For My Players in the(ir) Hood(ies)
The support for Trayvon Martin has been rather remarkable. The public has gone into their protest toolkit and hashtagged, blogged, marched, sent Skittles, and updated Facebook pictures accordingly. Even the POTUS, notoriously mum and/or known to toe borders on issues that concern race, went as far as to suggest that his male offspring would have perhaps resembled Trayvon Martin.
The most popular method of expressing dissatisfaction with the way that the Sanford, Florida, police department has handled the Martin case has been the donning–and therefore Facebook picturing–of people wearing hoodies. Martin had been wearing a hoodie when Zimmerman killed him; in fact, he had put the hood on his head to protect himself from Zimmerman, whose gaze he found worrisome, to say the least. An act, ironically, that exacerbated Zimmeran’s presumably prejudicial determination that Martin was suspicious.
Million Hoodie Marches were held in cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. (If you missed them, feel free to purchase a souvenir in support. Thanks, Capitalism!) And although Republican presidential candidates have been uncharacteristically wise enough to simply call what happened a “tragedy,” (un)fortunately not everyone got the memo.
Last week, I was reminded that Fox News had pulled Geraldo Rivera out of formaldehyde when clips of his response to the Trayvon Martin tragedy hit the interwebs. Clearly a student of the blame the victim school of thought, Rivera spent his camera time implicitly arguing that Martin’s sartorial choice was the reason for his violent demise:
Obviously, Rivera’s logic is absurd. But it’s not uncommon. It’s the kind of rationale that blames rape victims for being raped, the poor for being poor, the city of Cleveland for The Decision. The powerful are absolved for flexing their power. I don’t think it’s endemic to this country, but it feels like a very American tendency to me.
Although I enthusiastically advocate the show of support for Martin and his family by throwing on one’s favorite hoodie and snapping a picture, the act is marginal at best, as it simultaneously highlights yet mutes the core issue. Which is to say that it wasn’t simply the hoodie, but rather the black body inside of it that sparked the suspicion–not vice versa. After all, the KKK wears hoods; monks rock them. Geraldo’s son wants them for Christmas. It seems that no clothing can quiet the suspicion that black bodies inspire. Even our previous efforts to dress ourselves in the attire of respectability never thwarted the gaze–especially the one that helps aim the gun–from concluding that black people did not resemble and therefore stood outside of the body politic. Thus, the hoodie didn’t do it. Rather, the violence occurred because Zimmerman concluded that the body inside the hoodie did not belong inside gated spaces. Blackness is (the) outside, making those black bodies within exclusive regions vulnerable, and violently disconcerting to the ever powerful gaze of and/or view of one who more readily identifies with whiteness.
Furthermore, the preoccupation with the hoodie–whether as a symbol of support or blame–above all, is most ironic. Because it seems to me that those who have done the most harm to this country and other people make daily sartorial choices that could be regarded as antithetical to the hoodie. Business suits should be regarded with more suspicion than any other uniform. But again, the act of blaming the powerless is a tendency that did not begin with Geraldo. It’s a crafty strategy that averts gazes to those who seemingly don’t belong. And black bodies never belong. And as we dress ourselves in protest it’s best that we remember that.
Our silence has never protected us; our clothes haven’t, either.
N.B. In last week’s post, I lamented the lack of an Ida B. Wells-like, internet version of The Red Record to document instances where innocent, unarmed black people are killed for being black (and therefore suspicious). Well, I’m no Ida B. Wells, but I’ve started one. Visit and follow The Red Record 2.0. Contact and/or help the project: firstname.lastname@example.org.