In light of the delayed Trayvon Martin coverage this week, Fox News caster Geraldo Rivera excused the actions of Zimmerman because of the hoodie Martin was wearing. Not only was Rivera blaming the victim, but he used a cultural frame to dismiss this grave injustice. It wasn’t just Rivera that has expressed this sentiment; this week when I was expressing my frustration and anger about the case, a friend of mine said, “I understand that it is wrong, but I can understand why he looked suspicious.” I looked at her and explained that it was problematic to assume that a young boy, who was wearing a hoodie—which plenty of white boys wear—could be looked at as suspicious because he was standing, while being Black. I explained to her how the fact that we look at Black males and immediately think of violence is problematic in of itself.
As we discussed in class, cultural framework “relies on culturally based arguments to explain the standing of minorities in society” (Bonilla-Silva, 2010). In this case, cultural framework is used to explain why Whites are racially profiling Black men, because they see “Black culture” as violent and criminal. In the opinion of this newscaster, profiling a young boy wearing a hoodie isn’t the fault of Whites, but is the result of associating Blacks with crime and violence.
I think that it’s a blatant example of white privilege that we can blame a crime on the victim because of our own existing biases. This bias stems from “othering” other cultures that do not dress, talk, and look the way that we do, and because of our privilege in society, we are able to punish others for their differences and our ignorance.
4 thoughts on “If He Wasn’t Wearing a Hoodie…”
Here’s what else I don’t understand. What greater good does it serve to deny the role that racism played in this tragedy? Some have pointed out that Zimmerman could not have been motivated by racism because he’s not white, and because some of his friends are black. Um…okay. So now racism is the sole provenance of white people? And we’ve heard that I’m-not-a-racist-because-some-of-my-best-friends-are-black fallacy too many times before. I heard someone else bemoan the fact that a recent hate crime perpetrated by black kids against a white teenager wasn’t getting the media attention that Martin’s death was. Why would calling a crime against a black boy racially motivated somehow excuse hate crimes against white people? It makes my head ache to even try to follow that logic. I don’t understand how it helps anyone not to look at this crime with clear eyes. Trayvon Martin is dead because he was black, and if he weren’t, he would be alive today. It’s not race baiting to say so, it’s just stating the obvious.
What’s really crazy is that not only is this one news caster ignoring white privilege, the entire network ignored it. This really speaks to the systematic, institutional nature of white privilege. The news caster had the privilege of ignoring race, even when he was directly talking about race. “Maybe if he wasn’t wearing a hoodie” can be translated to say “Maybe if he didn’t look so black.”
White privilege once again manifests itself in the ability to ignore that translation. I think, though, we may be asking the wrong question, or, perhaps, one too few questions. With regards to “How do we get them to see it?” it is almost impossible to believe that most people don’t see it. It’s there, it’s right in front of their faces, but they actively choose to blame it on the hoodie instead of race. We learned that white people are often unwilling to talk about race. It is this unwillingness that is causing a lot of the problems here. So, perhaps, we should be asking, “How do we get them to talk about what they see?”
I think bringing the idea of White privilege up in regards to the Trayvon Martin case is a very interesting perspective to take. I think it is extremely easy to forget the different ways White privilege can actually manifest into society; for example, as you mentioned, being able to “blame a crime on the victim because of our own existing biases”. This all seems to revert back to our discussions about how White privilege can be so invisible to those who benefit from it and brings up the question once again: how do we get them to see it?
For another way of thinking about how privilege works, here’s an analogy. Imagine a racetrack with all those little divided aisles for people to run. Have a rich, white, straight male on the farthest aisle, and he has an aisle that only has a few hurdles. Have a rich, white, straight female on the next aisle, and she has a couple more hurdles. Have a rich, straight female of color on the next aisle, and she has a few more hurdles than the rich, cisgendered, straight white female. Keep going down the line, adding more and more hurdles as you add each form of lack of privilege. And if you’ve got a situation where intersectionality is often at work — for example, a person of color who lives in poverty — throw an additional few hurdles into their aisle beyond what they already had.
Now, let everyone run the race. It’s likely that straight rich white guy is going to finish first. And as for everyone else — well, many of them will still make it over their hurdles and get there too, but it’s going to take some people a lot more effort than others. And some people have so many hurdles that they’re going to be psychologically beaten from the get-go. No, being white didn’t get you where you are now — nobody showed up in a car and drove you to the end of the race simply because you’re white. But being white made it easier to finish that race, even though you will have had additional hurdles from the other ways you may lack privilege (being gay, poor, etc). No matter how many hurdles you had, at least you didn’t have the additional hurdles that the person of color faced.
Also, what’s even more unfair is when that white guy finishes and says, “Well, I got here on my own two feet, so I don’t know what you all are whining about! If I can do it, so can you!” That’s the nature of privilege, both to discount the ways it helps us and to refuse to see the ways a lack of privilege makes it harder for others.
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