US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Hoodie arguments: Race, clothing, and Trayvon Martin

Liz Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The story of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who was shot and killed near Orlando, Florida last month while walking home from a convenience store, has taken the nation by storm. The shooter, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, claims that he shot Martin in self-defense, and for now, Florida’s laws protect Zimmerman from being arrested.

Last week, a “Million Hoodies March” took place in Manhatten as a demonstration to protest racial profiling. Many people wore hooded sweatshirts like the one Martin was wearing the night he was killed. (Similar actions have taken place across the country, with another big demonstration planned today in Los Angeles.) However, last Friday, Geraldo Rivera followed up this powerful event by suggesting on “Fox and Friends” that, though Zimmerman ultimately pulled the trigger, the hoodie that Martin wore contributed just as much to his death. Said Rivera:

“I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly not to let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin‘s death as much as George Zimmerman was…You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a gangsta—you're going to be a gangsta wannabe, well people are going to perceive you as a menace. That's what happens. It is an instant, reflexive action…I'm not suggesting that Trayvon Martin had any kind of weapon or anything. He wore an outfit that allowed someone to respond in this irrational, overzealous way. And if he had been dressed more appropriately—I think unless it is raining out or you are at a track meet, leave the hoodie home."

Glossing over the insensitive victim blaming and the fact that it was actually raining the night Martin was killed, Rivera actually alludes to an element of reality here: that we still live with dangerous stereotypes that promote distrust and hatred between races.

Though many would like to think that racism no longer exists in our country, the issue here isn’t that hooides themselves are inherently dangerous or that Martin was at fault for wearing one, but rather that simply by being a young black man wearing a hooded sweatshirt to shield himeself from the rain, Martin aroused suspicion from a neighbor that led to his tragic death. (Not many people would argue that this hipster or this teen pop sensation are at risk of being mistaken for gang members, despite the presence of hoodies.)

Marian Wright Edelmen, in her piece “Walking While Black,” points out the major “crime” that Martin committed—happening to fit a stereotype of someone “up to no good," determined not just by clothing, but very much by race. She explains the burden that black parents have on teaching their children—specifically, their sons—how to act so that they don’t seem dangerous to others. She also points out that sadly, the Trayvon Martin case is not unique, and that black males age 15 to 19 were eight times as likely as white males to be victims of homicide in 2008 and 2009.

“We won’t get it,” Edelman says, “Until we have a culture that sees every child as a child of God and sacred, instead of seeing some as expendable statistics, and others as threats and ‘no good’ because of the color of their skin or because they chose to walk home wearing a hood in the rain.”