I’m sure you’ve all heard that Geraldo Rivera has diagnosed the problem in the Trevon Martin shoooting: He wore a hoodie!
Geraldo’s case is, well, not entirely insane.
People do react to the symbols you wear. Ask any ex-hippie from the ’60’s if he was harassed about his long hair. That’s not an entirely crazy response to long hair either: Hippies wore long hair as a statement, and some people were offended by the statement. Then other people started wearing long hair just because it seemed cool. They weren’t trying to make a statement, but that didn’t keep them from being treated as if they were.
No one controls the meanings of symbols — not even the symbols of language, as the internet has taught us with its fast evolution of new words (“LULZ”) or old words with new meanings (“trolls”) — and no one controls the meaning of an article of clothing. Which can have unexpected consequences.
American businessmen have sometimes run into this problem in England. In the clip above, Geraldo is wearing a striped tie. His tie looks mostly grey, but these striped “rep” ties come in all colors, and a lot of businessmen in America like to wear them. So do a lot of businessmen in London, but in London, these ties mean something.
To English men, striped ties are symbols of their affiliations. The patterns are specific to each organization. There are ties for schools, ties for clubs, and ties for military regiments (which is probably where the tradition of such ties began). It sometimes rubs them the wrong way to meet with an American businessman who shows up wearing a tie that represents a school that he didn’t attend, or a Royal Army regiment he couldn’t possibly have served in.
I’ve heard that kids in America’s inner cities run into a similar problem with more tragic results when they unknowingly wear some element of gang colors — just because they thought it was cool — and then run into gang members who aren’t pleased to see their colors disrespected, or find themselves in the territory of a rival gang, when they’re not even in the gang.
In any case, just as the backwards-facing ball cap stopped being a gang symbol about the time parents started wearing them on outings with their kids, I don’t think the hoodie is really much of a sign of a miscreant any more. My wife and I are both middle-aged white folks, and we’ve been wearing hoodies for years.
On the other hand…
A few weeks ago. My wife and I were returning home on a Saturday evening when, over a period of about three minutes, we saw eleven Chicago Police cars go flying by with the full light show. Curious what was going on, I downloaded a police scanner app to my phone, and we listened in on the radio chatter.
As we listened for the next 90 minutes or so, we learned that it was a manhunt for some people who had shot (without success) at a police officer. The police had only a sparse description, but it was enough to catch at least one of them as we listened: Two males. Wearing hoodies.