When I first heard about this case, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a white professor at my school. We were talking about profiling, and I told him, ‘You have less chances of getting arrested wearing a hoodie than I do wearing a suit.’ That’s unfortunately the truth today in the United States. And Trayvon, unfortunately for him, was both black and wearing a hoodie.
When the story hit the news, people immediately started asking, ‘what was he doing? What was he wearing?’ As if what a 17-year-old was wearing might justify his getting killed walking home. It’s not so different from cases where people hear a girl was raped and ask, ‘was she wearing a skirt?’ Telling people to stop wearing hoodies, which are just a cheap, warm item of clothing, is not going to solve the problem. I do understand that some parents tell their kids not to dress a certain way to stay on the safe side, but to a larger point, we should probably refocus on stopping people from committing violent acts rather than blaming the victims.
“It’s heart-breaking because Trayvon looks just like my young cousin”
It’s heart-breaking to me because Trayvon looks just like my young cousin. What’s even more heart-breaking is that this incident did not surprise me. I grew up in Orlando, just a 15 minute drive from Sanford, where Trayvon was killed. From early on, I realised that it was trouble to go to certain parts of town. Being a black man, I just looked like trouble. Driving in nicer areas, I was frequently pulled over by the police, asked where I was coming from, where I was going. It keeps happening to me today. It’s like this for all young black men. And we immediately feel guilty in the policeman’s eyes – my first reaction is to think, what kind of music do I have on the radio? What am I wearing? I don’t want to think this, but I do.
“I hope this starts a national conversation about prejudice, so that this precious boy didn’t die in vain”
This case is exposing so many racial issues in this country. There is this idea that there is a sort of ‘acceptable black man’, the kind that earns the right to wear a hoodie – a doctor, a lawyer, or in my case, a law student. I can wear a hoodie and Air Jordans to go to class, and no one looks at me and thinks I’m a criminal. But there have been several occasions where I’ve been to the library at night and forgotten my student ID, and even if I’m wearing my backpack and holding books about law, the librarians will see me as this tall black guy with a beard and won’t let me in. This would never happen to my white classmates.
The Million Hoodie Marches going on all over the country are great, but I don’t know how long they’ll satiate the public. Trayvon’s attacker is still free, and the anger is escalating to an uncomfortable place. I pray it doesn’t get violent. I hope he is arrested, but more importantly I hope this starts a national conversation about prejudice, so that this precious boy didn’t die in vain.