It is said that clothes make the man. If so, does it also follow that clothing can be a man’s undoing?
A few years ago, while waiting for a bus on Magazine Street in Uptown New Orleans, I struck up a conversation with a young black man. As a light rain began to fall, I ducked under the awning of an antique shop. The man wore a hooded sweatshirt, and I asked him why he didn’t pull the hood over his head. He looked uncomfortable and tried to explain that a hood gave him a suspicious appearance — not appropriate for this neighborhood.
At that time, I found it difficult to understand. Now, it is a bit easier to grasp. The Trayvon Martin case has made us aware of the very incomprehensible fact that an item of clothing can be a brand, or an indication of some vague guilt. His hood is one of the things that made that teen seem like a shady character.
My hair is dyed pink. Sometimes I wear unmatched earrings — intentionally. I have jewelry of all sorts shaped like lizards and snakes; one of my necklaces is a string of painted camel bones. My quirky “chic” may label me as eccentric. But, I hope it does not make me the target of a witch hunt.
In my teen years hooded parkas were the style. They came in nylon or madras, and had a big kangaroo-like pocket in the front with a zipper. All the “cool” kids wore them. In those days, we got in trouble for having our skirts too short. I actually had a gym teacher who reprimanded me for wearing my bangs too long. But the parkas were acceptable to our teachers.
Clothing and music will always create tension between generations. The beat goes on. I truly hate underwear-revealing pants, or false fingernails so long that the wearer is handicapped by them. However, those offenses do not make me think that these people are criminals. Why does the hoodie inspire such a reaction? If it were only worn by thugs and gang-bangers then this garment would not be so popular. You can buy hooded clothing with every sort of logo, from schools to dance teams to Christian clubs. What makes it sinister?
Of course, every image we see of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, shows him peering from a hooded shirt. Perhaps we should blame him for starting this prejudice.
I have no idea what happened between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. There are compelling arguments to defend both sides. I do know that teenage boys can be foolish. Forget the “Peter Pan Syndrome.” Almost all of them have a “Superman Complex,” the belief that they are indestructible.
But, something triggered a deadly reaction in Zimmerman. He felt threatened by the boy’s demeanor and appearance, and yes, by his outfit. Many say the motivation was racial, that if Martin had been a white boy, he would still be alive.
One truth is that Zimmerman may not live to see the end of this story. The New Black Panthers have a $10,000 bounty on his head. The beat goes on, and it is intense and brutal. I wish I could hide my head for a very long time.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.