Hoodie = hoodlum?

photo illustration: a hooded man with a cut on his nose and under his eye stares menacingly at the camera against a backdrop of a dismal building with bars on the windows

Otherwise titled: Do clothes make (or break) a man?

On March 21st, the Million Hoodie March in New York City protested the lack of action in the death of  Trayvon Martin, the Sanford teen who was shot by a self-proclaimed neighborhood crime watchman. Martin’s crime, apparently, was wearing a hoodie to ward off the night and the rain as he walked with a bottle of tea and a bag of Skittles off the beaten path toward his home.

The death of the hooded teen has sparked concern over “Stand Your Ground” laws in Florida, but much of the concern centers on the apparent racial stereotyping that may have been a catalyst in the incident.

Dark-skinned men wearing hoodies are suspect, so says Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera, who declared the hoodie partially responsible in the teen’s death. Rivera pointed to the incidents where dark-skinned men have worn hoodies to commit crimes; people do have a basis for their hoodie bias and may react accordingly. For that reason, Rivera urged his own Latino son to avoid wearing one.

I spoke with some who declared the Million Hoodie March appalling, definitely equating the wearing of hoodies with hoodlums.

(Funny, so does the Urban Dictionary, which defines hoodlum as “Young trouble maker’s [sic] who wear hooded jumper’s [sic] and/or large puffy FUBU jacket’s[sic], baseball caps, shiny pants and may sport chains, often seen loitering in front of drugstores and on stoop’s [sic] and fences, harrassing [sic] passer’s by [sic].” Considering that I had to use the [sic] symbol six times for unnecessary apostrophes and spelling, I can’t consider this a legitimate definition.)

I personally find hoodies comfortable and rather handy when I wind up in cool weather and count warmth worth the price of knocking my glasses askew. (Because it does.) I have students who like to wear hoodies for comfort (like cuddling with a blanket) and a few who wear them in an attempt to hide headphones they shouldn’t be using during class.

I thought the Million Hoodie March was merely a clever way to protest and make a point. Surely, a man shouldn’t be judged by the clothes he wears.

But I do know that clothes can make an impression, if not make a man.

The same day as the hooded protesters hit New York City, a certain young baseball player who rode in my van to an away game was so excited about finally getting purple skinny jeans (!) that he actually put them on over his baseball pants, wore them the entire trip, and took them off just as we reached the field.

The conversation from those back seats hit on specific stores and dress styles; one of boys professed to be a “hipster”; one said he would be a “hipster” if he could afford to shop at a specific store; my son tried to get his mind around wanting purple skinny jeans so much that you would wear them over another pair of pants but landed happily in “preppie” land.

Their clothes make the man, apparently.

This year, our baseball team got new–all-white–uniforms. The coach said, “Now they look like a ball team. I hope they play as good as they look.”  The clothes make the team. Right?

The church softball team I played on years ago thought so. We wore team T-shirts and hats and carefully coordinated our shorts and socks to look like a team. I mention this because, as a team, we made the mistake of judging another team by what they wore.

It happened like this. We arrived at the field customarily early and began warming up. The other team was tardy. As they finally arrived, straggling in, they wore a mishmash of outfits, some even arriving in high heels with their un-uniform uniforms. We judged they would play as they appeared. When the first ball went over the fence, we realized our mistake.

The clothes made a first impression; their performance made a more lasting one. (To this day I wondered if the straggling, mismatched approach was part of their strategy…)

Unfortunately, for some, a person wearing a hoodie pulled up to cover the head is a hoodlum or at least a suspect. Add to that hoodie darkness, a neighborhood history of crimes, and a watchful eye anticipating a repeat of those crimes, and you have the possibility of a first impression that isn’t correct.

An incorrect first impression in a ball game may mean a loss. But an incorrect first impression of Trayvon Martin resulted in a tragedy.

Clothes can break a man.

Not to put too fine a point on it, can I point out the irony in this hoodie racial stereotyping? Hoodies are not new nor is the fear of them unfounded. A hoodie can hide identity and can be used in the commission of a crime. In fact, I remember seeing photos (like this one below) in my history classes where that was exactly the case.

Hoodies of old? Just a thought.

Ku Klux Klan at a cross burning in Tennessee on Sept. 4, 1948. Photo by The Everett Collection

2 responses to “Hoodie = hoodlum?”

  1. Tawny Collins Avatar

    Wonderful read….However, I do find it a bit difficult to simply call the ‘regalia’ of the Klan a simple ‘hoodie’. As you pointed out Trayvon wore his ‘hoodie’ to protect himself from the weather–a convenient part of his attire. The ‘regalia’ of the Klan was meant to conceal identity, promote fear, and spawn hate.

    We are all guilty of ‘judging a book by its cover’ at some point in our lives–the tragic events surrounding Trayvon’s death should cause us all to question our ‘prejudices’ and ‘preconceived judgements’ regarding others based solely on their attire.

    Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgement–John 7.24


    1. sarahas5 Avatar

      Thanks for commenting! I realize the “hoodie of old” is a bit of a stretch, but I couldn’t help making the parallel between the old regalia and today’s hoodies, the concealing of identities for the commission of crimes which gave purpose to the regalia and sometimes gives purpose to today’s hoodies, hence the “hoodie phobia” that may have sparked this situation in Sanford.

      Great verse! We definitely need to have discernment, not prejudice and preconceived judgments, as we deal with others.


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