Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On Hoodies

Watch this video, "Am I Suspicious?" from Howard University students (apologies, I can't figure out how to embed non-You Tube videos.)

The black men in hoodies in the PSA, if I had come across them at night, would have made me think twice.  Would I have feared for my life?  No.  But I would have thought they might be suspicious.  Like many people (especially white women in the South), I have been conditioned with a fear response of black men, though I have never had any personal reason to fear them, as well as racism about African Americans (and, in truth, all non-whites, like Asians and Hispanics, plus prejudice against "white trash," people in the working classes, etc.  And, of course, in the 1970s, we weren't really talking about gays!  Only because of early and frequent interactions with people with special needs, did I not have entrenched stereotypes about them. "You have to be taught . . . .")  I know I profile (this became especially clear to me when I flew after 9/11 and worried about a woman in a burqa and the man with her.)  I'm not proud of any of this; nor do I mention this because I am somehow "post-racial" (even as a white person married to an Asian person and with biracial children.)  As a white adult with liberal beliefs, I try to recognize my racism and unravel it, to "check my privilege" and realize how being white affects and influences everything I experience (and don't), but it is more prevalent and harder than I thought.  Because I can understand how a jury of 5 white women would absolutely believe that George Zimmerman could reasonably fear for his life when attacked by a black man in a hoodie, even though Zimmerman himself had the gun and initiated the confrontation.

The Howard University men in the video ask, as they pull hoodies over their eyes, "Am I suspicious?"  They have to know that many people, that I, would say yes.  And then they say, "I'm a law student" or "I'm a history major," to undermine the racist stereotype.  Because an educated black man in a hoodie looks like a criminal black man in a hoodie.  And we assume the latter before the former.

And so I showed the video to Sis and Bud so that we could talk about Trayvon Martin, hoodies, Skittles, the verdict, and racism.  As half-Asian, they'll confront racism in their lives, but the assumption that they are good students is not deadly like the assumption that black men are criminals.  We talked about the inherent worth and dignity of each person.  I reminded them about slavery and discrimination and Martin Luther King, Jr.  I even mentioned Hitler and the Holocaust.  One person, one set of attributes, does not represent a whole race. We should no more stereotype Jews than we should hate all Germans because of Hitler, or all Muslims because of terrorists on 9/11 or in Boston or in London.  Did we all hate white men after Newtown, I asked?  Of course not.  It doesn't work that way.  

I don't know how much the kids comprehend, except in the barest historical terms, about it all, but I know it was worth discussing.  And that we'll need to talk about it again and again.  I've tried really hard not to pass on any prejudice as well as to expose our privilege.  Each generation, I hope, improves upon the last.  And so I post this as a teachable moment for us.


  1. Well said. I too hope to not pass on any negative beliefs, stereotypes, etc. that I was exposed to as a child. Mike and I are so carful about how we view things, talk about them, expose them to our children. If ever my children do something or say something, negative, racial, etc about anyone, it will not be because of us. It will be interesting if they do express any such thoughts or feeling how they came about? Other children, family members, TV, books...........