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.