Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Race Paradigm: Hoods Matter

Here at Bomber Boulevard, I keep it all Yankees, all the time. But the recent events surrounding the Trayvon Martin case have left me dumbfounded; particularly the comments made by TV journalist, Geraldo Rivera. In case you've been hiding under a rock. Martin was the 17-year old high school student who was shot and killed by a "self-appointed" neighborhood watch patrolman in Sanford, FL. The patrolman, George Zimmerman, claims that he killed Martin in self-defense, but continuous investigating finds that Zimmerman may have committed murder or manslaughter. Adding even more fuel to an already "highly combustible" case, Rivera told a news outlet that he believes Trayvon was killed because he was wearing a hoodie; a part of the urban wardrobe that Rivera believes young minority men use to stylize themselves as gangsters and/or menaces.

Because members of the sports world in particular have taken note of this case and the comments made by Rivera, I thought it appropriate to bring a worthy, well-written article to you all in regarding the hoodie situation. I'm not going to impart my own opinion on this dynamic here; I could, but I'm not an analyst on the right and wrongs of society. I do care, however, about stories like this, when it is perceived that a young man's life is worth no more than the hoodie on his back.

Hoods Matter: How the classic hoodie became a conversation starter about youth, race and style in America

By Elena Romero

What originated as an American style for athletes in the 1930s has now become a symbol for all things unjust to some and the identifier of a “gangsta wannabe” for others.

The recent comments on Fox News by seasoned veteran journalist Geraldo Rivera about wearing hoodies has caused an instant knee-jerk reaction on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. “I think that the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was,” began the sensationalized under two-minute statements by Rivera, who has lost his touch since his much-hyped 1986 TV special The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault. While to the average person, Rivera’s comments seemed ridiculous, the reality is that he speaks for a particular group for people in our country. It’s a sad fact that some people whether white, black, Latino or other, particularly of the baby boom generation, view young men of color as hoodlums by merely what they wear. Don’t judge a book by its cover does not really apply when it comes to addressing the hip-hop generation. Typical hip-hop attire –whether its baggy jeans, untucked button-front shirts, oversized logoed t-shirts, fitted baseball caps, loosely-laced construction boots, or a classic hoodie, have recently come under attack.

Like many music rebellions prior to hip-hop that frustrated adults, urban fashion has had its share of controversy. There are plenty of people and institutions that have voiced their opinions about the extreme “sloppy” look of hip-hop from Bill Cosby, President Barack Obama to Sen. Eric Adams of Brooklyn who ran the “Stop the Sag” campaign in 2010. At the prestigious Morehouse College in Atlanta, their “Renaissance men” were told as of October 2009 to not wear “caps, do-rags and/or hoods in classrooms, the cafeteria, or other indoor venues” as well as “saggy pants on campus” per the Morehouse College Appropriate Attire Policy. Other colleges, such as Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C. also enforced a similar policy.

Hoods or hoodies, more commonly referred to, can be traced back to Medieval Europe and here in America to the Great Depression when it was in full swing. Hoodies, once meant for protection from the cold weather for athletes, have transcended into a staple for youth in hip-hop, skate, snowboard and other subcultures. Unfortunately, hoodies have become a scapegoat for some real problems facing our society. In America, our country is far from being healed of racial and gender discrimination, inequalities and prejudice as demonstrated by the sentiments felt at the Million Hoodie March that took place in New York’s Union Square and throughout similar marches conducted. The “stylizing of hoodlum wannabes” as Rivera stated provokes an “instant reflective action” on how men of color and teens are naturally perceived. It’s time to set the record straight. A hoodie is no more of a reason why Martin was killed or why someone should be followed than what Martin was holding in his hands—a pack of Skittles and bottle of ice tea. “Every time you see someone sticking up a 7-11, the kid’s wearing a hoodie. Every time you see a mugging on a surveillance camera or they get the old lady in the alcove, it’s the kid wearing a hoodie. You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a gangsta. People are going to perceive you as a menace.”

UK conservative leader David Cameron addressed some of the real issues at the Centre for Social Justice in 2006. “The fact is that the hoodie is a response to a problem, not a problem in itself. We – the people in suits – often see hoodies as aggressive, the uniform of a rebel army of young gangsters. But, for young people, hoodies are often more defensive than offensive. They’re a way to stay invisible in the street. In a dangerous environment the best thing to do is keep your head down, blend in, don’t stand out.”

Adults actually need to look beyond the hood. The problem isn’t the garment, but our mentality.

Elena Romero is a former fashion journalist for DNR and WWD. She is currently a media lecturer at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and at the City College Center for Worker Education. Romero and the author of the forthcoming book, “Free Stylin’: How Hip Hop Changed the Fashion Industry.”

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper

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