Thursday, May 29, 2014

When a Black Person Wears a Hoodie

By Victor J. Ward

I just listened to the Stephen A. Smith/ESPN First Take video. Stephen A. Smith is an entertaining, loud, and opinionated person when he is talking sports. When he steps on his race soapbox, he works my last nerve.

But, in the video posted on EPJ, Smith speaks with passion and reason.

The sad thing is that after Smith spoke
, a guest host, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, got into a debate with Smith. Dyson is a Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University. He has an interesting background, from being a father in his teen years to becoming a minister at the age of 19 to receiving a Master's Degree and a PhD. in Religion from Princeton University.

Dyson's is a very eloquent speaker, but eloquence does not mean intelligent.

I am going to comment on three things mentioned by Dyson:

1. Racism is on a continuum. Mark Cuban's statements, while not as racist as Donald Sterling's, were still racist.

2. Wearing a "hoodie."

3. The fact that Dyson is an ordained minister.

First, Mark Cuban said that if he saw a young, Black man wearing a hoodie, he (Cuban) would cross to the other side of the street. Dyson calls this comment racist.

I have only one question for Dr. Dyson and for anyone else who holds Dyson's view:

Do you think that the people who have been abused or killed by the "Knockout Game" wish that they had followed Mark Cuban's advice?

You remember the Knockout Game, don't you? This is the game where a Black teenager walks up to an unsuspecting, non-Black person and hits them in an attempt to "knock them out." People died from the injuries that they suffered from the game.

Do you think the knockout victims wish they had crossed the street when they saw Black youth -- sometimes be-hooded, sometimes not?

Is it an act of racism for people who have been on the losing end of the Knockout Game to run to the other side of the street when they see Black people approaching them? How many times do you need to go blind in one of your eyes or suffer a concussion or suffer a broken jaw before you can flee to the other side of the street and not be called a racist?

What if you have seen the Knockout Game on YouTube. Is it then ok to be wary of Black youth, or must you be brave and keep walking -- head held high to show that your are not a racist? Of course, with your head held high, you become a more attractive target for the Knockout Gamers.

It is interesting to me that we blame the victims and would-be victims for their wariness, rather than blame the perpetrators for causing said wariness.

Also, since the Reverend Jesse Jackson said the same thing as Mark Cuban (but, of course, Jackson avoided being labelled a racist), maybe we should ask Jackson how we should act around young Black youth wearing hoodies.

Second, Dyson said that racist people look at the hoodie as a garment of aggression.

In 2010, my wife and I travelled to Washington, D.C. I was taking the test to become an NFL Players' Agent. (For some sports leagues, you only need to pay money and submit an application. For the NFL, you have to pay money, submit an application, and pass a test on the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement. I passed, but later allowed my license to lapse.)

Before the test, there was a class from 8 AM until 5 PM on the first day, and another class from 8 AM until Noon on the second day. The test was given from 1 PM until 5 PM on the second day.

On the first day, I wanted to be comfortable and present the image of, "I am totally relaxed. This test will be easy." (The pass rate is only about 60%.) I planned on wearing jeans and a t-shirt. (The truth is, I was pretty scared about the test, but I wanted to look like I had everything under control.)

My wife wanted me to wear a sports coat and button-down shirt. She wanted me to look like a professional so that I could make the right connections. (By the way: My wife was right.)

The point is: We both knew that what I wore was going to send a certain message.

When young, Black men wear a hoodie, they, too, know that they are sending a certain message. They WANT to look hard. They WANT to look intimidating. They WANT you to be scared.

When a Black person wears a hoodie, are they going to mug you? Probably not, but the Black person definitely knows that they are giving off a certain look. They know that they are communicating in a certain way. If the Black person does not want to give off that look, they take off the hood.

In my younger, more athletic years, I was walking around a particularly dangerous block in San Francisco. It was about Midnight and I had my hoodie on. (In the daytime, I was both an academic tutor and minister for some of the kids in that community. I was there at night to walk the streets and pray for the families and the children.)

I was confronted by a resident of the neighborhood who was also wearing a hoodie. He told me, "You are pretty swole, but not as much as me. Are you Five O?" (For those who don't know, "swole" means "looking buff, like you work out." "Five O" means "the police, as in Hawaii Five O.")

Indeed, the young man was correct: I was in pretty good shape, but he was bigger than I was. Guess what I did? I took off the hood; I told him that I was not Five O; and I told him that I was praying for some of the kids. He kept his hood on.

When I took off my hood, I was saying: I am not a threat to you. When he kept his hoodie on, he was saying: I am the Alpha Dog in this situation.

Clothes convey a certain image. Let's not pretend as if they don't.

Of course, the hoodie gained special attention because of what happened to Trayvon Martin. I don't want to rehash that, but let's be honest about one thing: If Martin had been killed by someone named D'Andre Jones or L'emongello Smith (yes, that is actually someone's first name), the media would not have cared.

If Martin had been killed by an Hispanic with an Hispanic name -- Jose Espinoza, Julio Gomez, or Victor Ramirez -- the media would not have cared.

But, Martin was killed by someone who looked white and who had a white sounding name. This sent the media into a synthetic hysteria.

Third, Dyson claims to be a minister. Many of the Black people that I heard comment on the Sterling and/or Cuban situation claim to practice the Christian faith. I also practice this faith, and the last time I checked, forgiveness was a foundational principle. One biblical passage says the following:

"Forgive our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us."

For the Black person that claims to be a Christian but refuses to forgive Sterling/Cuban, he/she has three options:

1. Stop claiming to be a Christian;
2. Live like a hypocrite; or
3. If you don't plan on forgiving Sterling/Cuban for what you believe to be a racist statement, don't plan on God forgiving you for any racist statement that you may say.

Good luck with that.

Victor J. Ward  first came across libertarianism by reading Murray Rothbard's Ronald Reagan: An Autopsy and Walter Block's Defending the Undefendable. He holds a law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law and an MBA from Santa Clara University.


  1. Dude, Vic, I really love your writing.

    When I was a kid that spent some of my youth growing up in a low income section of Detroit and can appreciate everything you wrote; great insights.

    1. I concur. Victor's style of writing bears a resemblance to Gary North's. It's succinct, well-reasoned and has no dramatic embellishments that detract from the main point(s). Always a pleasure for the mind.

      And Victor, if you are reading this, you know some of us are going to be begging for a book or a collection of essays from you soon! Hint. Hint.

  2. My respect and admiration for you rises with every article. May The Lord bless you and keep you.

  3. Punks are punks. I don't care what color or race someone is, nor what group the belong to. I care if they want to harm me, my family, or take my property. If they look menacing via clothing or general actions, I'm going to be wary of that! I'm not going to be running around in "Cooper's Condition White" because of an irrational populist oversensitivity towards race.

    The overwhelming super majority of whites in this country don't support segregation nor slavery. They want peace and prosperity.

    The more we wrap race classifications around actions, the more we unintentionally segregate based on race and create the polarized environment we now have. Somehow we all have to get past this taboo, quit looking at pouring salt into ancient wounds, and legitimately talk about these issues and role model behaviors for all humans.

    As a humanist and a Libertarian, if it helps anything, I can honestly say I'm sorry for what happened in this country regarding slavery. However, I wasn't born yet. I didn't condone it. My ancestors didn't live here and didn't participate in it. The majority of people living in this country now can say the same, yet somehow we keep conflating actions that most of us had nothing to do with and can't change. It's a circular problem that we can't resolve unless we ironically stop looking at human actions as having racial undertones.

  4. L'emongelllo? Can't you just tell people you craved lemon jello when you were pregnant with your child instead of naming the child L'emongello? Seriously.

  5. Well done Vic, your articles are always a highlight of my day