April 2012 - Are Hoodies Hazardous to Your Health?

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When it comes to young black men, apparently hoodies are a health hazard. I know it sounds crazy, but unfortunately too many young Black males are targeted by police as potential criminals simply because of the way they're dressed. While I don't necessarily care for the style of sagging jeans worn and/or hoodies which seems to be so popular with young Black males today, I certainly don't automatically view the young men wearing these clothes as criminals. Rather, I view my annoyance with their clothing as a generational gap. I prefer to see Black men--young or old-- dressed in clothes that fit. And if their head is covered, I prefer a hat or cap--not a hoodie. This says more about my fashion choices and my age, than about the young men's intent to commit a criminal act. In fact, I have seen young Black males, dressed in baggy jeans and hoddies help someone elderly across the street or help a lost child find their mother. I've also seen them get a high score on the SAT or play a musical instrument with astonishing skill. Yes, I have also seen them misbehaving, but I choose to believe that teenagers will be teenagers--regardless of how they're dressed.

Like so many of you, I was saddened to learn of the shooting of Trayvon Martin. I continue to ask myself, what could have possibly motivated the shooter to identify Trayvon, follow him, confront him, and ultimately shoot and kill this unarmed young man? Was it that Trayvon, being a young Black male, in a gated community, walking down the street, dressed in a hoodie aroused suspicion? Was it that he couldn't possibly "belong" in that community? Would he have been confronted by neighborhood watch volunteer if he were in a Black neighborhood? Would a white teen wearing a hoodie have been stopped? Why is a Black male teen wearing a hoodie assumed to be a sinister character?

It makes all of us stop and confront our fears for the lives of our young Black men. How we always worry when they go out the door that there may be some altercation with the police; that they'll be pulled over for no reason; that they'll wind up unfairly in the criminal justice system --regardless of what they're wearing. The sad part is that although the hoodie has become synonymous with criminal behavior, it's also a fashion statement for many Black youths--many of whom are smart, talented, academically or athletically accomplished young people. As the old adage goes, "you simply can't judge a book by it's cover."

In all of the hubub surrounding this case and the "hoodie," I think we have to remember that the hoodie only highlights a much bigger problem. Black men--young and old--are often unfairly stopped by the police (although in this case, Trayvon Martin's assailant was not a policeman, but a neighborhood watch volunteer) when they are present in neighborhoods where police don't think they "belong." When it comes to Black men, it really doesn't seem to matter what they wear, the car they drive, or how well educated they are. The common denominator in all of the cases is that they are Black and male and if they're in a space where they are not commonly seen, they are deemed suspicious. Period. So while we focus on the hazards of wearing a hoodie if you're a young black male, let's be clear that the hoodie is really not the problem. Being Black and male is not the problem. The real problem is racial profiling by law enforcement. Let's not forget to put the blame for Trayvon Martin's death where it really belongs.

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