Trayvon and George, A Year Later
It's been over a year now since the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. In many ways, it appears we are no closer to a definite answer as to what really happened than we were at the time of the event. The ability to get a clearer picture is hampered by among other things the lack of reliable witnesses and, more importantly, the absence of one of the key parties, Trayvon Martin himself. Was Martin a victim of racism as well as overzealous vigilantism, a young Black male killed for being, well, a young Black male? Or was Zimmerman a victim of a violent counterattack by Martin and thus guilty of nothing other than self-defence?
Immediately after the fact, public opinion divided itself into two camps: those who would say 'yes' to the first question in the previous paragraph and those who would respond in the affirmative to the second. I myself take an agnostic approach to the Martin-Zimmerman affair. Until we have more and better information on what truly occurred that fateful night in Florida, everybody might do well to look before they leap to any particular conclusion. (Personally, I lean more to the 'Trayvon' side as opposed to that of a man who seems to want to be a real-life Eugene Tackleberry from the movie Police Academy.) Unfortunately, many partisans on both sides of the issue lack credibility. For example, PZ Myers of the left-wing blog Pharyngula, who in an entry titled 'Racist goddamned Florida' railed against the 'puffed-up coward Zimmerman,' had five years earlier sarcastically referred to three male Duke University students falsely accused of sexually assaulting a stripper as 'those nice boys at Duke' - long after it became evident that the rape charge was a hoax.
Where those on either side of the fence went wrong at first was to label the Martin-Zimmerman case a Black versus White issue. It was soon discovered that George Zimmerman might more appropriately be classified as Hispanic rather than White. While his father is White, of German descent (some people mistakenly thought George Zimmerman was Jewish, probably with the famous Robert Zimmerman - aka Bob Dylan - in mind), his mother is Peruvian. And, irony of ironies, Mrs. Zimmerman is believed to possess African ancestry: Peru has a history of slavery from colonial times and a sizable Black population today. Some say that far from being a 'White vigilante,' as one left-wing website called him, Zimmerman looks more like a 'cross between Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez'1 (personally, I see some resemblance between Zimmerman and Chavez but not much with Obama).
The difficulty with labelling the Zimmerman-Martin incident a Black-White affair lies precisely in the difficulty with labelling Hispanics at all in a racial sense. US government surveys state that Hispanics can be 'of any race.' In terms of actual ancestry, the majority of Hispanics in and outside the United States tend to be European plus something or some things else, the 'things' in question being African and/or Native American. On the other hand, some so-called Hispanics have no non-White ancestry whatsoever. For instance, my ex-fiancé was born in Lima, Peru, to a German father and Northern Italian mother. He had no problem, though, defining himself as a 'Spanish-speaking minority' when seeking work in the States. There are also Hispanics like my more recent boyfriend, who obviously has some non-European (in his case, Amerindian) forbears but who identifies as White.
The 'outing' of George Zimmerman as Hispanic challenges another widely held view: that different 'peoples of colour' will bond together or, in the White Supremacist paradigm, conspire against the White race. Here again, both Left and Right are guilty of promoting a false belief. One example: the White Supremacist website Stormfront talks in sinister tones about how 'the Jew, the Asian, the Black, and the Latino' have it in for the White man. This poster might be surprised by a recent poll from Great Britain showing that South Asians in that country were more likely to approve of a family member marrying a White than marrying a Black. This was true even among South Asian Christians (yes, they do exist), the category most accepting of interracial marriage. At the other end of the political spectrum, the Left also embraces the idea of people of colour engaging in some great interracial love-in. We saw this, for instance, in their support for 'Writing Thru Race,' a conference in Vancouver in 1994 which limited participation to non-White writers so as to 'ensure a milieu in which writers directly affected by racism [could] engage in candid and personal discussions.' But outside of the leftist - or for that matter rightist - fringe, it is far from clear whether different minority groups actually like each other any more than they like Whites.
We are still awaiting the final word on Trayvon Martin's death, if the final word indeed comes. What is obvious at this point, however, is that the event cannot be boiled down to a simple Black versus White or, in the eyes of Martin supporters, White versus Black issue. Going beyond what happened in Sanford, Florida, it is equally clear that race, whether in the United States or elsewhere, is literally not a matter of black and white.
1 Sailer, Steve. George Zimmerman, Wrecker. http://isteve.blogspot.ca/2012/07/george-zimmerman-wrecker.html
Emily Monroy is a professional translator and is of Irish, Italian and Norwegian descent. Born in Windsor, Ontario, she now resides in Toronto. Her articles have appeared in several publications, including Interracial Voice, Cats Canada, and Urban Mozaik. She welcomes feedback on her articles. You can contact Emily here