It has been a wrenching week. There is nothing more disorienting than to be attacked by people you love. Rather than an existential threat, it is frustrating and depressing, particularly because I meant well.
What caused the schism with my base was my rant in this space last week against hoodies like the one worn by 17-year old Trayvon Martin on the evening he was shot dead by George Zimmerman inside a modest, burglary-plagued gated community in Sanford, Florida.
I said then that his hoodie killed Trayvon as much as Zimmerman did. Because the language was as brutal as it was straight-forward and simplistic, half the nation — mostly the young and the minority half — condemned me.
The rage and ridicule became a viral avalanche. It became so big a distraction from the important story of the tragic homicide of an unarmed kid that it obscured the main questions, which are: Why was the youngster killed, and why wasn’t his killer arrested?
So I did something hard for a proud man. I apologized. But to be clear, I apologized for insensitivity and for the hubris caused, not for the potentially life-saving advice given to fellow minority parents. Don’t let your young man go out into the cruel night wearing an outfit that may as well be a sign that says: “Stop and frisk,” or even “Shoot me.” A minority male over the age of 15 wearing a hoodie in a hood not his own after dark is a 911 call waiting to happen.
Zimmerman’s particular 911 calls on the night he killed Trayvon prove he was acting with good intentions, however over-zealous and misguided. Zimmerman saw the kid as another in the neighborhood’s long sorry string of similarly garbed kids “up to no good.”
Since my condemnation of gangsta garb, a legion of hoodie supporters from American Apparel to Russell Simmons to my son Gabriel to Congress members to college kids to cable news pundits to basketball icons to state legislators has donned the garment to show that hoodies are mainstream, and that only irrational trigger-happy vigilantes like Zimmerman or jerks like Geraldo could be oblivious.
They are right about hoodies being mainstream. You see them every day everywhere from day care centers to college campuses. But context is everything, and they are worn by the furtive as well as the festive.
And none can deny that there exists a rogue’s gallery of hoodie wearers on countless surveillance videos of 7/11 stick-ups and bank robberies. I am not, as one clever critic suggested, asking black or brown young men to dress like “Family Matters” Steve Erkiel. But if you’re flying Jolly Roger‘s skull & crossbones don’t be surprised when some jerkoff with a gun takes you for a pirate.
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