t like it. And I don’t have any use for it. Are we now going to refer to people as white Hispanics and black Hispanics? Given that my complexion is a shade lighter than brown, should I be referred to as beige Hispanic? Where does this end?

Americans need to discuss race and ethnicity in serious ways. The tragic death of a young person is a serious issue. Everything about this story must be taken seriously. Distorting the language shows we’re not serious people.

So, Ruben, call out the media for goofing up but then say that they didn’t want to frame the story as Hispanic vs. African-American? So, when stories like this one out of Pasadena happen (and this one is awful), the media can’t talk about the fact that the 911 caller who lied to police which lead to the death of an unarmed Black teen in Pasadena was Hispanic? As for Navarrette’s comment about white Hispanics and black Hispanics, well, isn’t that accurate to some? Race is part of the greater cultural complexity of what it is to be Latino in the United States. As for being afraid that you will be called a “beige Hispanic” (kind of a silly overreaction), Navarrette can use “mestizo” or “throwback” or whatever else he wants to use.

Come on, we even have a case of a Black Hispanic becoming a White Hispanic. Exhibit A right here:

The point is: race and culture are interwoven in Hispanic/Latino communities, and it has never been a harmonious fit. To deny that reality is to deny that we as Latinos can be our own worst enemy when it comes to racism. If we aren’t bombarded with Univision and Telemundo shows with White, more light-skinned actors living the lap of luxury, all we need to do is look at popular culture: Latinos promote whiteness more than ever. They sell a world of whiteness, and have done so for decades. And that is wrong.

So, yes, Navarrette’s argument fails at the end of his column and Goldberg is on another planet (don’t you just love when media experts try to lecture others about Latinos?), and since we still didn’t feel satisfied, we just asked our readers and community members. Here are just a few of their responses:

White Hispanic is the appropriate census jargon. Culturally, it’s offensive to socially conscious Latinos, but the context is accurate.

The irony here is that those of us who fall on the Caucasian end of the Latino color spectrum are not considered white by non-Latino/Hispanic whites.

Media manipulating society – if they can divide us against each other, it’s easier to control us. Interesting how this phrase has the potential to divide people more. “White” Hispanic vs “Black” Hispanic or just plain Hispanic? Or the addition of Hispanic, just to remind everyone he is not really white?

I’m not a big fan of the term Hispanic because it’s a census term and label; NOT a culture… Our combined, tapestry of cultures, IMHO, falls under the beautiful, vast umbrella of us all being ‘Latinos.’ To me, the word ‘Latino’ implies diversity and unity, whereas the term ‘Hispanic’ screams government labeling.

To other folks I am perceived as Italian, Portuguese, Mexican, South America, never of Puerto Rican antecedents, and never told I am a White Hispanic. My birth certificate says White under Race. I am la Trigueña in my immediate family.

My husband is Caucasian and I’m Peruvian, so would that term be appropriate for my two kids since they are half and half. I mean I always check the Hispanic/Latino box for ethnicity for them and white for race for them also. Also to me, they should celebrate both cultures equally. Does that make me a sellout of sorts? I don’t understand what the appropriate term would be for them. I would take that as a description of my beautiful daughter who is Half Mexican and half Irish. I don’t take offense. The way we are so mixed these days. I believe the more we mix, the more beautiful and smarter our children are. 🙂 It would be nice if the media would not. Say the person’s race race has nothing to do with the crime you commit there’s racism even with our own race people that dislike what they are very sad. But I do remember the days that when a minority committed a crime you would just hear black man Hispanic man full description and when a white person conifer a crime they would run it by so fast with no description the media has a lot to do with how America sees us.

The media insists on slapping racial (and racist) labels on people, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter what “race” Zimmerman is…an idiot is an idiot. What was a Neighborhood Watch Volunteer doing with a gun in the first place? But I digress…What will the media do next? Perhaps label Mr. Zimmerman as “A descendant of Sephardic Jews”? Anything to bulk up a word count or cater to the lowest common denominator.

For me it doesn’t make a difference to be a Spanish white man from Spain, who cares? racism is racism, and black, brown or white Spanish doesn’t matter, if anyone wants to make a difference, we are a culture all Spanish people, have to make the difference, because white America, will do anything to divide us. They will say, you are from Spain and you are better than Mexicans or Puerto Ricans or the other way around. This is the time, regardless of our ideas, when we have to stand together, because if we don’t, tomorrow may be your son, brother etc, just remember, they divide you today, tomorrow it won’t matter if you are better or not, you are just that, Spanish or Latino

‎”White Hispanic” – a person who is able to change a Latino surname in exchange for a ‘proper’ English one to avoid discrimination and is able through his or her physical appearance to assimilate into the politically dominant culture -white.

The real issue is this: labels do nothing to help us dissect a tragedy. But we can still have serious discussions about race in America, because no matter who you who are and with whom you identify with, racism affects us all, and for some, it can lead to tragic consequences.