Looking under the hoodie

The exposure is stark, high contrast, black and white. The last time this country cared even near this much about a person in a hoodie was that infamous sketch of the sunglassed Unibomber, Ted Kaczynski.

But wearing a hoodie doesn’t make one evil, threatening or a gangster, despite FOX News showman  Geraldo Rivera’s bizarre assertion that, “His hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman did.” Blaming Trayvon Martin for being suspicious in a hoodie is like blaming a rape victim because she wore something sexy.

Judging someone because of what they wear or the way they talk is the same prejudice that judges them by their skin color. Sure, there are times when “appropriate” attire is required, like a funeral or a job interview, but the kid was just walking on a particular street, like hundreds of other kids do, everyday. Apparently, some people don’t want kids to be kids, especially if they are Black (or Asian or Hispanic or Muslim).

American MindsThe lesson here is less about the gun lobby’s “Stand Your Ground” law, than it is about how far we still have to go to recognize all Americans, regardless of race, color or creed, as neighbors first, and criminals only when there’s direct evidence from that individual to support specific suspicions.

We are meaning making machines, a teacher once told me. We relate to other people (and our environment) with the lessons past experience has taught us, or, lacking direct experience, we draw conclusions based on “stories” we have heard from our prime influences – our parents and our community. So all it takes to change the reflexive responses to social situations to which we resign ourselves, is a willingness to acknowledge that things may not be what you were always led to believe they were.

That’s not always an easy thing to do.

It requires disavowing some deeply held beliefs, letting go of our grip on the familiar bar that has gotten us this far in life, and like a trapeze artist, trusting that there’s another mindset that will catch you and validate your new feelings. If you’ve ever had to admit you were wrong about something, in just about any context, you’ve done something similar. The biggest difference is admitting something you once thought was correct is flawed, compared to something you were certain about could be wrong.

Here’s an exercise from the Book of Oversimplification that may help you. Let’s say you have this idea that you look terrible in stripes. Try wearing stripes on a date, or to an important meeting, and see if it really matters. Better yet, try listening to your significant other in a conversation, while you’re wearing stripes, and pretend you don’t automatically know where they’re coming from. Be willing to be surprised, by every one and everything.

Americans are better than the racial profiling that passes for vigilance these days. George Zimmerman may not be there yet, but you can be. Give it a try.


11 thoughts on “Looking under the hoodie

  1. Oops, that was embarrassing. Thanks for putting so much effort into the response, but I don’t see where he was blaming the right. One could say that he was blaming both sides for the vitriolic state of discourse in our country since he didn’t pick a side. I think it was good to try and make it a teachable moment, but I’m always looking for the best in the President.


    1. Carol, I understand that you are a supporter of President Obama and are looking for the best in his job performance. If you are conceding the point that the President was blaming both sides in the Giffords memorial speech, yet that he did not pick a side, then you agree that he politicized a tragic event. I don’t belive that the forum was appropriate for any political remarks. Nor do I agree that he blamed both sides. As I understood his remarks, he directed them specifically at everyone but his supporters, continuing his strategy of dividing the country. The President did not say that Democrats and Liberals in this country have a problem with civility. His ambiguity was purposful, strategic and part of his rehtorical style. I find it distastful at best and deceitful at worst. If he cannot speak directly about an opponent, dont speack at all, escpecially at a national memorial event. What “teachable” moment is even possible? The guy was a mental case. Did LBJ, one of the most partisan politicians in modern American history, use Sirhan Sirhan’s assasination as a teachable moment about Palestinian rights? Did LBJ use the assasination of JFK or MLK.? I dont recall any president finding teachable moments until Obama. I want a leader, not a teacher or moralizer in chief. I also want a leader that stays above the frey not wallows in it.


  2. First of all, Carol, her name is Gabby Giffords. Here is a link to the text of the speech from the Huff Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/12/obama-arizona-memorial-sp_n_808335.html
    Here is a cut and paste from Obama regarding the theme of his speech, Civility: Please give it a read or view the video. He talked about a “national conversation.

    “If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate — as it should — let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost. (Applause.) Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle.

    The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better. To be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors and coworkers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their death helps usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy — it did not — but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud. (Applause.)

    We should be civil because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American Dream to future generations. (Applause.)”

    In my opinion, as our President has shown a pattern to do, he politicized an event. He has rushed to judgement about the incident. The killer was a crazy man. I am sorry that this young man was killed. I never made any reference to Geraldo. My contention is that in the real world, people do judge based on clothing and that our President should not be injecting himself or his race in this issue.


  3. I see. You’re using the Right Wing meme of the president creating a class/culture war by talking about what’s wrong with our country.
    In order to make something right, one first has to acknowledge that there’s a problem. In the cases you cite, the problems he points out are racism, income disparity, ease of access to assault weapons, and corporate malfeasance. He expects, I think, that if he talks about it, people will pay attention and help do something about it, or at least get that he is letting them know that he knows these issues are out there, and he cares about them.
    BTW, I agree that he overstepped, spoke before all the facts were in, blamed the police in the Prof Gates case (he never blamed anyone in his statement on Trayvon), but he apologized, and I think he learned from that. But he also taught us something – that black Americans feel like they are always under suspicion, when it comes to the police, no matter how accomplished or culturally assimilated they may be.


    1. PG, I do not want my president pointing out, in just a short 3 .3 years of his first term, all the things wrong with America. I remarked about Gifford, because he used her shooting and the death of 6 people and ijury to 13, to point out the problem with civility in this country, not assult weapons. We do not have a problem with civility in this country. I mentioned Buffett’s secretary, because he used her as a prop in the State of the Union Speech to address problems in our tax code. A problem that has not been addressed by Congress or the Executive Branches becasue the probelm does not exist. She pays a higher percentage of tax because she eans a salary. Her salary is in excess of $250k btw. Regarding BP, my comment was that he used his daughters in his speech to the American people about the spill. Sasha would ask him if he fixed the leak. He was shaving at the time and said he was still working on it. The use of a crisis or a child or a secretary for politcal gain is a tactic that our Presdent has used repeatedly. I disagree with you that we have all this wrong stuff going on in this country that needs to be made right. I disagree that we do not address issues in this great nation. Government and specifically, the President have a limited role in citizens lives. Our constitution limits the role of government. Perhaps this is why the president over the last three years has used the press to push an agenda of civility, racism, income disparity, corporate malfeasance and other issues found no where in his job description.


    2. One more random comment or two PG. The New Black Panther Party-Orlando, has put a bounty on George Zimmerman. The price is $10k. Should the President speak out against the bounty? Is a black on black crime, like what happened recently at an apartment complex in Atlanta, where a security guard, kills a teenager, worthy of a comment from our President? Did the press and liberal TV, jump to conclusions regarding the lacross team at Duke? Did they do the same years ago regarding Twana Brawley? Do they learn from teachable moments like our President?


  4. Arthur, I am quite sure that President Obama never blamed the right wing for Debbie Gifford’s shooting. You might want to re-Google that and check the sources for truthiness;) Let me know if I’m wrong. I’m sad every time I go to my closet now; hoods are very popular on women’s apparel. My hoodies make me think of this kid who was stalked by a well meaning but disturbed person and killed in cold blood. Think of his final moments of life, he was 17.


  5. Ok, PG, as usual well written piece. Addressing the hoodie issue the way you did was interesting. If an individual wants to wear a hoodie in America, he as every right to do so. It is not illegal or even imoral. However, many commentators, talking heads, leaders in the black community, black parents and others have brought up the issue of “the talk”. This is the discussion, that apparantly every responsible black adult in America has with a young adult about the realities of being black in America. This “talk” includes information about how predjudicial most Americans really are about young black maies. The “talk” includes the message that wearing a hoodie in certain situation is not a good idea. Your remark that “Judging someone because of what they wear”-like judging someone by their skin color, is correct. People do pre-judge. As your teacher pointed out, learning from experience or from others experience is part of life. Some people might call it maturity. Most of us learn as childeren, as MLK emphasised, to make an effort to judge a person by the content of their character. America’s laws were amended to render illegal discrimination on many levels. However, although it is not illegal to dress like a Victoria Secret model in a room full of drunk boys, it is not smart. Frankly, it is part of the talk most fathers, white, black or purple have with girls they care about. In a similar note: The media, President Obama and others, are rushing to judge Mr. Zimmerman, don’t you think? Additionally, I am irritated that Mr. Obama is stepping into this situation and influencing the debate. His remark “If I had a son, he would look like Travon”, rubbed me the wrong way. If any white president made a similar remark about an incident with a white boy, he would be skewered. Did the President not learn anything from the incident with the Cambridge police, Professor Gates that resulted in the beer summit? He is injecting race, again, into a situation that the President is using for his own political gain. This is a descructive force in our society and body politic. Why does he continue to do this? He did a similar thing with the ruch to blame the right wing of the conservative movement on the Rep. Gifford shooting. It ended up being a crazy person that shot all those people. it was not a teaching moment at all. What do you think?


    1. I don’t agree that President Obama’s remarks were an “injection” into the issue. He said nothing about about an arrest, or the actions of the police, or George Zimmerman, as he did in the Skip Gates misstep. All he expressed was sympathy for the family, as a father, and he intimated, that as a black man, his son would look like Trayvon, and as a black man, he had an understanding of what that means. A young man walking down the street in a hoodie, a public street, is not the same thing as a VS model in a frat house (which doesn’t mean she wants, expects or deserves anything, but is probably properly guarded). He wasn’t walking into a Klan meeting. He was minding his own business. Why the rush to blame the victim here? Geraldo said, “His hoodie killed him.” That’s absurd.
      If you’re saying that “the talk” for young black men, because they got the talk, it’s up to them to be “non-threatening,” that’s also laying the blame on the victim.
      My point is that just because we were taught to prejudge, doesn’t mean we can’t, with a little effort, change our behavior. We just have to want to.


      1. The President could have said anything. Anything said by the President is an intentional interjection into the matter. He could have said, “all our children are Travon” or “we are Travon” or anything. He chose to say something that speaks loudly. He did not mention the content of Travon’s character, he mentioned Travon’s color. He even made a connection to his race. Is that the type of rehtoric that inflames the situation or puts it into a non political, non confrontational, non prejudicial mindset? Also, it is within the black community where parents and the likes of Bill Cosby and others direct black youth to be careful how they dress. I am not blaming the victim, I am facing the truth. The victim plays a role as well. Would he have been shot wearing Dockers and a Polo shirt? No one knows, but I believe it is less likely. This is a tragic event for the family and the neighborhood. Why the press, black liberal leadership and now the President have ginned it up into a international incident (see Al Jazeera’s take on it) is for media profits, spotlights on people like Sharpton and to deepen the political divide between the races. Intentional, with forethought and with malice. Like I said, I would have thought our President would have learned from the Gates incident. It seems part of a pattern in the man and his administration that includes the Gifford shooting, Buffets secretary at the State of the Union speach, Maliha and Sasha’s concern for the BP spill…I could go on, but it is not Presidential, not good for the country and not helpful. It is hurtful.


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