Why I Won’t be Wearing a Hoodie

White Americans can absolutely feel sadness, anger, and shame at the death of Trayvon Martin. We can empathize with a victim. But we are not the victims.

The George Zimmerman trial has arrived on the heels of the Jodi Arias trial with the timeliness of an NBC summer series, here to satisfy our bloodlust for the spectacle of murder.  And although it’s so darn hot, here come the hoodies to mark solidarity with the young black victim.

I sympathize.  I empathize.  I mourn.  I raise my angry fist against racial injustice.  But I won’t be wearing a hoodie.  Thousands of white Americans like me have risen up in a united front to protest the senseless killing of Trayvon Martin.  We celebrated the ripples of racial awareness that his death has brought to light.  We have flooded the blogosphere, changed our avatars, and posted to our Facebook walls for all to see that we are decidedly against the killing of innocent black children, in case anybody had thought otherwise.

I’ve kept on the sidelines of the Trayvon Martin coverage, watching and reading, with a sense of

Michele Obama

unease.  In the wake of what was supposed to have been the ushering in of a post-racial America with President Obama’s face and his wife’s strong and shapely arms, this shooting in Florida serves as an almost perfect platform from which to call attention to the blatant bigotry that still poisons this country.  It’s a way to say:  Hold On. We might have a black first family, but there are schmoes in Alabama who believe that they are better than that Ivy League-schooled, world-traveled, democratically elected man because they are white.  And what’s more, they might think that the country might just be a little better off if he is swinging from a high branch. And although these opinions might have been quieted or spoken about in the confines of that man’s home in the past, the fervor and venom with which we attack our political figures in the media has unwittingly  provided a podium for his racist speech, integrated into social media.  The black jokes of the prosperous eighties that were quieted by the liberals spreading “political correctness” are crawling their way back into the vernacular.  What might seem like harmless talk is the groundswell of the white American population, using a wink and a nod and now a gun, to keep the black folks in their rightful place, below us.

Is Trayvon Martin the obvious conclusion to the racial divide brought into the open by the election of our first black President?  Has this been coming?  The symbol of Barack Obama’s face has been replaced by that of a seventeen-year-old boy in a hooded sweatshirt, the target and the outlet.  By self-righteously donning a hoodie and trying to identify with Trayvon, is white America doing the black community or the country as a whole any favors?  We are not the victims, even if we are not either the aggressors.  But the hoodies?  They seem to be a cop-out from addressing what the real issue is here.  There is a color divide in the United States.  It is socio-economic and geographically and racially based, it is exploited by our politicians and our talking heads, for gains that have nothing to do with the public good.  It tells us that we should hate, that we are different than those of another color, that there is a fundamental disparity between what the blue states want and what the red states believe, and that the roots of those differences are evil.

The hoodies feel like a distraction.  The false unity of the hoodies distracts from what can be a true unifying thought: by listening to the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and fears of the “other,” might we realize that the answer is not simply black and white: I wear a hoodie, therefore I am not racist.  The more complicated answer might be that we are all a mix of red and blue, that our states are purple, and that to honor a young boy we need to look inside ourselves and see not just the stoicism of Trayvon Martin, but the seeds of George Zimmerman.

Author: Jaime Franchi

Jaime Franchi is a freelance writer living on Long Island. Her work can be found on Salon.com, Milieu Magazine, Punchnel's and the New York Times. www.JaimeFranchi.com

8 thoughts on “Why I Won’t be Wearing a Hoodie”

  1. I’ve avoided commenting on most posts about the Zimmerman trial because I have begun to tire of “us vs them” pontificating that feels emotionally right at the time, but which I suspect makes things worse in the long run. I applaud your resistance to easy symbolism and your wish for constructive engagement. The one thing I will say is that, to me, the real villains of this case are the legislators who pass “Stand Your Ground” legislation, which gives private citizens immense power to serve as judge, jury and executioner, even when the “crime” against which they are standing is a minor one (or in Trayvon Martin’s case, perhaps nonexistent).

  2. You’re totally right – and it goes back to the gun issue. I wanted to stay focused here on what I saw was something that rang false to me. It is certainly not the worst thing in this trial or in what has led up to it, but a blotting over a contributor that I haven’t seen addressed.

  3. I have no idea what that last sentence was supposed to say, so here goes another try: This is a contributing factor that has been blotted over in the public debate. Jeez.

  4. Thoughtful look at a situation that’s more complex than it might appear to many at first blush. I believe the hoodie solidarity was an appropriate initial response when the story first began gaining traction. It served as a dramatic reminder of a tragic consequence of superficial profiling. There was real concern at the time that Zimmerman might not be charged, that the circumstances leading up to the killing might not be aired in court, with the resultant growth of malignant suspicion and fear that further polarizes disparate cultures. Now that the case is in trial, I’ve been following intermittently with interest and a growing sadness that whatever the outcome I wonder if we as a society will have have learned much of anything that can help us live together with more understanding and trust than before.

  5. Yes indeed, “the seeds of George Zimmerman.” Political correctness was an attempt for progressives to take careful steps without offending while we struggled to become conscious of our invisible, received prejudices. But we are still fumbling about with historically loaded racial attitudes influencing our every act. Until we can honestly diagnose our social disease we will only be treating symptoms without achieving a cure. To that point, here is a story from one white boy growing up unconscious in south Florida 50 years ago:

  6. This problem is very deep rooted we have it here in England too with the murder by racist thugs of a young man called Stephen Lawrence knifed to death at a bus stop simply because he was black. it took many years to bring his kilers to justice with the police strying to smear the victim’s innocent family.
    In 1964 I was a peacekeeper in what was then British Guiana there black people were killing brown people calling them coolies the brown people were calling the black people monkeys.
    I wrote a poem called “The Rifle Butt Diplomats” about it. This kind of thing always fills me with great sadness.
    Thanks for writing your article.

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