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Readers sound off on race and ethnicity in the Trayvon Martin story

At a protest demanding justice in the killing of Trayvon Martin, March 19, 2012
At a protest demanding justice in the killing of Trayvon Martin, March 19, 2012
Photo by werthmedia/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The role of race in the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager shot to death in Florida last month, has been a critical part of the story since the beginning. But it became even bigger in recent days, after it became known that the shooter, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, did not fit as neatly into the "white" category as initially reported. Late last week, Zimmerman's father identified his son as Latino to a Florida newspaper.

It doesn't change much in that, as a federal investigation starts, a boy who was merely visiting in the neighborhood with his father is dead, and the adult who shot him claiming self-defense (though a 911 tape suggests otherwise) remains free. But the news of shooter George Zimmerman being half Latino - and his father's suggestion that such, he could not be racist - triggered a curious reaction among some, including non-Latino whites who had felt scapegoated.

A post highlighting this a few days ago has prompted an interesting conversation about ethnicity and color assignment among readers (whose opinions here are strictly their own). Here's an excerpt from a comment posted by Eris_118:

I can see why people are getting mad that Zimmerman was called a "white man" who murdered Trayvon due to the implication of the word. I also automatically assumed that the murderer was of Northern European descent. Yet judging from his last name and from the context of this article, he is partially so. Thus, which ethnicity ought he to consider when choosing his race, the one that makes him automatically white, or the ethnicity that is racialized in the U.S., in the sense that a white Hispanic is not "white" but "other" race?

Regardless, he was still a white man who murdered a black man and he ethnicity does not radically change my interpretation of the motives behind the murder.

Kali pointed out a distinction that's made on census forms, but not clear to many:
hmmm..."Hispanic" is not a's a cultural group...there ARE white hispanics.

Gladness wrote:

Racism is colorblind.  Anyone can be racist as long as they subscribe to a system of racial dominance and hierarchy. That being said, looking at George Zimmerman, I imagine he spends quite a lot of time trying to "pass" for whatever ethnic identifier serves him best.  If he wants to be white, he's got a european last name. If he wants to be latino, he can talk about his family heritage. I will tell you this, he would never self-identify as black. Because that's who he was racist against. This is all conjecture though. And just my thoughts tonight after finding out he had used a racial epithet in his 911 calls on The Young Turks blog.

Dre-Dreamer Penny wrote in terms of the bigger picture:

The fact is that a young man is dead and why because another man killed him and he shouldn't have.  Who cares about the color of their skin???  Why was a "Neighborhood Watchman" carrying a loaded gun in the first place?  That should be the question!!!  Why isn't Zimmerman in jail? That should be the next question??  Why does everything in America always have to come back to the color, race, issue!!!???  Get over it.  The Young Man Is DEAD!!!  That is the ISSUE!!!!

To which Shane Ayers responded:

It's an issue because given the evidence most people think it's likely Zimmerman targeted him because of his race. If Zimmerman was black, it would still be a race issue.

There were other good comments under the post, which can viewed here. And an earlier post this week on the Martin shooting prompted this comment from Mwfoley7:

     What I don't understand, is why everyone is so dead set as seeing this as a "race" issue and why race is being thrown into the forefront of this discussion. This is NOT Rodney King, and while race may have some bearing on this case, the issue that stands out first and foremost in my mind is that Martin,an unarmed kid, an UNARMED kid, is gunned downed by Zimmerman, a grown man, and one considerably larger than the victim Martin, and yet Zimmerman is walking free, no charges pressed against him whatsoever. How does a kid get killed by an adult or anyone for that matter, become the victim of a homicide and there is no investigation or arrests or even a case held by the local police authorities.
The problem I have with everyone chanting that racism is the leading atrocity in this situation is that if Zimmerman is found to NOT be racist, that it somehow would absolve him, make what he did ok, and it's SO NOT OK. How about this guy just committed murder and there are NO consequences. That should be the headline, not more racism in the south, which in my mind, isn't really news. Once we get the fact that the law was broken without reprisal then we can get to racial motivations. Honestly, I wasn't aware I could walk up to someone in Florida, shoot them, and claim "self-defense" i was "standing my ground" and that I would be allowed to kill indiscriminately with out reprisal or repercussion.

Expect a Q&A later today with a Florida media critic who has watched the Martin-Zimmerman case unfold and who will provide a nuanced take on how race does - and doesn't - play into it.