Events and things in history frequently involve what I call the “realms of illogic.” It’s not gonna make sense. “Race” is one of these. This posting is an attempt to address how people are classified as white or not and why Zimmerman is actually “white.” Absolutely no offense is intended by the use of racialized terms here and the various ways I discuss, describe, and classify them. This posting discusses how these racialized terms are used in society and the consequences they have.
In the United States, in most cases with brief exceptions from around the 1860s to the 1920s, people have been socially and politically classified/racialized as either white or black – sometimes Indian, Asian, and more recently Middle Eastern and Hispanic are added in.
Generally, no one literally has white skin. Likewise, people usually do not have skin that is literally black. People, clearly, do have skin color; however, these colors very greatly.
In reference to racialized thoughts, “white” and “black,” then, clearly do not refer to colors. This makes said racialized discourses doubly odd and tricky for the human brain. On the one hand, we know that “race” does not actually exist at all on a biological level. On the other hand, the use of colors to define different races is odd in terms of the signifier, signified, and semantics, for example.
Who is “white” or not “white” is not always cut and dry. Ascribed statuses, achieved statuses, and time and place play a factor. “Whiteness” is something to recognize and something to consider. People have various degrees of whiteness, and this whiteness gives people unfounded, automatic “white privilege.”
Consider the following scenario: You’re eating at McDonald’s. You see a woman with skin that is slightly “browner” than what the average “white” person has. How would you classify her racially, if you had to given what society says about race? Most people would classify her as “white” if she had on a suit or was dressed up in anyway considered formal. These same individuals would classify her as “Hispanic” or “black” if she had on a McDonald’s uniform, especially if she had a uniform on indicating she was probably not the manager or owner. Results would be the same even it was the exact same person. The point here is that “race” is a relationship (see article of the same name below in the “see also” section) that varies by time and place and perceived status. In other words, this person could very well have whiteness and the associated privileges is some situations and not in other situations.
Throughout United States history, whiteness has been closely associated—and remember we’re talking in terms of stereotypes—with being right, freedom, opportunity, power, and/or success; and blackness with being wrong, unfreedom, struggle, no power, and/or failure. United States society was built on and continues to operate on this binary of unfounded power and unfounded oppression.
Any time an individual racialized as “black” is involved in a situation with others—by virtue of blackness and whiteness and their relationship to history—the other person, provided they are not also “black,” is almost always going to have degrees of whiteness.
In regard to Zimmerman: I’ve seen far too many postings that want to argue racialized issues were not involved in Zimmerman murdering Martin because Zimmerman “is not white.” Regardless because society racializes Martin as black and racializes Zimmerman as non-black, racialized issues are a concern.
Zimmerman clearly has degrees of whiteness in this situation for each the following (and more) reasons:
- He is male.
- His first name is likely German – for sure “white.”
- His last name is German and “white.”
- His accent indicates that he speaks so-called correct Standard English without an accent.
- His parents have been successful with “good jobs,” and his dad is a “white” judge.
- He acts like a police officer.
- He murdered a “black” man (and used a gun to murder the “black” man) and never apologized.
- Society usually takes “Hispanic” to mean “white.”
- His lawyers were “white” (and for the two who spoke, male).
- The prosecution’s lawyers were all white (and male).
- The judge was “white.”
- The jury was all “white” (with one possible exception).
- He has several priors for which “whites” do not end up in prison but “blacks” usually do.
- He says he is not a racist.
“…There’s nothing in this country’s history that doesn’t lead back to racism. To paraphrase a now-famous metaphor, racism is the sugar in the American cake. Sure, the cake has other ingredients, but once the thing is mixed and baked, you’re never going to be able to take a bite that is sugar-free….”
See Also/Selected Bibliography:
- The US v. Trayvon Martin
- If Only Trayvon Had Freedom Papers
- What did race have to do with the George Zimmerman case?
- American Anthropological Association Statement on “Race”
- PBS Race Sorting Game
- Beyond Identity
- Race is a Relationship, and Not a Thing
- Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race
- History of White People
- Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is
- White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
- Whiteness Studies
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