It’s Not the Clothing

27 Mar 2012

written by Carolyn


When I was in middle school and high school, thick gold chains, like the ones worn by Run DMC, were all the rage. Few of us could afford the gigantic rope chains that the rappers wore, but fat herringbone chains were the necklace of choice for the rest of us.

Then dudes started snatching gold chains. Wearing a fat rope could get you shot. Kids were warned not to wear gold chains because thugs would rob you, and cops would mistake you for a thug.

My oldest brother William, who we call Lucky, had a nice thick 18K gold herringbone. For weeks, I begged him to let me wear it to school. Finally, he relented.

I thought I was the shit wearing that chain to school. My friends oohed and aahed over it. It made me feel special.

On my way home, a guy passing me on the street reached out, and just as calmly and casually as if he were brushing lint off my shoulder, he snatched the chain off my neck. The chain-snatcher didn’t even slow down, so practiced and skilled was he at the art of chain-snatching.

I felt the chain’s broken fragments trickle down between my breasts, more brittle than sweat. I saw that the force of the snatching had ripped the neckline of my favorite shirt. For a moment, I was more pissed about the torn shirt than my brother’s chain – until I remembered that the chain wasn’t mine, it was my brother’s, and I had no money to replace it.

Lucky forgave me. The guy didn’t hurt me, and I was safe. My life, he said, was worth more than a stolen chain.

I was scared for a short time, but within a few months, I had another – much smaller – gold chain around my neck. I took the kinds of precautions a teen will take to placate worried parents – meaning, I tucked the chain inside the neck of my shirt, even though tucking the chain inside my shirt hadn’t stopped the first chain-snatcher from snatching my brother’s chain off my neck. I didn’t believe the bad thing would happen a second time, because teens are stupid and don’t believe bad things will happen to them, even after bad things have happened to them. My need to be like my friends and wear the latest fad was more important than my mother’s fear that, next time, someone was going to put a bullet through my head for a gold chain.

Sneakers without laces were another thugged-out fad. Like sagging pants, it was a silly style copied from guys in jail, then made cool in the streets.

Teens were told that wearing sneakers without laces marked you as a criminal. That message basically ensured teens would wear their sneakers without laces.

My father was a diabetic with poor circulation in his legs and feet. After he retired, he began wearing sneakers for comfort. Eventually, he took out the laces, which made his shoes easier to slide on and off. Of course, no one mistook my father for a thug. He was just an old man with bad feet. I don’t think old men with bad feet made laces-less sneakers uncool, but the fad seemed to fade pretty quickly after my father picked it up.

Over the years, I’ve seen many fads and styles first get introduced to the public by urban youth, become associated with criminals and crime, and then transition into the  mainstream. A few examples: Timberland boots. Long, loose-fitting basketball shorts. Oversized t-shirts. Baseball, basketball and hockey shirts. Even striped, button-down shirts.

And, of course, the hoodie.

Geraldo Rivera has been attempting to make himself relevant again in connection with the shooting of Trayvon Martin by asserting that Martin’s hoodie is responsible for his death.

Rivera, of course, is justifying profiling young black and brown men by feigning concern for their safety. Rivera condescendingly tweeted, “Critics of my hoodie comments think they’re mad at me but they’re really mad at the undeniably unfair reality of young male black/brown life.”

Rivera’s fake, made-for-Fox-News concern for young black men is beyond insulting. “Its sad that I have to be the one reminding minority parents of the risk that comes with being a kid of color in America–channel the rage,” Rivera tweeted.


Let me try to relieve you of this sad burden that has fallen upon your narrow shoulders.

The hooded sweatshirt is a ubiquitous article of clothing. I rode the subway 100 blocks, from 125th Street to 25th Street, and saw all ages, all races, all sexes in hoodies. The term “hoodie” was once slang, but is now part of the standard lexicon. If we’re going to blame Trayvon Martin’s death on his hoodie, why not arrest all men who wear those ribbed white t-shirts known by the despicable name “wifebeaters,” on suspicion of domestic violence? Or meth use?

It’s easy for Rivera to blame the victim. It’s much harder to question why someone like George Zimmerman can look at someone like Trayvon Martin and see, not a kid heading home from a convenience store, but a thug who didn’t belong where he was. Until society is willing to take a close, hard look at that question, it’s only a matter of time before we’re mourning the death of the next Trayvon Martin.

13 Comments on It’s Not the Clothing

  1. Fran White

    I’m a bit older so watched kids your age gather for the bus in the morning back then. My cousin joked about thumping a boy in the back of his head and running off to watch him run out of his unlaced shoes with his baggy pants around his ankles.

    You forgot to mention the girls wearing jellies on their feet in the snow with bangs laquered 10 inches straight up.

    The kids I watched were all white and just as harmless but the only law enforcement interested was the fashion police.

  2. RR


    We communicate verbally and non-verbally. People take into account not only our words, but our body language and clothing in order to get a sense of what our thoughts are. Women who show lots of skin are thought to be, rightly or wrongly, promiscuous and are at greater risk of sexual assault than women who dress more modestly (this Is why the whole “Slut Walk” movement is so ridiculous). Sunglasses prevent people from seeing the wearer’s eyes, thus making it more difficult to gauge the wearer’s mood/intent and consequently making the sunglass wearer appear aloof and somewhat menacing. That is why many police officers wear sunglasses and that is why if you are pulled over by a cop they will ask you to remove your sunglasses if you are wearing them. The same logic applies to the hooded sweatjacket. The hood obscures the face, especially the eyes. Given the reality of black crime (young black men are about 4 times more likely than young white men to be involved in a violent crime), it behooves us as the parents of young black males to strongly encourage our sons NOT to look like criminals. The association of crime with black skin is strong enough in the minds of many (and that includes the minds of blacks too) without making the impression worse by wearing emotion concealing garb.

    Many blacks lament the fact that people assume many of us are criminals just because we are black. This tendency is often wrong but nonetheless is based on the fact that we have a disproportionately large percentage of criminals among us. There had been a number of recent burglaries in the neighborhood that George Zimmerman was watching and those burglaries were perpetrated by young black men. In some respects we blacks are implicated in the Zimmerman/Martin shooting. We have been raising almost 3 generations of criminals and have the outsized incarceration rate to prove it. If we don’t want our sons to be associated with crime we have to STOP RAISING SO MANY CRIMINALS. Black parents, please discourage your sons from tempting fate. Don’t let your boys wear the following:

    Low hanging Baggy pants
    Gold jewelry
    Expensive sneakers
    Hooded sweatshirts

    p.s. Additionally, could we not give our male children names like Trayvon?

  3. Carolyn

    I vehemently disagree with the majority of what you’ve written here. There is no point in my commenting further.

  4. RR

    My previous comments are summarized below:

    1) Clothing influences perception.

    2) Young black men commit a disproportionally large amount of crime.

    3) There were a string of burglaries committed by young black men in George Zimmerman’s neighborhood, predisposing him to be suspicious of young black men.

    4) Black parents would be well advised to discourage their young boys not to dress in clothing favored by criminals if they want to minimize the chance their boys will be mistaken for criminals.

    What part of my reply did you agree/disagree with? Let’s talk about this. We can’t face a problem if we don’t admit we have a problem. Black crime is our problem. Let’s deal with it or at least talk about it.

  5. RR

    I would like to amend my list:

    6) Don’t let your children wear gold teeth:


    This is definitely NOT a good look.

    We need to come to grips with the crime problem and stop pretending that black crime is just some figment of an over-active racist imagination. Whites associate crime with blacks because we commit significantly more crime than they do. This isn’t crazy. It is logical on an aggregate level. Instead of engaging in empty gestures like the “Million Hoodie March” perhaps we could do something that might really make a difference in the life outcomes of young black people, like facing the reality of black crime and discouraging our children from thinking criminality is an authentic expression of American Negro culture.

  6. Carolyn

    I’m going to have to ask you not to include links from Drudge as proof of anything. Whether or not Martin wore (fake) gold fronts is irrelevant. I consider what you are doing as offensive as the two gentlemen I blogged about today – slandering a dead child. I will agree with this comment: “discouraging our children from thinking criminality is an authentic expression of American Negro culture” is something we need to do (though I dislike the use of the word “Negro” in this context). That is valid. But to say that blacks commit more crimes than whites, without anything more, and to excuse racial profiling, etc., is unwarranted. I really have nothing further to add and would appreciate if you refrained from further comment as well.

  7. RR


    Slander?!!! Many of us are in the process of trying to tease out truth from falsehood regarding this incident. I didn’t hear you mention slander when George Zimmerman’s 5 year old mug shot was published or when Zimmerman’s arrest record was made public. Getting the details about the lives of Martin and Zimmerman is not slanderous to either Zimmerman or to Martin’s memory. You are letting your sentiment overwhelm your powers of analysis here.

    Below is a link to an essay by the writer Steve Sailer which I think summarizes the incident and associated commentary:


    Choice snip:

    What general lesson can society draw from the Trayvon case? Well, there’s a win-win solution for how to get people to stop stereotyping young black males as thugs. Blacks should stop trying so damn hard to act like thugs.

    I’d like to add one more item to my list of black parental no-nos:

    7) No tatoos!!!

  8. Carolyn

    George Zimmerman’s mug shot & arrest record are relevant because he WAS THE SHOOTER. Trayvon Martin’s hoodie, gold fronts, Twitter handle, etc. are irrelevant because he was doing nothing but walking home. I am not going to discuss this with you any further. Period.

  9. RR


    It is well established that Zimmerman is the shooter. What is not established is who the aggressor was. Zimmerman maintains that Martin was the aggressor. His allegation has to be investigated which means Martin’s history should be open to police (and unfortunately public) inquiry. Of course, Zimmerman might be lying about the whole thing and he may have been the aggressor. Thus Zimmerman’s record should be open to investigation. Then again both individuals may have been aggressors at various times during their encounter. The problem with your line of reasoning is that you have assumed that Martin was not the aggressor, so you view any investigation into Martin’s background as unseemly. You have disallowed the possibility of Martin’s guilt (if Zimmerman’s account is true and Martin had lived, he would have been charged with assault).

    Your sentiment has gotten the better of you, which is understandable, being that you are mother to a black tween male child. I can relate because I am the father of two black male children myself (a tween and a teenager). What we can’t do is overreact. Ok, we have already overreacted. What we can’t continue doing is overreacting. No more hoodie marches for goodness sakes. New information is being uncovered every day. Let us observe the outcome of the investigation. In the meantime, can we implore out children not to dress like hoodlums (or prostitutes)? I have a 20 yo cousin. She is a pretty girl who gets a lot of attention. She also has a tattoo on her behind…and her upper back….and her shoulder. The last time I talked to her she said was thinking about getting a tattoo on her neck!! I didn’t say anything to her. I tried not to be judgmental, but I know that her love life is going to be disappointing for her. The tattoos are indicators. Men think, rightly or wrongly, that girls with tattoos are easy. Personal perception management is important for everyone, especially young black people. Let’s advise our children not to tempt fate.

  10. Carolyn

    Respectfully, if you do not stop commenting on this, I will block you. I am done. And I do not appreciate links to Breitbart. Final warning.

  11. PDub the Turtle

    Fellow Detroiter (now in the DMV). This is a great site and I am enjoying catching up on older posts.

    I am getting tired of the constant narrative about the “overwhelming majority of criminals” looking a certain way. As a recent article in the Root pointed out (http://www.theroot.com/views/why-don-t-we-talk-about-white-white-crime), 84% of whites are killed by other whites (http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/htus8008.pdf). Additionally, whites commit the VAST majority of violent crimes (http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/tables/table-43).

    CNN, Fox News, etc. are not discussing “white on white” crime because it is riducluous. JUST as ridiculous as the notion of “black on black” crime… the trend exists for ALL racial groups.

    If we could only engage in honest conversations, admit when we have prejudices (all of us) and seek to dispel any false narratives.

    Please continue to speak up and out!

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