Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Definitions of race cloud case of black teen's shooting

Trayvon Martin was black.

George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old who shot and killed the 17-year-old late last month in Sanford, is … what?

He has been described by the many different news organizations covering the case in a variety of different ways: white, Hispanic, white and Hispanic. All true. The most recent assessment from the Associated Press? Police call him white. His family says he's Hispanic. Again, not wrong.

In a written statement to the Orlando Sentinel, Zimmerman's father sought to accentuate his son's Hispanic ethnicity: "George is a Spanish speaking minority with many black family members and friends. He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever."

The first sentence doesn't necessarily lead to the second, of course, but this declaration from the family is important. Why? Quick explainer: "Hispanic" is not a race. It's not an option in the race question in the census. It's an ethnicity question. And the census says you're Hispanic if you say you are.

The Pew Hispanic Center in Washington works the same way. "If you self-identify as Hispanic," associate director Mark Hugo Lopez said Tuesday, "we identify you as Hispanic."

George Zimmerman has a white father and a Hispanic mother. He calls himself Hispanic on his driver's license. He calls himself Hispanic on his voter registration card. He married a white woman.

What does all this mean?

On Tuesday, Elahe Izadi, a public radio reporter in Washington, D.C. who covers race and politics, wrote a blog post called "Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman And Beyond Black And White."

In a phone interview, she made three points worth considering as this story rages forward:

1. "The race of Zimmerman is relevant. The race of Trayvon is relevant."

2. "There's the question of how a person self-identifies. And there's the question of how society identifies you."

3. "Being a person of color doesn't preclude racially profiling someone else."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Michael Kruse can be reached at or (727) 893-8751. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelkruse.

Definitions of race cloud case of black teen's shooting 03/20/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 11:35pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rick Baker's debate answer revives painful St. Pete controversy


    ST. PETERSBURG — Former Mayor Bill Foster fired one of his top administrators, Goliath Davis III, six years ago for disobeying an order to attend the funeral of a slain police officer.

    St. Petersburg police officers stand by two caskets before the beginning of the 2011 funeral services for Sgt. Thomas Baitinger and Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz at the First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg. [DIRK SHADD   |  Times]
  2. Plan your weekend July 28-30: Comic Con, Lady Antebellum, Margarita Wars, Tampa's Fourth Friday


    Plan your weekend

    Geek out

    Tampa Bay Comic Con: The fan convention returns to the Tampa Convention Center this weekend, bringing actors Val Kilmer, Kate Beckinsale, Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek's Lt. Uhura), Khary Payton (Ezekiel in The Walking Dead) and the …

    Ibri Day poses for a photo at opening day of the 2015 Tampa Bay Comic Con at the Tampa Convention Center. (Friday, July 31, 2015.) [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
  3. Editorial: Trump assaults rule of law by attacking attorney general


    Jeff Sessions was a terrible choice for attorney general, and the policies he has pursued in his brief tenure — cracking down on immigrants, bullying sheriffs, prosecuting low-level offenders to the max — are counterproductive. But the stinging personal attacks President Donald Trump leveled at Sessions this …

    The stinging personal attacks President Donald Trump leveled at Attorney General Jess Sessions this week assault the integrity of the Department of Justice and the rule of law.
  4. Iowa group sues United over death of giant rabbit, Simon


    DES MOINES, Iowa — A group of Iowa businessmen filed a lawsuit Wednesday against United Airlines over the death of Simon, a giant rabbit whose lifeless body was discovered in a kennel after a flight from London to Chicago.

    In this May 8, 2017 file photo, attorney Guy Cook speaks a news conference while looking at a photo of Simon, a giant rabbit that died after flying from the United Kingdom to Chicago, in Des Moines, Iowa. A group of Iowa businessmen have filed a lawsuit against United Airlines over the death of Simon. The businessmen filed the lawsuit Wednesday, July 26, 2017, more than three months after airline workers found the continental rabbit named Simon dead. [AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall]
  5. Elderly Brooksville woman dies in Wednesday crash


    BROOKSVILLE — An 87-year-old woman died following a Wednesday morning car crash, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.