Which Box Did He Check?

It’s hard for me to look at the ubiquitous picture of Trayvon Martin without thinking of my nephews. I knew them as children and as teens, and now as men raising their own sons and daughters. They have stories to tell– near misses and random violence. It’s this lived experience that gives the lie to the claim that race had nothing to do with George Zimmerman’s pursuit and shooting of Trayvon Martin.

In today’s New York Times is a complicated graphic parsing the attitudes and affiliations of people who identify as Black or Hispanic or White. The media has been pounding on this ever since Zimmerman’s father described him as a “Spanish-speaking minority.”

Before we all get too far into the metaphysical dimension of this, let’s remember that George Zimmerman might already have answered the question of his racial identity. On job applications, on school applications, on the US Census of 2010, which box did he check?

At times I have needed to get demographics as part of my job. In a meeting I said that I was always a little embarrassed to ask the race question. A Black nurse said she was glad I asked, often nurses just guess. I told her that it’s tough– I mean, no one ever asks me what race I am. But I need to ask, and often I’m surprised by the answers people give. Race is a scientifically fuzzy concept, we are a mixed society, and ultimately the individual makes the call on how they identify. I’m sometimes surprised by the prejudices people express. Belonging to a group that experiences discrimination does not make everyone sing Kumbaya. Human nature is more complicated than that.

All of us, by adulthood, have a paper trail of checked boxes. Did George Zimmerman always check the same box? Did he check the one most advantageous to the circumstances? Would there be anything wrong if he did?

It seems strange that we are so caught up in intangibles and un-measurables when dealing with something so final as a murder. A law that allows such an act to be committed with no accountability is flawed and must be fixed. This trial by media is nasty, but the willingness of the police and local law enforcement to take the shooter at his word and bury the investigation has brought us to this place.

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8 responses

  1. Apparently the investigating detective recommended Zimmerman be prosecuted for manslaughter and the prosecutor and police chief overruled him.
    Being overruled by prosecutors is nothing unusual-it happened to me numerous times on felonies.(Not a homicide though).
    This is why the Florida state authorities have to handle the case.
    Racial identity-a pain in the ass,really.One of my three grandaughters is apparently white,but her grandmother(my wife)isn’t.She has an “Irish”mug,so to speak.
    my other two are apparently black,but also white,hispanic and indian.
    They check all should check “other”or “mixed”or whatever other euphemism is used for interracial people these days.
    Interracial sounds okay.
    BTW-seriously-if this incident weren’t being viewed through the racial angle,I doubt it ouwld be news.You can bet Jackson and Sharpton would’ve have paid it no mind if another 17 year old black kid had shot Martin.Anymore than they apparently cared about the 49 shootings in Chicago in one weekend,virtually all INTRA racial.Call me a cynic,but you know I’m right.
    It’s also interesting that the major media are calling Zimmerman a “white”hispanic,whereas if he had a compelling immigration story they would call him “brown”.Hopefully the justice system will be allowed to work.

  2. Kevin M. DeJesus | Reply

    This is a very important post from today’s Guardian, detailing the findings by voice experts who analyzed Trayvon’s call to 911. This finding is particularly crucial, as the story being floated by Zimmerman’s family, and perhaps with coaching from attorneys, seems to be “sticking” in terms of its capacity to evoke doubt and cast disbelief on the original account told by Trayvon’s family within public consciousness. Here is the Guardian link:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/01/trayvon-martin-shooting-emergency-call-screams

    Here is a link to a story circulating that public opinion has shifted considerably as the Zimmerman version of that lethal night in a gated community somewhere near us all gained traction:
    http://www.wparesearch.com/uncategorized/public-opinion-surrounding-the-trayvon-martin-shooting/

  3. I have to agree with Joe that race is a pain to check off (we should all check off “mixed” considering all the invasions in history plus intermarriages) and that the story is being exploited. ABC news this morning claimed that enhanced photography shows Zimmerman was really injured. With all sides and the authorities selectively releasing info, its best to reserve judgement until a thorough investigation is completed.

    And I agree with Joe how selective racial labelling can be – another case was when that black policeman was killed one night by fellow officers outside a diner in Providence – the media always said the shooters were “white”” but one was clearly Hispanic and would have been so-identified had he been the victim.

    Overall, I think both left and right tend to be only half-right on racial issues. I think the “right-wing” side generally is right about having the government uphold a color-blind society, but they are generally wrong in dsmissing ongoing (net) discrimination minorities still can face. (of course there is much individual variation, key word is “generally”)

    1. Actually barry,one officer was Portugese background with a “Spanish”sounding name-sometimes Spanish and Portugese names are the same.i.e.Silva,Torres,Lopez,and Gomez/Gomes just for starters.
      I speak Spanish fairly well and can’t speak any Portugese.

  4. I like that “has brought us to this place.”

    It’s hard to hit the right tone for discussing this tragic story, but you’ve done it.

    1. thanks. my strongest feeling in all this is grief. Two of my friends suffered the loss of a son. it’s not the kind of thing a person gets over.

  5. …”Race is a scientifically fuzzy concept”…

    I could be wrong about this, but I’m not sure race is a scientific concept at all. It’s sort of like defining race by the amount of hair on the arm. It’s all cosmetic, without any real meaning to the way the body functions.

    The problem is that I can’t think of too many things that are, literally, more superficial than skin color, but that are nearly impossible not to notice. It’s kind of perverse: so little actual difference, so much baggage attached.

  6. Okay-race-race is a subdivsion of a single species differentiated by characteristics developed via adaptation to an environment.
    Cats and dogs can’t reproduce-too far apart genetically.
    A horse and a donkey produce a mule-always male and always sterile.And horses and donkeys are closer than dogs and cats.
    Humans of any race can reproduce with a partner of any other race and the results are usually a person with better resistance to illness and less chance of hereditary illness(unless both have the same hereditary disease in their families).
    There aren’t that many people of “purely”one race as in the past and less in the future as more intermingling takes place.
    The world keeps getting smaller.Close marriage isn’t very healthy.

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