Really Geraldo? Hoodie-washing structural racism.
by Michael Martin
If you haven’t seen the clip of Geraldo Rivera giving the “the-hoodie-is-as-responsible-for-Trayvon-Martin’s-death-as-Zimmerman-was” speech, check it out here.
Now that you’re caught up, let’s review:
In a rational, non-racist society, Geraldo Rivera’s speech would never have existed. Assuming he was a rational (if seemingly somewhat unintelligent) person, and that the all-encompassing, dark history of racism in this country didn’t exist, he would never have uttered these words in polite company. (Though, I suppose being on Fox News, he can get a pass on the “polite company” part.)
With a last name like “Rivera” and with a “dark-skinned kid like [his] son Cruz,” certainly he would see the absurdity of establishing equivalence between Zimmerman - the undisputed killer - and the hoodie which Trayvon Martin wore. SURELY he wouldn’t conclude that the presence of the hoodie was causal. No, no…a sane, non-racist, rational Rivera would NEVER attempt to soothe the discomfort, and almost inevitable guilt, of his majority White, conservative audience by “hoodie-washing” the obvious implications of racism written all over the evidence, from the 911 calls to the eye-witness reports. That would require him to have some sort of incentive other than journalistic integrity and objectivity…right?
Of course, we know that we don’t live in a rational, non-racist world, and that Geraldo was pandering to his audience (and to his bosses, I’m sure) to placate and justify. It’s unfortunate that we seem to live in a world that too frequently actively fights to be unquestionably irrational and ubiquitously racist - sometimes fighting to remain that way at all costs. All too often, this fight is waged even by people who (at least on the surface) stand to suffer as a result of their own actions. Geraldo Rivera - at least this day, in this fight - is one of those people.
For me, the worst part about this clip is hardly what Geraldo Rivera is actually saying. One must assume that, on some level, he’s letting us into his private store-house. He’s letting us hear a snippet of his version of my grandma’s “Boy-you-better-act-right-before-them-white-folks-get-you” speech. For our own sanity, we HAVE to believe that he doesn’t think it’s ok to shoot people because they’re wearing a hoodie. No, for me, the worst part of the clip is, without question, the agreement, and sometimes avid encouragement, of the rest of panel.
Geraldo, as a proxy, provides them with the perfect defensive cover while their silence speaks volumes. Anyone who's spent any time watching Fox News knows that its hosts and pundits are not known for their polite silence while others speak. But in this case, just like they do whenever Congressman Allen West (R-FL) speaks, they can sit quietly and conveniently and think, "Hey, he said it - not me."
Now let’s pay attention to when their silence does break. After Geraldo’s “act right” speech, in which he admonishes his son “to take the hood off…,” he continues on to say “people look at you…and what’s the instant identification? What’s the instant association?” If you listen not-so-closely, you can hear his colleague sneak in a response of, “Uh Oh!” You can almost see his White colleague gaining confidence in his position as Geraldo goes on to say, , “When you see a Black or Latino youngster, particularly, on the street, you walk across the street. You try to avoid that confrontation!” (Note: He does not say “Black or Latino youngster wearing a hoodie”). “Right,” his colleague agrees.
Again I say…really?
Then we hear Geraldo’s final battle cry, “I’ll bet you money, that if he didn’t have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way.” Fully galvanized, his colleague joins him on the battlefield, saying, “…the people of New York, a couple nights ago…had a million-hoodie march. You’re not helping!” In the end, you can hear the female panelist casually comment, “perception is reality.”
You can almost hear their audience cooing in delight, wiping the sweat off of their collective moistened brows. What we just witnessed is a display of racism’s ability to survive even under the most inhospitable conditions.
Everything was said as if it were fact. All was to be assumed true without any scrutiny. Not a single panelist challenged his rationale; no one asked him to clarify any of his points.
But this is where we come in. I’m sure many reading this can point out any number of holes in what Geraldo said. Here are just a few questions and inconsistencies that I noticed:
-If race is not involved - which Geraldo implies by repeatedly characterizing Zimmerman simply as “overzealous” (and of course, conservative politicians like Newt Gingrich agree with this conclusion) - then why specifically admonish “Black and Latino youngsters” not to wear hoodies? Why not call for a ban on hoodies across all colors and ethnicities?
-Geraldo doesn’t defend Juan Williams’s irrational reaction to seeing Muslims in the airport, yet he continues to berate Black and Latino young men because of the reactions they elicit from others. And this despite the statistics that show that connecting the hoodie with crime is irrational – which Geraldo himself acknowledges. Is Justin Bieber trying to be a “wanna-be gangsta?”
-What does it mean to give more credence to the perception than the reality - especially when the reality in this case is known empirically? Who here is being “overzealous”? Mr. Rivera looks the problem in the face and, whether he can’t or he won’t, he simply doesn’t see it.
Trayvon Martin’s hoodie no more “allowed” George Zimmerman to react in a lethal way than a woman’s short skirt “allows” her to be the victim of rape. To suggest that an affinity for a certain type of clothing achieves parity in terms of causality with traits like racial prejudice and extreme aggression is not only an exercise in hyperbole of the highest order, but it is also the rejection of logic and moral integrity. We cannot ignore the evidence of the fact that that many Americans have been so indoctrinated that the sight of any Black person’s face, with or without a hoodie, activates their fear response. Sure, Trayvon could have taken his hoodie off - but wouldn’t he still have been wearing his face?
It would appear that until further notice from White America, young Black and brown men must fear for their lives if they wear hoodies. All the while young White men can continue to wear them as an exclusive freedom. This in a country so passionate about “freedom” that it gets up in arms about Michelle Obama trying to teach kids how to eat right because they should have the right to kill themselves with food (and really to be clear I agree they should).It doesn’t take a sociologist or psychologist to figure out what the hoodie is a proxy for in this case when some of those same people readily accept this notion.
Geraldo Rivera proves one simple fact: for Blacks and other people of color in this country, to be unaware of White social norms and consciousness (and especially White fears) is to forfeit your unalienable rights as an American and to have your life, in every sense, put in danger. Rights “…that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” …endowed by our Creator— and nullified by a hoodie.
One last thing - it WAS raining that night! Sometimes you need a hoodie.
Michael Martin is a software engineer living and working in the Boston area. Originally from Springfield, MA, Michael has spent the majority of his life being affected by, and studying and trying to understand race and racism in the United States and the world. He has recently begun working locally to raise consciousness and increase understanding across racial lines by organizing within the Boston community.