In all the articles I’ve read on the Trayvon Martin case, there’s one comment that has stuck out to me more than any. I can’t even remember the article or the person’s username, just the blatant lack of acknowledgement of any wrongdoing by this reader who urged news outlets to show pictures of what Trayvon Martin was wearing the night of February 26 when he was shot dead, not the angelic photos now being passed around of the 17-year-old boy.
I was furious, and for some reason shocked, although that type of racist insensitivity shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, the discussion had arisen out of a situation in which a neighborhood watchman was sitting free in the comfort of his home inside a gated Florida community after he’d just gunned down an unarmed “suspicious” black boy walking home with skittles and an iced-tea in his pockets. I’d let the anger at the reader’s insinuation that Trayvon was somehow responsible for his death go as new details in the case gave me new reasons to be upset—911 tapes, a reporter asking if Trayvon ate chicken, a girlfriend recounting his last minutes alive—but today Geraldo Rivera reignited the same fury I felt the day this boy’s apparel was first brought up as a justification for his death and I cried over this situation for the first time.
In an effort to somehow identify with the anger and frustration the black community is feeling over this case, Geraldo talked about not allowing his brown-skinned Latino son wear hoodies, and says plainly, “His hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman did.”
“No one black, brown or white can honestly tell me that seeing a kid of color with a hood pulled over his head doesn’t generate a certain reaction, sometimes scorn, often menace,” he wrote for Fox News Latino.
“When you see that kid coming your way, unless you specifically recognize him you are thinking ghetto or ghetto wannabe high-style or low-brow wise-A$$. Pedestrians cross the street to avoid black or brown hoodie wearers coming their way…
“Whatever Reverends Sharpton and Jackson say in Florida Friday, after listening to the 911 tapes and hearing the witness’ testimonials, I believe Trayvon Martin would be alive today but for his hoodie.”
Regardless of whether Geraldo is right about the reaction seeing a hoodie causes, there is no room for victim-blaming or distraction from the real criminal in this murder case. I won’t lie, the more I read about Trayvon Martin I thought, what if he didn’t have on that hoodie, what if black men didn’t always have on those damn hoodies. Would the suspicions go away? I didn’t ask the question because I was worried about black men making white or Hispanic people uncomfortable, I asked because I wanted them to be safe. I even engaged in my own chicken and the egg discussion: What came first, black men wearing hoodies as part of their own day-to-day style or hoodies becoming the apparel of choice for anyone who was about to commit a crime? I quickly removed myself from that thought though because discussions about what ifs only distract from what was and the answer truly doesn’t matter because this is not about a hoodie, this is about the skin tone of the boy in the hoodie and the assumptions about who he was based on his presence in an area where the majority of people didn’t look like him.
The suggestion that Trayvon essentially committed suicide by wearing a hoodie is akin to the thought that a woman wearing a short skirt and high heels asked to be raped. We’re blaming the victim instead of demanding the perpetrators accept responsibility and be punished for their actions. Do we really think the racism black men experience would change if they all swapped hoodies for button ups? Ask the well-spoken ninth grade black boy who was just told to read a poem by Langston Hughes “blacker,” ask a brown-skinned man in a three-piece business suit how difficult it is to catch a cab in New York City, ask the black man who’s been pulled over by the police more times than he can count, not because he went over the speeding limit or forgot to use his turning signal but for a crime far more egregious: driving while black. Ask the black man who can sense the fear his presence instills on those around him when he’s doing nothing more but walking to the corner store. Ask them how much their outfit helped or hindered them.
Everyone is looking for answers here in a crime that doesn’t make sense but I assure you, you won’t find the answer amongst a critique of black menswear. All this banter proves is a fact we often discuss when it comes to black women but is clearly now evident when it comes to black men, make that a black child: we cannot be victims. If being followed, pursued, and tracked down by George Zimmerman, as his calls to 911 demonstrate, doesn’t prove Trayvon was as innocent of a victim as a deer being hunted in the woods, how much more damage will insinuations that by wearing a mere sweatshirt Trayvon posed enough of a threat for George to stand his ground do? I don’t doubt that Trayvon would’ve been pursued exactly the same way as he was February 26 hoodie or not because he was an unrecognized black male in a community of mostly whites. We can swear off hoodies for black men until they go out of style and that won’t remove the accessory that is truly the root cause of their innate suspiciousness in our society—brown skin.
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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