Being a white male of means, I’m never entirely comfortable getting on a soapbox and talking about racism. You never know what is really in another person’s heart, and it’s difficult to unpack what you yourself are bringing to the party from your own head. Plus, most talks of racism neatly divide everyone into the two groups of Us (Never, Ever, Racists!) and Them (Racists, Each and Every One!) that I find both untrue and unhelpful.
But I have no problem going out on the limb on this one.
In what in retrospect was probably an inevitable It Was All Trayvon Martin’s Fault After All backlash, Geraldo Rivera this week bravely came forward on Fox and Friends and fingered the real culprit in this tragedy: hoodies and rap music.
It’s those crime scene surveillance tapes. Every time you see someone sticking up a 7-11, the kid is wearing a hoodie. Every time you see a mugging on a surveillance camera or they get the old lady in the alcove, it’s a kid wearing a hoodie. You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a gangsta, you’re gonna be a gangsta wannabe? Well, people are going to perceive you as a menace.
That’s what happens. It is an instant reflexive action. Remember Juan Williams, our colleague? Our brilliant colleague? He got in trouble with NPR because he said Muslims in formal garb at the airport conjure a certain reaction in him or response in him? That’s an automatic reflex. Juan wasn’t defending it. He was explaining that that’s what happens when he sees these particular people in that particular place.
When you see a black or Latino youngster, particularly on the street, you walk to the other side of the street. You try to avoid that confrontation. Trayvon Martin’s you know, god bless him, he’s an innocent kid, a wonderful kid, a box of Skittles in his hand. He didn’t deserve to die. But I’ll bet you money, if he didn’t have that hoodie on, that — that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way.
On the off chance that you are neither a teenage boy or the parent of one, let me just step in to give quick testimony as a father of two: Teenage boys wearing hoodies may well have been a “gangstah” thing in, say, 1992, but they are as universal as jeans for todays teens. On those occasions when I have to pick up my son for soccer or la crosse practice after school, when that last bell rings and the school doors fly open there is an outpouring of kids that are all wearing hooodies. And we live in a pretty upper-middle class section of a pretty white city. One of the things my son asked for for his birthday this year was a green Oregon hoodie, and he wears it all the time. This is despite the fact that when he listens to music it’s almost always the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, and has never had an interest in listening to JayZ, Kanye, Nelly or 50 Cent.
Rivera’s comments were neither insightful nor, I suspect, even sincere. In the same way I never believed that no one at FOX was able to tell E.D. Hill that bumping fists was a pretty normal middle class thing and not a terrorist call sign, I do not for a moment believe that neither Rivera nor any of the producers of Fox and Friends have been outdoors around other people in the past 10 years. No, it’s hard for me to look at this as anything other than an attempt to help assuage one’s older, white audience into the comfortable narrative that if bad things happen to blacks it’s their own fault, that today’s devil music is destroying our nation’s youth, and a general, clucking “Kids today!” shout out.
If sticking to your approved narrative means that you need to blame the senseless murder of a boy who went to the store for Skittles on his wearing a hoody, then you seriously need to go back and revise your approved narrative. If Martin was a 16 year old girl that Zimmerman had raped, I would hope that Rivera would not be saying the skirt that only went to her knees was the real issue – but with him, who the hell knows?
Note: For those that haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend Ethan’s more meta take on the Martin case here.