Geraldo Rivera set off a firestorm Friday morning when, on “Fox & Friends,” he commented on the Trayvon Martin shooting, saying: “[I] am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.” He continues:
When you see a black or Latino youngster, particularly on the street, you walk to the other side of the street. You try to avoid that confrontation. Trayvon Martin, you know God bless him, he was an innocent kid, a wonderful kid, a box of Skittles in his hands. He didn’t deserve to die. But I’ll bet you money, if he didn’t have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way.
John Hudson at the Atlantic Wire scoffed at Rivera’s remarks, putting together a post featuring famous white people (including Rivera himself) and one brown extraterrestrial wearing hoodies. But few around the Web have been as lighthearted in their commentary.
Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher writes:
You can file Geraldo’s absurd remarks under the category of “Lazy Pragmatism,” which is really just a way to avoid the heavy lift involved in actually thinking about things. If people like George Zimmerman go icy inside when they see a dark person in a hoodie, the answer must be to get dark people to stop wearing hoodies, or at least part of the answer. Never mind that a paranoid cop wannabe with the 911 Suspicious Black hotline on speed-dial gets to walk around free with the 9mm handgun he used to gun down a teenager, or that the police treated that teenager like a side of beef, the key difference being that the side of beef actually has value, or that there are reasons for wearing a hoodie other than “looking gangsta,” or that this is America, and we have the right to “look gangsta.”
Geraldo’s comments are akin to blaming a woman who’s been raped instead of her attacker, argues the Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri:
Guns don't kill people. People don't kill people. Hoodies kill people. Those shorts will get you raped, and if you wear too much makeup or your skirt is just an inch or so above the knee or your sweatshirt looks too much like the one that always turns up on the surveillance footage, forget it, you don’t have a face or a name and you might as well be carrying a sign that says Commit A Crime Against Me, Please.
But if we were to sift through Rivera’s hyperbolic comments (or give him the benefit of the doubt), there is perhaps a nugget of truth in what he was trying to express. Like I said, if we were to give him the benefit of the doubt, we’d perhaps find that he was trying to convey the uncomfortable but real issue that Peggy McIntosh wrote about in “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Here's an excerpt:
[I] have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was "meant" to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.
On the flipside, there’s the burden of being a black man. In a piece earlier this week, Time’s Touré wrote “How to Talk to Young Black Boys About Trayvon Martin.” His first point:
It’s unlikely but possible that you could get killed today. Or any day. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. Black maleness is a potentially fatal condition. I tell you that not to scare you but because knowing that could save your life. There are people who will look at you and see a villain or a criminal or something fearsome. It’s possible they may act on their prejudice and insecurity. Being black could turn an ordinary situation into a life-or-death moment even if you’re doing nothing wrong.
--Alexandra Le Tellier
Photo: Congressional staff members and others join in the "Hoodies on the Hill" gathering on March 23 to remember Trayvon Martin, the black teenager shot and killed in Sanford, Fla., who was wearing a hooded sweatshirt. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press