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Hugo Schwyzer. The same guy who led a few Slut Walks has now done this on Twitter with the caption “44 year-old white guy in a hoodie”:
He’s referencing the “Million Hoodie March” movement that has sprung up in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s tragic death and is just being inadvertently shit upon by people like this. I’ll get right back to the hoodie, but first, Schwyzer also recently wrote a post about how George Zimmerman’s actions are an expression of white men’s fear (btw George Zimmerman is half Hispanic/half Jewish) over black men’s masculinity as well as the “white savior complex”:
As Prof. David J. Leonard points out in a brilliant essay, millions of Americans learned the names of two black men this month: Joseph Kony and Trayvon Martin. Both became famous because white men labeled them as evils from which the world needed saving. The parallel goes further. Jason Russell, the head of the Invisible Children charity that started the viral Kony2012 campaign, and George Zimmerman each played essentially the same part: that of white male savior, protecting Ugandan children and Florida suburbanites from the real or imagined dangers presented by two black men.
Schwyzer’s citation of Jason Russell and Joseph Kony is interesting here. Schwyzer sees Russell as demonizing the black Kony while others (and probably Russell himself) see Russell defending poor Ugandan blacks. And this gets to both the hoodie and the slut. Schwyzer is grabbing hold of the symbols being used to define as social dangers the groups he hopes to protect. White savior complex with a bit of marketing. Though this may come off as flippant, it’s not meant to be: if Schwyzer wants to embrace the thing that he believes is responsible for the unfair bias and stereotype of blacks and sexually active women, he should wear black face or dress as a woman, respectively. But besides that, does he or anyone else in the #millionhoodiemarch movement really want to boil down the issue of Martin’s death to one article of clothing? I thought that to them it was the color of Trayvon Martin’s skin that led to his death and the poor police work that didn’t properly punish his killer, not his clothing.
On the hoodie. Yes, it can be a useful and functional article of clothing, especially in the rain which set the scene for Martin’s shooting. But the hoodie is also a symbol of countercultural cachet. A recent hip hop song my Omarion titled, simply, “Hoodie” doesn’t mention the functionality of the hoodie – it’s warmth or it’s protection from the elements. Instead, it mentions what it means to signal about the wearer: “Hustlers, gangstas, bustas, ridas (They goin’ out wit they hoodie on)”.
At the Washington Post, Elizabeth Flock attempts a brief hoodie history without even mentioning the British chavs whose yobbery is closely associated with the style. But at City Journal, Harry Stein writes:
The pretense is that the hoodie is an innocuous clothing item or, at any rate, that it is unfairly seen as carrying negative associations. There’s a word for this: nonsense. The hoodie isn’t like a letterman’s jacket or a t-shirt or a pair of jeans. It does indeed carry associations—for many, ominous ones. Like pants worn low to reveal the shorts underneath, hoodies are part of a style favored by gangbangers and drug dealers and others who hold life exceedingly cheap; which is to say, under certain circumstances, it is apt to heighten another’s uncertainty and fear, and bring potential danger for the wearer.
Initial studies on the priming stereotype and hoodies conducted in the U.K. suggest an increase in the anxiety and fear of study-participants when faced with hoodie-wearing and non hoodie-wearing confederates (not statistically significant in this particular study). Hoodies activate negative bias. This is an instinct in observers, not a conscious decision.
While Trayvon Martin’s death should never be excused by the fact that he wore a hoodie, the movement to encourage young men to don the hoodie just because they shouldn’t be judged is the wrong takeaway message to spread. As a cultural styling, the hoodie is an escape, an obfuscation, a disguise, or a way to express darkness, mystery, or swagger. It’s a den of cloth that signals to others not to mess with the occupant. The face and hands are hidden. As Kevin Braddock wrote in the Guardian in the wake of the London riots last summer:
All clothing is political in the sense that it communicates a message about how the wearer wishes to be perceived, and face coverings and headgear can be particularly charged: the use of balaclavas by sectarian paramilitaries, bandanas worn across the face, or caps worn low to disguise the eyes, represent a seizing of anonymity and a self-exemption from public identification.
The hoodie-wearing youth is perhaps stuck between a rock and a hard place – staying compact and on-point to ward off neighborhood thuggery but also evoking the fear of the citizenry and reaction of police. The rest of the world will react to the hoodie, in general, just as they react to anything that is shielded from plain sight.
And even then, to adopt the hoodie because of its attachment to an innocent victim like Trayvon Martin is to ignore that the hoodie could then be associated with all of the non-innocent acts carried out by discretion-seeking youths. So the question is, are Schwyzer and the other hoodie marchers trying to protect the integrity of the hoodie or the name of Trayvon Martin? Ditch the hoodies; hold on to Martin’s memory.