News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Zimmerman's mother is a Latina. So what?

When Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, David Berkowitz and Charles Manson were apprehended, did a single pundit suggest it was because they were white? But when Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students at Virginia Tech, the media sought comments from South Koreans across the United States as if the whole community was on trial.

So it is not surprising that the Latino community is now under the microscope because the mother of George Zimmerman, accused of killing Trayvon Martin, is a Latina.

As long as Zimmerman was perceived to be part of the mainstream, he was an individual to be judged on the basis of his character. But once he was identified as a Latino, he became a representative for an entire ethnic group.

Some have gone so far as to defend Zimmerman by suggesting that being a Latino, he could not be prejudiced. Others are claiming he's just another violent, trigger-happy Hispanic. In either case, the results are the same. Zimmerman is nothing more than a cipher for prejudices.

Is every Non-Hispanic White a racist? Of course not. But why would anyone believe every Latino is not? Both assumptions are equally absurd.

Every time an individual is involved in a violent, high profile crime, the media coverage is the same: If the person is a Non-Hispanic White, their ethnicity is not an issue. But if the perpetrator is a minority, it becomes a whole other conversation. Why? Because "white" is the default setting for individuals in the U.S. media.

These preconceptions are so ingrained in our culture, most people fail to recognize them--even when they are glaringly obvious. Sadly, this case shows we are a long way from overcoming our unconscious prejudices.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez