In the past few weeks family and friends of George Zimmerman have argued that Trayvon Martin’s death is not a hate crime because Zimmerman wasn’t a racist. These people argue that it is impossible that Zimmerman is a racist because he is Hispanic…because he is a minority.
This is one wild misconception. Racism comes in all shapes and sizes. It also comes in all races.
How can anyone be exempt from racism simply because they are a minority? This stereotype is right along the lines of anyone thinking that Latinos can’t have blond hair and blue eyes. But the George Zimmerman misconception sets a dangerous precedent because it means that people like him could potentially get away with murder simply because of a general belief that only white people can be racists.
In the Hispanic population there has been a long history of racism dating back to our countries of origin. The Spanish and the Portuguese that settled in Latin America also brought with them African slaves and also exterminated many native cultures, just like in the British and the French did in the United States. We also freed our slaves and for a long time we also continued to treat them as fourth class citizens. Latin American countries have struggled to socially, politically and economically integrate races.
In the Spanish speaking Caribbean you would be hard pressed to find anyone who actually considers herself or himself black. It’s just not proper to be black. We have everything from white to “indio”, “mestizo”, “triqueño”, dark skinned, “mulato”…anything but black or “negro”. In fact, many people even try to give it a diminutive term like “negrita” or “negrito” like if the sweeter sounding word will indirectly excuse the person for being what they are…black.
Racism among Hispanics in the US is not openly denounced or called out for what it is. It’s our dirty little secret. It seems that we are uptight when racism is directed towards us as a group, and yet, individual groups of Hispanics don’t think twice about making racist jokes, especially in tight knit communities. Racism is just as engrained in our culture as it is in any other. Many of us have moved forward and acknowledged racism in our culture, but it still exists.
Growing up in a tight-knit traditional Cuban family I know firsthand about racism. To my grandfather, blacks were personas non-grata. We even encountered a failed “smash and grab” in Miami by a group of black kids 20 years ago and in that instance my grandmother only kept screaming in the car “kill the n*” . When we had lunch at a restaurant the next day, he told the story to the young waiter who replied that he was a hero and that he should’ve killed the “m…f…n…”. This same kind of attitude may be the same one that Zimmerman had when he pulled that trigger.
I don’t know if George Zimmerman was committing a hate crime, being negligent or simply defending himself when he confronted Martin. But we are doing a disservice to justice when we automatically assume that simply because of his race, Zimmerman is innocent of murder.
Mari Tere Molinet is Puerto Rican of Cuban descent. She is a media professional, professor, blogger and aspiring entrepreneur. She is co-founder of the start-up FamilyClick.com the online, digital family-room where kids video-chat with family while doing fun activities like reading, drawing, and watching videos.