Thoughts and Perspectives

Whiteness, History, and Comments about George Zimmerman

562647_501491946593374_870708430_n copyEvents 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.

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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.

0624_george-zimmermanZimmerman 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.

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“…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: 

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21 replies »

    • In regard to the trial, given everything that has come out (so far), I have come to the opinion that the trial was all one big game, one big show. As bad or worse than trials for such in the 1800s, for example. The state, the judge, the lawyers (on both sides), the jurors, etc, were all putting on a show. They knew the outcome before it all started.

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    • I would totally agree with this statement. The state did a horrible job in hinds site. They put on a show but it was that. The jurors or at least one of them came in determined that George was innocent. She had a plan and it payed off for her. The judge was just trying to keep this from being a mistrial or appealed and hence allowed the defense way too much including the charge itself. It was a travesty.

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    • We also witnessed many instances where the law does not at all parallel what’s “right,” “moral,” or expected. It involves far too many technicalities and room for real criminals to get away.

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  1. It would be nice if you would have included an image of Trayvon Martin from 2013 instead of the photo from when he was 12. Also, I have seen photos of George Zimmerman’s mother’s maternal grandparents, who were African American. Just because he appears “white” doesn’t necessarily indicate that he IS white; there are people with African American heritage who are light-skinned. Yes, his father identified as white, but his mother is mixed race.

    About the accent: When I lived in Houston, I worked with people of all races. I worked with African Americans who didn’t have an accent; I worked with ones who did. I worked with whites whose Southern drawl was so slow I wanted to smack them to talk faster. I worked with Hispanics who didn’t have accents, along with Hispanics who did. Same with Asians. Just because Zimmerman didn’t have an accent doesn’t mean he couldn’t be considered another race besides white.

    About his first name: I’m guessing that since the first name “George” is of German heritage, then George Benson, George Washington Carver, etc. were white and not prominent African American musicians or scientists, using your logic.

    Finally, perhaps he has to say he isn’t racist because people perceive him to be so because he shot an African American. If you get a chance, go check out the story of Sherman Ware; that should give you a different perspective of who George Zimmerman is.

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    • Actually, it didn’t occur to me to looking into how old he was in the photo. I just liked that his picture was integrated with a flag. I personally can’t tell about how old he is in the picture above. He looks older than 12 to me, but I don’t know. I’ve been studying a few pictures of him when we was 12, then 17. I’ll keep looking into it.

      One thing I’ve observed is that how one is racialized can differ depending on the circumstances. Given the situation, Zimmerman’s lack of an accent (but we all actually do have accents, we just don’t know it, so to speak, if it is too close to the “default” of others in a given time and place) adds to his whiteness. Just like the name “George” can add to one’s whiteness. But the way society racializes people and things, skin or people said to be “black” can’t have whiteness per se. So, of course, the name “George” doesn’t automatically make one “white” or “black.” If a person is “black” said name probably doesn’t add any whiteness. But if said person is “white” the name would help (or add degrees of whiteness) compared to a name like Esteban.

      (Although of course in colonial Latin American it was possible to buy whiteness, and I would argue that for a few of the ultra rich men and women racialized as black in the United States today, Oprah for example, there is a parallel notion of money equalling whiteness.)

      Racialized thought is always a funny and interesting concept because it can go so many ways and the signs and symbols don’t add up and aren’t logical.

      I’ll look at Sherman Ware in a few.

      Thank you.

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    • she wants you to post the fake pictures of Trayvon showing him to be a thug that are around the internet so they can justify what happened.

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    • It’s not that. I wouldn’t mind at all knowing how old he was in the picture I used. Accuracy is for sure very important. In this case, I think the representation with the flag has power of its own, even if he is younger, in this particular case.

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    • I don’t mind the representation in the flag. The representation in the white hoodie is the one that’s a problem (especially since it’s been stated that he was wearing a black hoodie that night). They do have footage from a security camera at the 7-11 where he purchased the skittles and drink that night and could have been using an image from that instead, but it doesn’t fit with the media’s portrayal.

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    • Computer revolutions have made it possible to photoshop images so easily and to such a large extent that images will always be trickier than in the past. We may reach a point soon (if we’re not already there), when pictures can’t be taken as “valid” capturings of historical moments but only ever as representations (in this use of the word “representations” I’m thinking of iconography that is more important for what it emphasizes and so on vs trying to be “accurate”). Of course, what is in a picture has always been selective and carefully framed and edited, but the possibilities now are seemingly endless.

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