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Zimmerman the “white Hispanic.” Reuters and NY Times play Hunger Games

hunger_games.jpgOh, the vagaries of categorizing humans. What opportunity for trickery it brings!

In the Hunger Games, the media hypes a contest that pits people from different “districts” against one another in a fight to the death. While it is the government that forces the contest, the media inflames passions and supplies a false sense of righteousness to lead people to the fight. The districts are as arbitrary as race – they have no innate need to fight.

Reuters and the New York Times have reality imitating art when they refer to George Zimmerman, the Florida man who shot Trayvon Martin, as a “white Hispanic.” The goal, it is apparent, is to start a fight pitting “black” people against “white” people when those groups also have no need to fight.

Both Reuters and the New York Times violate their own internal style guides by calling Zimmerman, a man of Peruvian descent on his mother’s side, a “white Hispanic.”

The New York Times Style Guide says of the word Hispanic:

When a more specific identifier is available, – Cuban, Puerto Rican or Mexican American – use it. 

Reuters has the same rule in their style guide:

Be more specific where possible, such as Cuban or Mexican.

By their own standards, Reuters and the Times shouldn’t refer to Zimmerman as Hispanic at all since “Peruvian” is available.

The Times style guide makes clear that “Hispanic” is not to be referred to as a race, but their reporting on Zimmerman clearly ignores their rule.

The Reuters’ guide states:

Take care when reporting crimes and court cases. The race of an accused person is not usually relevant.

Take care indeed. What a more wonderful world it would be were media to follow that rule, Reuters included. Unfortunately, media never waits for a race-specific fact to emerge before reporting on race. The mere evidence of a shooter and a person shot being of different skin colors is enough for media to trigger the Hunger Games.

Some may suggest the idea of calling him a “white Hispanic” refers to the combination of Zimmerman’s father being white and his mother Hispanic. Not according to Reuters. Here is a sentence offered straight from their style guide as correct: “Obama will be the first black US President.” They reject calling Obama the first “white black US President,” or even just another white President for that matter.

The term “white Hispanic” is also a misnomer if guided by US Census data. According to the census, people of Hispanic heritage are categorized as “white.” Therefore Reuters and the New York Times are referring to Zimmerman by the redundancy “white white.”

Of course one relies upon the US Census for categorizing people at great peril. Our government recklessly combines and separates race and ethnicity with no scientific rhyme or reason. According to the US Census, Thai and Lao are separate “races” despite their overlap, but Peruvian and Colombian are not, likely because of theirs. There is a complete ignorance of biology and sociology in the US Census.

Here is another twist. Many Peruvians are Amerindian and have no lineage to Spain. Amerindians are, under the traditional system for categorizing race, not “Caucasian.” They are either Mongoloid or their own separate race. That would mean Reuters and the Times would more properly call Zimmerman a “Mongoloid Hispanic” or simply “Hispanic’ instead of a “white Hispanic.”

Thanks to advances in genetics, there is a debate about whether races separately exist from a biological standpoint. Science is leaning toward there being only one race, albeit with observable adaptations that differ in humans based upon geography.

Think of what happens to “racism” if biologically we are all the same race.

We all grew up with the understanding that there were three major races – Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid, with a few others going in and out of fashion like Amerindian, Malaysian and Australoid. It was understood that the 3 major races had certain genetics which led to different traits like bone structure and hair thickness.

As genetics and anthropology have moved forward it appears “race” may not meaningfully exist. Scientifically we are all classified as “homo sapiens.” Genetically, there are more variations in people geographically close to one another (say, between two Africans) than there are variations in people far from each other (say, between an African and a European).

The differences in appearance of people may have more to do with Darwinian adaptation; like protective pigment in human skin diminishing the further removed people are from the equator (as in Nordic Europe). Those people farther from the equator also have different resources at their disposal, so they develop different foods, music and customs. Over time it can be realized that they look different, eat different, dance different and act different than people from other places. However, sharing the same genetics, and eventually the same consanguinity, Nordic Europeans are not really a “different race” than Africans (I know…I know… I can’t say “different race” when I’m arguing race doesn’t exist. Bad science dies hard).

Accordingly, “race” is now seen as a red herring. The taxonomically correct “homo sapiens” encompasses us all without distinction.

Ethnicity is different than race, and it may be all we have left scientifically if we are going to make human distinctions (must we always make human distinctions? If you are race-baiting media, then you have a reason to do it).

Ethnicity is more of a social construct than one of hard science. While part of ethnicity has to do with tracing a genetic lineage (thus the connection to the old concept of race) much of ethnicity has to do with emotional ties to a society, or kinship. It is why a native Aruban will patriotically tell you he is Dutch, or I, despite my vowel-laden surname, will tell you ethnically I’m an American.

What is left then of Reuters and the New York Times calling Zimmerman a “white Hispanic?” “White” is not a scientific term for a race. Neither is Hispanic. Hispanic is an ethnicity. Yet this fellow was born and raised in Florida, so his ethnicity is really American, just like the young man he shot. 

The only fair identifier of Zimmerman would be to say that he is an American with an ancestral line that leads to Peru on his mother’s side, but none of it appears to have anything to do with his shooting Trayvon Martin.