Sunday, March 25, 2012

Hatred and the hoodie

I've liked hoodies for so long, I don't remember when I didn't have several. I manage to buy one at just about every vacation stop and they are standard fare for winter and fall, not to mention some of the more nasty days of spring around here.

Now, when I say hoodies, I'm talking about the hooded sweatshirts, not the little cups of chocolate and vanilla ice cream with the wooden paddle spoons, although I'm a big fan of those also.

No, I'm talking about oversized snuggly sweatshirts with the pouch in the front for your hands, keys, cell phone and mp3 or iPod. They're standard fare for Patriots coach Bill Belichick. And apparently they're standard fare for young men (and young women) of all races. But now, apparently wearing a hoodie while black may mean you're likely to get shot.

Earbaby is a hoodie fan. She also wears them, and during her all-black clothing phase, was never far from one. This actually caused a strange fight between her dad and her, and that's when I realized, years ago, that young people wearing hooded sweatshirts meant they were considered thugs, or, well, hoods.

A couple of years ago, when EB was about 11, she and her dad and I all met up at one of the local malls. We went shopping and then to PF Chang's for a meal. The place was crowded, but we were invited to sit in the bar area at one of the tall tables and have our dinner there. The table was right by the window and door and it was a chilly night. EB was wearing a big sweatshirt with a hood. She also had cornrows, which, that night, made her head cold. She pulled up her hood and then the fireworks started.

Her father reacted in a way that I thought then, and still think now was absolutely out of proportion irrational. He demanded that she take her hood off. She said her head was cold. He said she looked like a thug. I told him to leave it alone, she was cold (she's skinny, she's always cold) and we were sitting by a cold window. No, he demanded she take the hood off, or we were leaving and not eating. I thought his irrational rage was way stupid, but he wouldn't relent. Never mind that not only was this a casual seating area, and a cold area at that, that she was 11 years old and weighed only about 85 pounds soaking wet, and we weren't dressed up to eat at The Ritz. His daughter with a black hood on to warm her little cold head looked like a common thug in his eyes.

I was infuriated with his demeanor. And I could see how the irrational hatred of an article of clothing (and maybe the color of the person wearing it?) possibly led to the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin this month in Florida. Yes, I know, murder is a legal term and the shooter, George Zimmerman hasn't been convicted, or even arrested yet. But when people can be gunned down for "looking suspicious" and wearing a sweatshirt, well, this is another tragic lesson I have to try and teach my daughter.

We haven't come very far from when it was standard to question rape victims on what they were wearing that may have enticed someone to violate them. Now when young black men wear a hoodie, they are automatically branded as up to no good. Maybe they were cold, not trying to conceal their identity. Maybe their cornrowed heads were cold.

Just about every African American I've ever known has a story about being prejudged. Truthfully, I've yet to meet even one who doesn't. We are judged -- and stopped -- for driving while black, shopping while black, and now, walking home while black.

A well-known (and well past his prime) alleged television journalist suggested that young Trayvon Martin's choice of clothing may have contributed to his tragic end. Problem with that opinion is that it mirrors what used to be said about female victims of sexual assault. Somehow, the fault lies with the victims and not the aggressor.

Today in church, our choir wore hoodies. We sang Michael Jackson's Man in the Mirror. The song came after our choir director sang MJ's They Don't Care about Us, which was written  almost 20 years ago. It speaks to us today. Because we still haven't overcome.

The Unabomber wore a hoodie. But there aren't reports of middle-aged white men being stalked and gunned down for "looking suspicious."

Earbaby is having to learn that it's not the clothes she's wearing that will make her "look suspicious." It's the skin she's in. We've still got so far to go before we as a people get to our promised land.  I hope we get there in my daughter's lifetime.

No comments:

Post a Comment