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Americans Still Confused & Polarized Concerning Race

The misconception that you must only be of one race reached almost ludicrous proportions last week when bloggers said that accused Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman was Black, because his great-grandfather had African blood. Does one drop of African blood make you Black in the United States? It would seem so.  But this is simplistic and indicates deep unease about race, if not racism.

George Zimmerman is also of Peruvian ancestry and his father is Jewish. In Hawaii, he would be called “hapa,” which means mixed blood and does not have a derogatory connotation. On the mainland United States, Zimmerman would generally be called Hispanic or Latino. ‘Hispanic’ generally denotes Spanish roots while ‘Latino’ assumes Latin American ancestry. But these terms are not inclusive of all. One growing trend is that those who used to describe themselves as Hispanic now call themselves Indian.

“Hispanic is not a race,” said Mr. Quiroz, whose ancestors were the Quechua people, of the Central Andes. “Hispanic is not a culture. Hispanic is an invention by some people who wanted to erase the identity of indigenous communities in America. We don’t believe we have to accept this identity just because we speak Spanish.”

Besides, Brazilians speak Portuguese and thus could barely be described as Hispanic at all. I just moved back to California from rural Utah. If George Zimmerman walked down the street in a big California city, most would assume he is Latino. But in southern Utah, many might think he is Piute. I asked a divorced Anglo friend there if his son, whose mother is Japanese, faced any discrimination. He laughed and said, no, everyone here just assumes he’s Piute. So, sometimes our preconceptions about race are completely wrong.

As for Anglos like me, well, at various times in history, Scots, Irish, and Brits have been mortal enemies. Much of what we call Anglo also has a Germanic influence, not to mention there’s the very real split between English and Celtic. So Anglo is hardly a monolith. Much of what we call race also has a heavy cultural overlay. It’s not just about blood; it’s about culture and class too. Yes, I know the United States maintains a polite fiction that we don’t have social classes. But we do, even if they aren’t as pronounced as elsewhere.

An Indian-Anglo acquaintance once said to me, “we’re all half-breeds. It’s just easier to tell with some of us.” Maybe we should celebrate this diversity instead of using it to divide and polarize us.

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