Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

With shooter's ethnicity, race becomes an even bigger part of the Trayvon Martin story

George Zimmerman, left, and Trayvon Martin, right.
George Zimmerman, left, and Trayvon Martin, right.
Photo by Miss Stavs/Flickr (Creative Commons)

If race is already a major part of the story involving the shooting death of 17-year-year-old Trayvon Martin last month in Florida, it's becoming even bigger. Media reports have increasingly begun to identify the shooter, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, not as "white" as he was originally identified, but as Latino after his father identified him as such to a Florida newspaper.

It doesn't change much in the sense that an unarmed teenager, who was visiting the neighborhood with his dad and had stepped out to a convenience store for snacks, is now dead. But news of the ethnic identity of Zimmerman, who apparently pursued the boy and has yet to be arrested, has set off a curious reaction.

One story related to the ethnic-label switch headlined "Media Labels Hispanic Man White in Shooting of Black Teen," on the late Andrew Breitbart's conservative Brietbart website, has drawn some angry/cynical comments. Here's one, from Dougragan:

And as we all know, it is impossible for a Hispanic man to be racist. Only white people are racist. All of us. No exceptions.

Which drew this response from Foxxismylastname:

It will be interesting now that the media convicted white man is....oops Hispanic. I guarantee you Obama is not going to sell out the Hispanic vote for his black brother! If Zimmerman was white, Obama would have his Dept of Corruption all over it.

And this one from Seenbetterdaze:

The "media" TRIED to make Zimmerman WHITE!   They wanted him to be WHITE.  How else can they explain it as a HATE CRIME?

It's no secret that when a high-profile crime occurs and the suspect is of a particular ethnicity, there's a sense of discomfort that can settle those who share the same roots - and a collective sigh of relief when the suspect isn't "one of us." But in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, where racial profiling is believed by many to have played a role (and there may or not be a racial slur - it's hard to make out - heard on the 911 tape), the aftermath is fraught with racial tension.

What does the revelation of Zimmerman's ethnicity change in terms of the national conversation, if anything? Blogger Elahe Izadi of Multi-American's sister blog DCentric in Washington, D.C. reported today that Zimmerman is the son of a Latina mother and non-Latino white father. She offered this nuanced take:

Does Zimmerman’s Hispanic heritage change the larger story? Maybe not, but it does demonstrate that America’s longstanding black-white debates about racism have been complicated by the country’s shifting demographics. Racial identity for Hispanics is much more fluid than for other groups. Many Hispanic immigrants feel they are accepted as white by larger society, but those with darker complexions still face plenty of discrimination, according to a 2010 American Sociological Association report.

In other words, a light skinned Hispanic, such as Zimmerman, may be treated as a white man by larger society, while a darker Hispanic may be treated as black.

And when it comes to racial profiling, anyone can discriminate against anyone else. A person can even be sued for racially discriminating against another person of the same race.

Thoughts, anyone?