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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Looking Under the Hoodie

The exposure is stark, high contrast, black and white. The last time this country cared even near this much about a person in a hoodie was that infamous sketch of the sunglassed Unibomber, Ted Kaczynski. But wearing a hoodie doesn't make one evil, threatening or a gangster, despite FOX News showman Geraldo Rivera's bizarre assertion that, "His hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman did."
Blaming Trayvon Martin for being suspicious in a hoodie is like blaming a rape victim because she wore something sexy. Judging someone because of what they wear or the way they talk is the same prejudice that judges them by their skin color. Sure, there are times when "appropriate" attire is required, like a funeral or a job interview, but the kid was just walking on a particular street, like hundreds of other kids do, everyday. Apparently, some people don't want kids to be kids, especially if they are Black (or Asian or Hispanic or Muslim).
 American Minds
The lesson here is less about the gun lobby's "Stand Your Ground" law, than it is about how far we still have to go to recognize all Americans, regardless of race, color or creed, as neighbors first, and criminals only when there's direct evidence from that individual to support specific suspicions.
We are meaning making machines, a teacher once told me. We relate to other people (and our environment) with the lessons past experience has taught us, or, lacking direct experience, we draw conclusions based on "stories" we have heard from our prime influences - our parents and our community. So all it takes to change the reflexive responses to social situations to which we resign ourselves, is a willingness to acknowledge that things may not be what you were always led to believe they were.
That's not always an easy thing to do. It requires disavowing some deeply held beliefs, letting go of our grip on the familiar bar that has gotten us this far in life, and like a trapeze artist, trusting that there's another mindset that will catch you and validate your new feelings. If you've ever had to admit you were wrong about something, in just about any context, you've done something similar. The biggest difference is admitting something you once thought was correct is flawed, compared to something you were certain about could be wrong.
Here's an exercise from the Book of Oversimplification that may help you. Let's say you have this idea that you look terrible in stripes. Try wearing stripes on a date, or to an important meeting, and see if it really matters. Better yet, try listening to your significant other in a conversation, while you're wearing stripes, and pretend you don't automatically know where they're coming from. Be willing to be surprised, by every one and everything. Americans are better than the racial profiling that passes for vigilance these days. George Zimmerman may not be there yet, but you can be. Give it a try.
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