The shooter was once a Catholic altar boy — with a surname that could have been Jewish.
His father is white, neighbors say. His mother is Latina. And his family is eager to point out that some of his relatives are black.
There may be no box to check for George Zimmerman, no tidy way to categorize, define and sort the 28-year-old man whose pull of a trigger on a darkened Florida street is forcing America to once again confront its fraught relationship with race and identity. The victim, we know, was named Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager in a hoodie. The rest becomes a matter for interpretation.
The drama in Florida takes on a kind of modern complexity. Its nuances show America for what it is steadily becoming, a realm in which identity is understood as something that cannot be summed up in a single word.
The images of Zimmerman — not just his face, but the words used to describe him — can confound and confuse. Why are they calling him white, wondered Paul Ebert, the Prince William County commonwealth’s attorney who knew Zimmerman’s mother, Gladys, from her days as an interpreter at the county courthouse. Zimmerman’s mother, Ebert knew, was Peruvian, and he thought of her as Hispanic.