I received the following response to my post about Phil Taylor’s take on the Miami Heat and Trayvon Martin. I started to respond, but when I got to over 700 words, I figured I should make a post for it on its own.
Nice article by Taylor but I noticed he described the person that did the shooting as “caucasian and latino descent”. That is so typical. If the shooter had developed the cure for cancer he would have been described as being of “latino descent” and nothing else but since he was involved in shooting an African American they mentioned the “caucasian” part. How often is our President described as “caucasian and african american descent”. – Matt, commenter
I’m not entirely certain what the point you’re trying to make is, but I’ve narrowed it down to two possibilities. One, you’re trying to talk about how stupid it is to refer to people by their race in the first place. Two, you’re upset about how white people are being treated unfairly when it comes to their race. One of these points is good, and the other is insignificant at best and insulting at worst. I’ll respond to both, just in case.
To your first potential point, yes. It is awfully stupid to bring up race at all. It doesn’t matter in objective space, but the world is not objective. If there were no racists, then there would never be a need to bring it up. The problem is that there are still racists, and from what I can tell, their number is significant.
Ultimately, you’re right. The president isn’t black. He’s mixed, and I certainly think of him that way. But, in this country, there has been a long history of institutionalizing the idea that people can be racially “impure.” If a person had seven great grandparents who were white, if the final one was black, that person could be made a slave in the 1830’s (look up the term octoroon). If that same person lived in the 1930’s and had the appearance of a black person, he or she would have had to drink from a different water fountain. So, for centuries, referring to mixed race peoples as non-white, not white, or something OTHER than white was built into this country’s culture by racist white people. They disowned the racially impure, putting people of mixed race into a weird kind of identity limbo. Barack Obama could have been a slave, and he wouldn’t have been in class with my grandparents. So, the cultural practice of disowning the whiteness of mixed people was created by racist white people in the first place. And, since whites in this country set up that kind of cultural norm, and since whites have set and continue to set the norms for America, it became accepted by just about everyone.
Now that we’re less openly racist and hostile to minorities, it seems silly for whites to not embrace biracial or multi-racial people into their own race. Tiger Woods isn’t black, he’s a bunch of different races. Derek Jeter isn’t black. He’s both black and white. But, biracial or multi-racial people in this country have been treated as “not white” for decades past and still today in the present. If they’ve been told that they are “not white” for that long, how will they racially self-identify? When that biracial person was just a random guy on the street, he was black. When a biracial person was riding a bus, she had to be in the back. When a biracial person wanted to drink at a fountain, she had to use the one that said “colored.” When a biracial person wanted to date a white person, most parents in the 50’s definitely weren’t saying, “Oh, that’s not a problem he’s half-black.” My parents didn’t tell me (as a white kid) that it wasn’t okay to date black girls, but biracial girls were fine. The racist paradigm in this culture was quite clear: you’re only white if you’re “purely” white. There are white people, and everyone else is a minority.
So, when a biracial person contributes positively (as in Obama or other biracial people), and white people try to claim half of him or her, you can bet that minorities aren’t exactly thrilled. They’re insulted, and they should be. All this time being biracial has meant “not white,” and now that this biracial person is a success, he or she gets welcomed into whitedom? Before their success they were anonymous and a minority, but now they’re part of the family? It’s like white people trying to say the only reason the biracial person (who was previously just a black dude) succeeded was because of the whiteness in him. That may not be what the white people are trying to say, but that’s certainly the way it comes out.
This all seems rather stupid, right? It should be simpler than this. But it’s not. It’s as complicated as the context it is in. Race is a weird thing in this country, and it’s great when people are willing to speak honestly and openly about it without jumping behind the “HEY THAT OFFENDS ME” rhetoric. We’re not going to get past this racist nonsense unless we talk about it seriously, and that’s why I think you’re making a good point if you’re trying to point out that this whole “race” thing is just stupid on its face. It shouldn’t matter if someone is 1/8th or 7/8ths black, or 1/2th white and 1/2 latino. It’s all objectively irrelevant.
But, the same reason you’re right in the first scenario is the same reason you’re wrong if you meant something different. Considering that white people created, fostered, nurtured, and (at least in small part) went to war with each other to protect the exact kind of racism and racial social norms that you’re condemning, you’re making a rather insignificant and feckless point.
The racial inequality you’re complaining about was put into place by white people. People who are half latino and half white identify themselves as “latino” because for the last four hundred years of this country’s history, white people have been telling these biracial folks that they aren’t white. They’re something else. So, when they succeed (cure cancer, as you suggest), if they self-identify as latino and not white, I totally get that. And you should, too. It’s the system white people have created.
Now can this at times backfire against white people, as in this case where white people don’t want Zimmerman associated with them? Sure. Is it fair to white people? Not really. Should we stop it with this racist nonsense because it only divides America instead of unifying it? Absolutely. But suggesting that white people are equally, with all other races, the victims of racism in this country is just ridiculous. The only people who make that argument, from what I can tell, are just racist white people cloaking their racism under the term “reverse-racism.” Of course racism against whites exists. It would be stupid to deny that, and it’s not something we should ignore. But, complaints about it aren’t very compelling considering the inordinate racism against blacks and other minorities that still exists today. Complaining about racism against white people is like complaining about a paper cut on your finger when the guy next to you just had his arm blown off. There’s no equivalence, and you look rather silly to a doctor.
So yeah, if that was the point you were trying to make, you’ve got a lot of work still ahead of you.
In the case of Phil Taylor’s piece, though, and thinking about the journalistic aspect of it, Zimmerman was originally referred to in police reports as white. That meant that initial media reports were that he was white, and white only. Once it became clear that this was not the case, it’s good journalism to be as clear as possible when discussing Zimmerman’s race. Taylor couldn’t have just said he was “latino” because technically that’s just not true, and there’s already confusion about it since the police made an error in their preliminary reports. So, considering the general confusion that already surrounded the situation, setting the record straight and being as accurate as possible is necessary—especially considering how people are so sensitive to the issue of race, as evidenced by you yourself.
Thanks for reading, Matt! Hope to see you back here!