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.