Mike Kueber's Blog

March 27, 2012

Geraldo and hoodies

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 5:39 pm
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Geraldo Rivera has caught a lot of flak for suggesting Trayvon Martin might have avoided his demise if he hadn’t been wearing a hoodie:

  • “[I] am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.  When you see a black or Latino youngster, particularly on the street, you walk to the other side of the street. You try to avoid that confrontation. Trayvon Martin, you know God bless him, he was an innocent kid, a wonderful kid, a box of Skittles in his hands. He didn’t deserve to die. But I’ll bet you money, if he didn’t have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way.”

An op-ed piece in the LA Times provides a comprehensive analysis of Rivera’s comments, but in my opinion it reaches the wrong conclusions.   For example, it mentions the analogy of provocatively dressed women who are assaulted, but then dismisses the analogy without discussion.  And it refers approvingly to a column in Time magazine by a guy named Toure (I recently blogged about the column) without considering the similarities between Rivera’s and Toure’s recommendations – i.e., staying safe by avoiding troublesome situations.  What is the difference between Rivera recommending that kids don’t wear hoodies and Toure recommending the following:

  • If you encounter such a situation, you need to play it cool. Keep your wits about you. Don’t worry about winning the situation. Your mission is to survive….  You will have to make allowances for other people’s racism. That’s part of the burden of being black. We can be defiant and dead or smart and alive. I’m not saying you can’t wear what you want, but your clothes are a red herring. They’ll blame it on your hoodie or your jeans when the real reason they decided you were a criminal is that you’re black.

Toure seems to be having it both ways by saying that black kids should wear what they want at the same time he advises them against being defiant and dead. 

I don’t think there is any question that wearing a hoodie over your head is threatening to a lot of people, just like tinted windows in cars are threatening or just like the burqa that many Islamic women wear.  In fact, some European countries have banned the wearing of burqas, most famously France. 

I am not suggesting that burqas or tinted windows or hoodies should be banned.  I’m just suggesting that the practice has some practical implications that are difficult to legislate away, even if all of the Miami Heat players try to popularize the hoodies. 

As some wag said, hoodies are like tattoos in that they come from gangster/convict/ghetto culture, and if a kid wants to adopt the gangster/convict/ghetto look, then don’t be surprised when other people are on edge around you.  That is in our DNA.