"America was shocked. America leads the world in shocks. Unfortunately, America doesn’t lead the world in deciphering the cause of shock."
A lot of white people are embarrassed by white people right now. A lot of Black people are angry at Black people right now. I am mad at Latino/as. A lot of mi gente are floored right now and crying for Trayvon, but that doesn’t absolve us of the need to have a serious talk.
George Zimmerman’s racial identity is fluid. Regardless of his ethnic ancestry, because let’s not be deterministic that that is the determinant of race, do you follow? If Zimmerman considers himself white, that is a key factor; if he considers himself Hispanic, that is a key factor; if he bounces back and forth, that is a key factor.
We all suffer from internalized oppression. We internalized race *(loosely, ethnicity and/or skin color + power) over and above ethnicity because of the material conditions that are the effect of a white supremacist system. A global white supremacist system, though it may take on different flavors from place to place. If you don’t think it is global, look at a fucking map and read some political economy. And some brown people seek to be exempted from their race by a white society.
I don’t know Zimmerman’s thinking, but I know that he desires whiteness. Zimmerman neither represents Latinidad nor being mixed-race, but he represents an internalized oppression that seeks white passage and the bourgeois fantasies it often unlocks.
I have a superficially similar background to Zimmerman. As a light-skinned, mixed-race Latino, social pressures- indirect and in-my-face direct- and the anxiety they instill propel me to pick an identity. For a whole lot of reasons I make my choices in that arena, from the traumas and the jabs and the pinpricks and the flavors and the love and the tears. Zimmerman is a weak man, like a whole sea of weak people, and he wants what he was told to want to have. And you cannot have what the white bourgeois have unless you keep it from the Others. He seeks privilege which means he must marginalize. He chose to murder.
Meanwhile, too many people of all colors seek to essentialize race and often tie it to genetics. Latinos and Blacks can be as bad about this as whites. And it can lead to self-hate and a projection of that hate. They, of all colors, seek to determine everyone else’s race as if it was easy to distinguish the colors of the falling autumn leaves, the darker in a state of greater decay by society’s judgement. But it isn’t easy to tell the color of the autumn leaves, as speckled and peppered and in-between as so many are; and race- such as it is- remains fluid.
Zimmerman’s race fluctuates under the gaze and rhetorical needs of his defenders and opponents. Similar to Obama’s, or even to mine. Trayvon’s race remains fixed. So, too, Ramarley Graham or Emmitt Till.
Is Obama Black? It depends on if it benefits his racist opponents (and I’m an example of one of his anti-racist opponents) for him to be a mutt, a mongrel, a monstrosity, a freak product of miscegenation; or to spread the conspiracy claims that he’s a Muslim, a Kenyan, a definitive Other. What is Zimmerman’s race? When he needs to belong in a gated community, he’s white (enough); when he needs to not be a racist according to the courts of law and public opinion, he’s ‘hispanic.’ Zimmerman knows who will survive in America, and he wants to be on that winning side.
At any time, there are two judges of race (amid a multitude): the one who wears the skin, traditions, scars, history, and internalized desires; and the one under whose gaze they fall, this subject with its own skin, traditions, scars, history, and internalized desires. That’s a laundry list of dirty clothes to try to wade through for an answer.
Regardless of how confused we see race in other countries, other Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries, our minds cannot remain stable under the pressure they take in this country either. Born there and came here or born here but bleeding-there, it is both the a world system of oppressive race relations and a one with national boundaries that we are balancing between. Black people victimize Latinos, Latinos victimize Blacks, and all the while white people go where they want. Let a Black man enter a white neighborhood and it’s criminality; but let a white man enter a Black or Latino neighborhood and it is development and gentrification. And why is that ethnic cleansing and displacement not a criminality of its own. Because they are at the center.
But it isn’t all thorns and razor wire. Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on. Chicano, Black, white, inmigrante, it doesn’t matter who you are in the California state prison system right now. For the second time in so many years, all of these prisoners are on a hunger strike, the biggest ever in their state at 30,000, against a system that grinds them all down. The system may do it unjustly and inhumanely and illegally, but that’s not it. The system does it because it must for bigger reasons. And it leans that crushing and smashing down on people as their shades get darker- this is the system that people thought they might get racial justice out of sending Zimmerman into, remember- but the people who have been pushed to divide along racial lines in the starkest conditions have come together to keep their eyes on the prize. We could use some candor. Then maybe we’d be ready to fight alongside each other as well.
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