White Hispanic Yellow Journalism

by Geraldo Rivera | Jul 19, 2013


Of all the spin leading up to the dramatic but not unexpected acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin, nothing was as disingenuous as the accused being identified as a "white Hispanic." Whether it was created in a feeble attempt to continue the narrative of a white racist preying on a defenseless black teenager, it is clumsy, counter-productive and inaccurate.

First of all, what is a Hispanic? The word derives from a region called "Hispania" the collective name for the four 15th Century Christian kingdoms on the northern half of the Iberian Peninsula before King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela united the peninsula and expelled the Moors.

As I wrote in my 2007 book "His-Panic," the word Hispanic has for the last 525 years "referred to people from the original mother country of Spain, its far-flung subjects around its once mighty, world-girdling empire, as well as to its Spanish culture and language. So Hispanics can be black, brown, red, or white; Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, or Buddhist; and residents of Spain, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, or other Caribbean, Mexican, Central or South American nations." Excluded are folks coming from places like Brazil with its Portuguese roots, Belize and Guyana with their British antecedents and French Guiana.

Latino and Hispanic mean exactly the same thing. The terms therefore define geographic and linguistic roots, not race.
So is George Zimmerman a "white Hispanic?" I guess, if you're referring to the race of his parents. But then wouldn't we have to label mixed race folks like Barack Obama a "white African American?" Would the media then refer to me as a white or a white Jewish/Catholic Hispanic in recognition of my own mixed racial background and Jewish mother?

During Slavery and Jim Crow, and in racist regimes like Apartheid-era South Africa, both Obama and Zimmerman would have been considered non-white; judged and classified by a system that bestowed rights and privileges that increased as blackness decreased.
Race politics stained history, DNA equaled destiny.

In the five centuries European colonialism was fueled by slavery, the Southern half of the New World became a racial melting pot. The blood of European conquerors and settlers, merchants, pirates and priests mixed with slaves and servants and with Mayan and Aztec and other aboriginals now called Native Americans. In South and Central America the result was the world's first, largest mixed race super-continent.
I don't know the specific genealogy of George Zimmerman's Peruvian mother but she does not appear drawn from the group that once made up the Daughters of the American Revolution.

And you can't be a little pregnant. Over time, when it came to non-white blood, a little went a long way to determining one's fate in Latin America or elsewhere. During the Holocaust, detainees were considered Jewish enough for extermination if one of their four grandparents was Jewish.  As I wrote in my 2009 book ‘The Great Progression" for purposes of tribal treaty rights, access to various programs and sometimes even economic windfalls like oil rights, cigarette sales or the right to build and operate a casino "the awesomely intermarried Native-Americans are said to be ‘Indian' enough to be considered among our original inhabitants if they have a single great grandparent from a federally recognized tribe among their ancestors."

In "His-Panic" I cite a study, "Are Latinos Becoming White?" presented at the American Sociological Association Conference in August 2007. It revealed deep and dramatic differences within the Latino community on racial self-identification. The researchers from the University of Cincinnati reported that 91% of Cubans surveyed self-identified as white, as compared to just 56% of Puerto Ricans and 49% of Mexicans, who preferred "other" when asked whether they were white, black or something else.

Those figures, even among Cubans have likely shifted in the last six years, since the researchers also found that the longer Latinos remain in the United States, the less likely they are to identify as white, gravitating instead toward a Spanish racial/ethnic self-identification.

What makes this so intriguing is that it is in sharp contrast to the experiences of previous immigrants from Italy and Ireland, and the European Jews, who campaigned aggressively against being classified as "other" and insisted on being incorporated into the white category.

Essentially, a new quasi-race is being born that mimics the days of "Black is Beautiful."  In the same way African-Americans overcame the color prejudice within their community by rejecting skin tone as the definer of who is or is not "black," we Latinos are following suit.

My buddy Cheech Marin and I refer to each other as "my brown brother." My father Cruz Rivera is one of seventeen children from the same parents. My army of first cousins on his side ranges from fair-skinned with orange-red hair to light brown to near black Afro-Caribbean.  My five children are a rich multi-ethnic, multi-religious brew, but if asked tell people they are proud to be Hispanic, in the same way Americans with even a drop of Irish blood claim to be heirs of Saint Patrick.

The Rivera's are all Latinos. So is George Zimmerman. Get over it.

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