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When RACE is skin deep

Posted by Robyn on March 27, 2012 in Ethics, Race |

The Trayvon Martin incident is what is on my mind. Particularly, the whitening of George Zimmerman. What happens when race is skin deep?

The other day I was at work and I commented on ‘how white’ my colleague is. I was referring to her skin pigmentation, and her response was: “you’re one to talk.” I am a light-skin Latina whose features wax and wane with the seasons. I often am the “victim” or recipient to a type of whitening. At that moment, my colleague indicated to me that race was but skin deep. How can that be? Is the same for George Zimmerman?

In a now corrected story, he is listed as a white hispanic, or sometimes as only hispanic. Where are the complications of race and the destabilizing nature of race discourse? They aren’t being deployed in this event that has left a black body dead. And, the Latin@ community seems to be ever so silent. Why is that? Why do we perpetuate a race politic that is skin deep? Said differently, isn’t our skin really deep? Isn’t our skin porous, our flesh exposing the depth of what race could be? I’m troubled that we stop at a skin color, and we don’t interrogate further. A black body remains dead, a white hispanic remains uncharged for this crime, and the black communities are crying out. White communities are crying out as well. What about Latin@ communities? What does their silence mean relative to this event? And when will race be more than skin deep? Or, when will we realize that race is completely skin deep and we all need a better race politic?

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1 Comment

  • Thanks for bringing this up, Robyn.

    I think this whitening speaks to the tendency of whiteness to consume and absorb cultures when it seems politically expedient to do so. Historically groups such as the Italian and the Irish have become white, after having been initially racialized, and I suspect that in the white panic over the growing political power of racialized people this trend will increase. It’s how white supremacy pretends to be democracy. In my experience, whiteness also has a lot to do with class. Economically privileged individuals with lighter skin are more likely to be claimed as white, or as “practically white” than others.

    Of course in a certain strain of North American thought (not mine, thankfully) there are only two races – white and black, and everyone gets slotted into those, regardless of fit. So to them, if George Zimmerman isn’t black, then he has to be white.

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