Joseph Cotto, 12/1/2014 [Archive]

Judgements on Race and Fashion

By Joseph Cotto

Michael Brown's death placed America in yet another race-driven quagmire. The acquittal of Darren Wilson revved the tension up into an all-out riot. At a time like this, we should forget about black, white, yellow, or red and focus on fashion.

George Zimmerman has long since been acquitted of any wrongdoing in the death of Trayvon Martin. Nonetheless, a great many individuals believe that Zimmerman profiled Martin because the teen was black and wearing a hoodie.

The FBI investigated the question of whether or not Zimmerman was prone to racially-motivated violence and subsequently found no proof that he was. Because of this, one can reasonably infer that any claim that Zimmerman is a racist is the result of personal bias, not logical consideration.

As for the hoodie, though, there can be no denying that it is the attire of choice for members of street gangs or individuals who are up to no good and operate as lone predators. Consequently, stereotypes about those who wear hoodies have long been part of the American sociopolitical scene.

Shortly after Martin's death, famed lawyer and pundit Geraldo Rivera remarked that the teen's hoodie was partially responsible for his death. He urged parents to tell their children not to wear hoodies. While Rivera spoke only of Blacks and Latin Americans, his message applies to everyone.

Can it be that Zimmerman saw Martin walking around his gated communitył'one that had a history of gang troubles as well as break-insł'and thought that the teen might be bad news because of the signal being sent out by his chosen attire?

Don't law enforcement officers often profile people on this very basis? Race is not the factor here, but dress certainly is. That old adage, "clothes make the man" often functions in other entirely different scenarios as well. If a man in a suit and necktie drives his late-model luxury sedan into a high-crime neighborhood, then he would be wise to be on alert and expect trouble of the highest order.

The bottom line is this: People are people. We frequently make assumptions about one another before even a word is spoken. This isn't always the rational course of action, but it is the way it is.

Hopefully, more people will follow Rivera's advice and ditch the hoodie before it ditches them.

So, what does any of this have to do with the Brown-Wilson incident? On its face, not much. The latter fatally shot the former because he feared for his life after being physically attacked. Hoodies factored into this at a rate of zero.

However, race relations have reclaimed front-and-center status. One of the most important aspects of how people view each other is personal dress. Hoodies have become the stuff of thug stereotypes and, even if worn by the nicest of people, can create problems where none otherwise exist. How many folks, irrespective of race, would view each other as a threat if they wore business attire? Even if two people in jackets and ties approached each other on a dark, desolate street, there would likely be no problems.

Should one be wearing a hoodie and jeans, though, the situation might roll downhill fast.

The social ramifications of hoodies aside, they are just ugly. Wearing one while exercising is one thing, but who on Earth can say that a hoodie is appropriate for many more occasions than that?

Indeed, people need to not only wise up, but dress up.


Copyright 2014 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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