More so than her words about George Zimmerman getting away with murder, I was taken aback at the sight of Juror B-29.
"She's black," I said to my daughter.
Indeed, Juror B-29 could be any one of my four daughters, my sister, my mother, my aunts — all of whom have African ancestry.
Somehow, I didn't quite get that picture in the many descriptions presented of her during the Zimmerman trial.
Orlando Sentinel, June 18, 2013 — "B-29: A Hispanic nurse on an Alzheimer's ward …"
The New York Times, June 20, 2013 — "The jurors, none of them black, include a Hispanic woman …"
Associated Press, June 20, 2013 — "A jury of six women, five of them white and the other a minority …"
USA Today, June 21, 2013 — "B-29: She is a young woman of color …"
CNN, June 23, 2013 — "Five white women and one black or Hispanic woman …"
NBC Nightly News, July 13, 2013 — "Jury of six all women and all white."
The latter reference, made by Brian Williams, was quickly acknowledged as a mistake. However, the many descriptions clearly indicate Juror B-29 gave all kinds of fits to America's journalists in describing just what she was under the ever-shifting prism of racial identity.
There was no easy out either, as, according to CNN, they had no access to the juror questionnaires where they could just go by how she defined herself.
So they went by sight — as we all do when coming across people in our daily lives.
Race matters in America, and not just for high-profile trials or the criminal justice systems.
Race matters, well, just because.
For so long, the issue of race in America has primarily revolved around blacks and whites, but Hispanics, now the largest minority in this country, can be of any race and choose any race.
How does Juror B29 self-identify herself vs. how the world sees her?
I see her as a Hispanic of African descent or a black Hispanic, but I am aware that most such Hispanics do not refer to themselves as black. They are Hispanic or whatever nationality of their country of origin. Indeed, in the 2010 census, just 2.5 percent of Hispanics checked the box "Black or African American" in referring to their race.
Most Hispanics in America — 53 percent — identify themselves as white, according to the 2010 Census overview. Of those who don't choose white, 37 percent choose "some other race."
Self-identifying as "white" clearly would be a questionable option for Juror B-29, but it would not be for George Zimmerman, whom I referred to as white in a previous column, which drew a query from a reader.
My answer: As far as I know, there is no one-drop rule for Hispanics that categorizes a child from the union of a nonblack Hispanic and a white Anglo as Hispanic — as there has been for the union of one of African ancestry with one of white or any other race in America.
The matter of being able to choose one's race can be one of convenience or expedience, as described by one former student who said when he applied for federal grants, he checked the "Hispanic" box, but when he applied for a gun permit, he selected "white."
This too will change, just as there is no box for Irish, Italians, Poles, Germans, English and others from European countries. There is just white.
Which is to say that demographers who claim whites will be the minority in America are either disingenuous or clueless about America's racial past.
It presumes that white Hispanics will fail to be absorbed and received like every other ethnic group of European ancestry that came before them and melted into the pot of whiteness.
America will still have a white majority.
The Zimmerman trial, among other things, highlighted America's changing demographics and the role Hispanics increasingly play in all avenues of American life — including our most dynamic and notoriously problematic one of race.
Frank Harris III is chairman of the journalism department at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun