What’s the matter with Hoodies?

Let me preface by saying I don’t want to minimize the tragedy of the Trayvon Martin incident at all.  His parents have real grief, and their son is gone forever.

I am simply picking up on a cultural or societal topic that was touched on by Geraldo Rivera, once young news caster on the biggest stage, turned sensationalist media personality turned, I guess …just older and less relevant:)

The idea expressed, was that the victim Trayvon, attracted unwanted attention while wearing his “hoodie”; that comfortable heavy cotton, hooded sweatshirt with center pockets, that has had conjured up different images, has had different uses, and let’s say has become somewhat iconic over the years.

Recently I purchased one while browsing through shops in the mountains of North Carolina.  In my eyes, it was a throw back to a simpler and comfortable time.  It was that sweatshirt you grabbed to go out on the beach on a slightly stormy or overcast day.  You could wear almost anything under it and it kept you warm.  It was the choice of many jocks, growing up; due to its flexibility, heavy cotton feel (it really is most comfortable), and absorbtion  attributes.  I have images of males (primarily) with light grey “Hoodies” with iconic names like, Navy, Army, Dartmouth, Maine etc… across the chest.  It meant you were actually apart of those communities, I guessed.  Every kid had owned one – hadn’t they?, and they lasted for years.  No shrinkage (don’t get excited guys, can’t take’em in cold water), except very gradually.  You seemingly could pull them out year after year, early Fall, preferably after you were done with your growth spurt years were. Diary of a white, suburban, middle class male.

Now a single adult male (very adult I guess :(), I have my throw back hoodie.  It is navy blue, a very good color.  One of my reader’s, and shopping partner on the day I made the purchase, can even attest to my sincere disappointment upon misplacing it for a couple of weeks.  However, don’t worry I do have a point in here, although it does seem I’m going a bit “around Robin Hood’s barn” (love that saying).  I’ve taken to wearing my dark blue hoody, on rather dimly lit if not dark mornings on my way to workout (5am)… and, for a couple of days, the air had a chill to it, or moisture was abound, so I thought I’d actually toss the hood up. And, it worked! It kept me warm.  The good ‘ole hoody did it!  But, as I noticed the lady going into the gym ahead of me, or the lone dog walker – at that time of morning; gave me “a look”.  It was a glance of disapproval, the look of “you’ve thrown me to pause, or quicken my pace”, it was the look that said – “What more is there to this guy wearing the hoody– why is he wearing the hood up? What is he  concealing? What is he up to?   This was a rather off putting social experience ( I also wore dark sweat pants).  It was not comfortable for me.   These people were saying, non-verbally but quite judgementally, that I concerned them, worried them, and therefor they were fearful and critical of me; all without speaking a word.  This btw, is how High Schoolers know where they fit in and where they don’t, it is how there world works.  I think the words of spoken language actually get in their way!

Now Geraldo Rivera allegedly said that Trayvon Martin would not have been shot by the overzealous neighborhood security guard (who btw does not need to be carrying a guy – 911 “Hello!”), were he not wearing his hoodie, with the hood up, on a drizzly dimly lit day .

I have already characterized my cultural experiences.   And, no doubt those of the 2 people involved in this shooting death have experiences that were drastically different in many respects.  However, the manufacturers of clothing that create fashion statements, that foment certain urban looks, the “gangsta” look is the one I hear most often about from my daughter (15), are riding the age of something that the kids themselves don’t realize . I’m not a sociology “major” so some of my labels may go astray, but bare with me.

The clothes makers and therefor marketers are taking advantage (in a business sense) of the trend of lower middle to upper income kids (educated guess –  demographics of 12 – 24 yrs of age)  emulating what they perceive as real in the “ghetto” – – a place whether real or imagined, that these kids will, largely because of there sheltered upbringings, never have to experience.

Because said population of kids will never experience the real thing, it is fun to try on this characture, try to belong, try to emulate, try to pretend, try, try, try… Fine. No harm no foul.

Well, let’s see here.  Someone is being emulated, and so the marketing of certain clothing becomes symbolic, hip and therefor desireable to kids and young adults.  You know though, the legend lives on, so to speak – because there are whites, blacks, hispanics, and asians, in the country who are living the “dream” (excuse the sarcasm) – the one none of us want to be living in!   And it is the real “cowboys with the Black Hats” that cause the fear in more mature adults.  My personal opinion, is that mature adults – being past this age of “army ant like non-verbal communication, that school kids use ” can’t distinguish between the real and the simply posturing  messages being sent out anymore from youngsters.  We aren’t (probably from about the age of 30) able to relate to the fashion statements made by the younger demographics, and probably can’t distinguish – in certain situations – those that are living a life of abuse, poverty, violence and lack of education (and let’s face it, are very scary in the eyes of the shrinking middle, upper middle, and wealthy socioeconomic tiers), from those that are in affect, just playing dress up, while they get through their influential years!

This blurred, hazy area where harmless kids emulate more “dangerous” characters, partially through the symbols made available by clothing manufacturers; is where these tragedies may sometimes occur.  Do I believe the “Hoody” caused the shooting of Tayvon Martin?  I don’t know.  Do I think it may very well have led to a confrontation that didn’t need to happen – you bet.

If I am the parent of an mixed race boy, that likes to dress with what I call “droopy drawers” and wears his hoody up – among other things, and I’m sending him out to run an errand or he tells me he is going out to get a Soda, in a largely “establishment” settled neighborhood;   I emplore him to take the “gangsta” hat off, and do not pull the hood up to conceal his face; only… because I know others are afraid.

We all no what can happen, when people have fear, whether reasonable or perceived, and the ability to bring force is available.



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