Defending Geraldo Rivera?

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Once again, Lil Homie is back with a controversial and thought provoking piece: understanding/making sense of Geraldo Rivera’s hoodie comments. He will undoubtedly raise the eyebrows of many who read this opinion piece. Quick side story: Lil Homie approached me via twitter with this idea and within minutes, one of his friends threatened, “your color card will be in jeopardy.” Thus, I salute my friend, my brother with sharing his thoughts openly, even though it is risky. As with all my posts, I hope that it evokes thought and incites riots conversations among the readers and with whomever they share it. The floor is all yours, Lil Homie.

Defending Geraldo Rivera?

Wow. Writing that just made me cringe, and that inflection at the end of that (awful) declaration did nothing to quell my anxiety of people reading this post, immediately hating me, taking my hood card away, and never talking to me again. Please, before all of that happens, hear me out for a second. To preface this post, I DO NOT AGREE WITH RIVERA. As a man of color that has been unfairly targeted because of his appearance, I am utterly appalled that Geraldo Rivera would say such a thing in the wake of a national tragedy. To posit that a hoodie caused a young, black boy (Trayvon Martin), who was simply minding his business, to be killed by a vigilante neighborhood watchman gone wild (George Zimmerman), is completely ridiculous. But there is something about Rivera’s comments that struck a real chord with me, and something I’d like to explore and get others’ opinions on. In the literal sense, his statement is unintelligible. An article of clothing has absolutely nothing to do with one’s racist association of skin color and criminal activity and it is pure folly to equate this magical hoodie with Zimmerman’s prejudices that caused the heartbreak of February 26th, 2012. But as I took a couple of days to think about Rivera’s comments more deeply, this is what I gleaned from his trying failing to reasonably articulate a cogent point: stereotypes are real, and as people of color – and men of color, in particular – we need to always be mindful of them and how we present ourselves to the larger society. Or at least I think that’s what he meant.

“Its not blaming the victim Its common sense-look like a gangsta & some armed schmuck will take you at your word.” – Geraldo Rivera

Let’s be clear: Geraldo Rivera is a raging sensationalist, kind of like these four fools. He’s smart enough to know what he’s saying and how his actions will be perceived. People are commenting and talking about it; articles are being written about it; and blogs are being posted by the second (thanks, Big Homie). So congrats, Rivera, you got us all talking. But back to the issue at hand, this funny thing called stereotypes. I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with this terrible infection. Once, as a young 16 year-old coming home from my private school in a very tony and ritzy part of town, I was approached by an “undercover” police officer (much like that rogue, Zimmerman), that essentially asked me what I was doing in that neighborhood. Apparently, using a student metrocard and wearing athletic gear after basketball practice in a zip code that only houses elite private schools is a crime. Now I won’t get into what happened afterwards, but just know that a gun was almost pulled and I’m thankful to be alive writing today. But what that incident taught me was that I always need to be careful. I need to be careful about where I am. I need to be careful about how others perceive me. I need to understand the very act of being a black man causes anxiety for a number of people. This is why I’ve mastered the art of code-switching; why I’m attentive to how I talk and act and dress when I’m in certain places; and why I work every day to change the world, because incidents like Trayvon Martin happen all too regularly.

Now again, this is not to defend Rivera’s comments. In fact, I abhor his very being for off-handedly mentioning in his 140-character rant that a young boy was asking to be killed because of his attire. But his comments made me think about how careful I always am – and have to be – living in this country, the home of the free (thinly-veiled sarcasm).

“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” – President Barack Obama

Nothing made me prouder than hearing Savior President Obama make those comments. He didn’t have to. He could have been silent, again, like he was with the Troy Davis case last year, but the gravity of this situation really forced his hand. The fact that the President of the United States, the Commander-in-Chief, a Harvard-educated lawyer, said that his son would look like Trayvon sent chills down my spine and throws Rivera’s comments for a loop. Obama is right: his black son would probably look like Trayvon, and his black son, the son of the leader of, arguably, the most powerful and influential country in the world, would still be targeted because of his skin color. Talk about stereotypes, huh? And I love how pundits, athletes, and ordinary citizens are getting involved to expose the ridiculousness of Rivera and his comments.

So I write all this to say this: stereotypes matter. Will people perceive you based on stereotypes? Absolutely. Will they treat you differently because of them? Yup. Is this fair? Of course not. Unfortunately, we live in a society where people like George Zimmerman exist and Geraldo Rivera is able to say the things he does. But what may be even more troubling than Rivera’s decree is that people actually subscribe to this type of thinking. I’m not saying that we need to change our appearance because some extremist feels the need to expose his insecurities in a very perverted and deadly manner or some commentator feels the need to be controversial. What I am saying, though, is that because we (people of color) understand the world we live in, let’s take Rivera’s comments my attempted articulation of Rivera’s comments with a few hundred thousand grains of salt. Let’s critically examine – if that’s possible of a Twitter posting – what he is saying and continue to offer counter-narratives to this offensive type of thinking.

Thoughts?

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9 thoughts on “Defending Geraldo Rivera?

  1. Great piece bro,

    Very well articulated bro and I certainly get your point. I’m not sure if I agree or disagree but I certainly take a very conscious perspective of stereotypes, unconscious/subconscious racism and the collective consciousness of the White American male/female (majority). As a Hispanic/black male I love shattering paradigms and offering a potential controversy of duality. I do it in a rather obvious way, without contradicting who I feel I truly am. Let me explain. I live in ENY, an all Black and Hispanic neighborhood. I was raised wearing baggy jeans (I sag them a bit), tims, fitted hats and yes, Hoodies. I found that their was a great temptation that as I climbed the latter of “professionalism”/ “intellectualism” that I had to give up a certain style, a certain persona that I had known my whole life b/c it was equated to the uneducated, criminal behaving, drug dealing, angry black male. So I was faced with this tension, do I go from wearing skinny jeans (sag slightly) to khakis and polo’s with a weird shape-up (hair cut) that communicated I wasn’t like the others? As much as the pressure to differentiate from my hood was present I couldn’t help but allow my seemingly anti-social personality to flourish. What did I do? I did this. I made sure that when I went to board meetings/trainings/school/ (sometimes even work) I wore urban apparel, and not white urban apparel. I’m talking about ENY urban apparel. I did/do this b/c I am aware of the horrible stereotypes of a Trayvon…that a hoody would be the symptom for the disease/threat White America considers Black to be. So I rock my tims, foamposites and J’s and I sag my pants (just a bit) and wear a fitted caps, not to intimidate or come across as a thug or tough guy, rather, the opposite. I do this b/c my intellectual capacity and my positive contributions to my society have nothing to do with my hoody, nor does my capability to bomb a nation (the polarized nature of our ontology). When I hear people say, “you’re a therapist?” I smile, because it illustrates to me that my one of jobs have been done. I have potentially shattered another paradigm.

    • J! You bring up some really great points. I like how you’re really intentional about what you wear, where you wear it and how you present yourself. All of that is predicated on stereotypes and your knowledge of how others will perceive you, however unfair that is. Your work and your being is offering something new for people to dissect and struggle with and something that I truly admire. We have to be able to blend in to different environments while also challenging those environments to accept us for who we are. Thanks for reading!

      • I agree, the famous apostle Paul said it well “I am all things to all people”. Being able to assimilate while also trying to differentiate can be challenging at times but certainly I think we are called to such a life.

  2. Your post ignites a lot of thoughts, but the point that you end with, about “continuing to offer counter-narratives,” sticks the most for me. As with many street/college educated people, it has become somewhat of a regular thing to talk about, vent about, and analyze racism and stereotypes in American society. I can get into it as much as any of us, but most often at the end of these conversations I am left feeling nearly as frustrated with the ignorance out there as when I started. This has definitely been the pattern of my own sentiments with the conversations around Trayvon Martin’s death in the past few weeks.

    The best, productive response that I can think of is offering counter-narratives as you mentioned. To me, this goes beyond literally talking about it (although talking and writing about it as you do here are the place to start). It goes into actions, demonstrations, living by example. I applaud the Heat, Amare, Roland Martin and others who have worn hoodies in recent days to show solidarity and protest. Heck, President Obama should be able to deliver a press conference in a basketball hoody. Mitt Romney should be able to deliver a campaign speech with a nose ring and spiked up mohawk without being taken less seriously or as any more of a threat. In my opinion, we need to continue to struggle to take people at their words and actions, and not at their appearance. Will many people who present themselves in ways that are associated with harmful behavior continue to promote those negative stereotypes? No doubt about that. But, when people who are in no way personally associated with harmful behavior present themselves in those same ways and set positive examples… to me, that is when counter-narratives begin to have an impact. That is when we can shift the conversation about people who appear in a particular way to include the bad, the ugly, AND the good.

    A lot of this may seem over simplistic and “can’t we all just get along?” I’m not naive enough to think that this change happens over night or even over decades. I’m not forgetting the fact that racism complicates this change-by-action on a whole other level. I do, however, have hope that if we continue to challenge ourselves to think beyond appearances – be they clothing, skin tone, accents, tattoos, etc. – we will continue to move in the right direction. Each negative stereotype that has been damaged and on the way to being broken in the past century is a testament to what can happen when people open their minds up a little bit and check themselves on the stereotypes they grew up around. I try to do this every day/time that I find myself assuming anything about anyone based on superficial information. It’s not easy, and sure isn’t natural for most people, but in my humble opinion it is worth it.

    I hope that the conversation continues. More importantly, though, I hope it ignites sustained actions that will continue to create new counter-narratives and positive imagery for those who come after Trayvon.

  3. Stereotypes are essential to our survival as humans; initially used for safety, discerning threats. We need to do it. In fact our brain strives to generalize things so that it has more readily available brain power to deal with new situations (which havent been generalized yet). Best example of this is driving a car; when you’re driving a familar route, you can blast the music and talk and do other things because your brain has more available power since driving isnt taking up much mental space. On the other hand, when you’re driving in a new environment, the music is lowered and all other activities cease because you need to concentrate, more brain power needed. The problem arises when we start to place value onto these stereotypes because value leads to prejudice (pre-judgements). When power is added to prejudice it becomes discrimination and when done on a large scale leads to institutional oppression, which eventually leads to internal oppression (the oppressed begin to believe the stereotypes and act accordingly). It’s a vicious cycle that can be broken with acceptance of and willingness to learn from individual stories. We all have some form of privilege that we did not earn; similarly, we all break and fit the traditional stereotypes of our race/ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, ability, and class. That glaring paradox is difficult for the over-simplifying brain and requires energy to understand since it is a new. However, once done, the learning that occurs is priceless and often thought-provoking.

    Thank you, Lil Homie and the others for raising excellent points. This conversation is needed to improve our lives and our society. Oh, and it’s still F Geraldo tho!

    • Your last sentence pretty much sums up all the sentiments about this point. I love what you say about the brain and how it has to organize things. And the part about power and stereotpye and oppression and internal oppression is all too true. Never explicitly thought about it like that but it’s humbling and eye-opening to read it out loud.

  4. Pingback: Guest Blog From One of My Students « Between The World and Me

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