The now infamous case of Trayvon Martin’s shooting in Florida has raised profound questions about race in America. The account of a young and ambitious black teenager who went to the store to buy candy and ended up dead at the hands of a neighborhood watchman strikes a sensitive nerve in a country with a long and brutal history of slavery, racial discrimination, and persisting racial disparities. Though this seems like a “typical” case of white aggression towards a black man, this is not an accurate portrayal of events: George Zimmerman, Martin’s killer, is half-Hispanic.
Does Zimmerman being part Hispanic change the dynamic or message conveyed by Trayvon Martin’s shooting? I think not. Racial profiling is racial profiling, no matter the race of the profiler. Zimmerman uttered racial slurs and went against the advice of 911 operators when he chose to follow Martin, and his Hispanic origins do not make this any less unacceptable. If Zimmerman’s claims of self-defense prove to be true, this country will still have engaged in important national dialogue about race in today’s America. Societal barriers facing young black men remain a current issue: ten percent of young black men are currently in prison, and more are currently under correctional control or supervision than were enslaved in 1850. In light of these statistics, racial profiling needs to be discussed and addressed to eliminate the perception of black men as dangerous or suspicious, ideas that only contribute to racial disparities and such stark prison statistics.
George Zimmerman’s status as a man of color does not matter for his guilt or innocence. Racial profiling and racist remarks are unacceptable no matter if a white man, a Hispanic woman, or anyone else is the instigator. The national discourse this unfortunate incident has created about race relations in America cannot be diminished or ignored because a racially charged incident involved two men of color and not a white man.