Today, Geraldo Rivera published an article on FOX News Latino called “Trayvon Martin Would Be Alive But for His Hoodie.” In the article, Geraldo posits that “[h]is hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman did.”
It’s the worst kind of victim blaming, but through my revulsion, some of Rivera’s statements stuck with me, namely this:
I am begging parents to unbait the trap. Don’t let your child provoke madness. Agonize all you want about the unfairness of stereotypes. Argue how it amounts to a million, million little cuts of racial profiling. Work to change the world. Rail against the inequities of life; but don’t let your child go out into the hard cruel world wearing a costume that is really a sign that says ‘shoot me.’
Now, before the mob attacks in the comment thread, let me make it clear that I don’t agree with Geraldo Rivera. There’s a whole goddamned lot wrong with this statement, namely…
I’m struck, though, by the ugliness [Rivera] accidentally reveals about how minorities are forced to think about themselves.
- …claiming that hate crime is a “trap” that people fall into, “baited” by its victims, and that dressing a certain way can “provoke madness.” This is the reasoning people use to blame women for rape.
- …treating the struggle against inequality dismissively.
- …again basically saying, “Well what was Zimmerman supposed to think?” without addressing the actual underlying problem.
Geraldo Rivera’s comments are those of a man less concerned with the societal issues that led to Trayvon Martin’s shooting than he is with criticizing the boy for not tailoring his image to them. In Rivera’s world, it is a simple fact of the universe that brown people are scary, and brown people should do everything in their power to seem less scary or else people will shoot them.
But Rivera begins his editorial talking about the way his son dresses, and how he has to correct it, and perhaps the reason this article resonates is because it’s reflective of how so many of our parents feel the need to be be concerned if not outright afraid when we leave the house to go out into the world. I grew up listening to my father talk about how the police treated kids in his neighborhood in Brooklyn’s East New York growing up, and giving me reminders that I have to be more careful than my white friends because of the way I look. I’m a bit shocked that, in the wake of this shooting, hoodies have been painted as the most hardcore gangsta rap accoutrement – who the hell doesn’t own a hoodie? And yet, when Trayvon Martin wears one, it signals possible criminal activity. It’s because of things I’ve heard older Latinos who grew up less than privileged say that Rivera’s statement, however defeatest and appalling, resonated. The focus of Rivera’s article is wrong, and the blame shifting is deplorable, but haven’t many of us been in situations where we are suddenly hyper aware of the implications our own ethnicities have for us in that moment or place?
I don’t think Geraldo Rivera really thought this one out – not that I’m confident that, had he considered the implications of what he was saying, he would have written anything I agree with. I’m struck, though, by the ugliness he unwittingly reveals about how minorities are forced to think about themselves.