Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Heat Weigh in On Trayvon Martin

Yesterday LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and the Miami Heat took action to protest the incompetent response of local officials to the murder of Trayvon Martin.  In some ways, this action was minor, more symbolic than direct, and even within the context of the manner in which they protested I can see at least one way they could have done more.  But everyone involved deserves praise for doing something, anything, when our culture not only makes it easy to sit back, stay out of it, and rake in the millions, but actively discourages athletes and other entertainers from weighing in on social or political matters.

Dwyane Wade posted a picture of himself wearing a hoodie to Twitter.  LeBron followed with a picture of the entire Heat team wearing hoodies to Twitter.  Both of them hash-tagged the photos in reference to Trayvon Martin and hoodies.

It seems minor, but is important within the context of professional ass hat Geraldo Rivera blowing the lid off the underlying racism of a lot of observers to this issue with his blame the victim comments about Trayvon Martin having a hand in his own death because he had the unmitigated gall to wear a hooded sweatshirt.  Never mind that this is the guy that went on internationally broadcast cable news to detail troop movements, endangering lives and resulting in his own expulsion from the country, an action that should permanently disqualify him from ever lecturing someone on else on responsibility.  Go back and look at his comments and realize he's only saying that hoodies are a bad option for black and latino people.  He explicitly excludes white and asian people.

(side note:  Fox News, the network that employs Geraldo Rivera and published his comments, sells hoodies.  I'm not sure if you have to enter your EEOC information to purchase one.)

Geraldo's comments are terrible, but you can be sure that he's not alone in America in thinking like this.  He's giving cover to Trayvon's murderer, he's feeding into racist fears, and he's all but calling for a national dress code for black and latino people.  In response we've seen hoodie rallies across the nation, and the Heat have stepped in to show that a choice in style isn't a representation of who you are as a person.  Someone wearing a hoodie can be a responsible, successful member of society.  We don't need to stop black and latino people from wearing hoodies, we need to combat the perception in our society that a particular skin color and clothing combination = criminal.  Do some people wear hoodies while committing crimes?  Yes.  I also seem to remember the biggest criminals in our nation's history, Bernie Madoff and the executives of Enron, were white guys in suits.  (Actually, can I Stand My Ground and shoot any white guy I see coming towards me in a suit out of fear he'll devalue my stocks?)

The Heat took action to combat that perception.  They stood up to say a hoodie is them, not a criminal.  That we don't need a national dress code for black and latino people.

I find this move particularly interesting, then, considering that the league for which they play DOES have a dress code.  The league adopted the dress code following the Malice in the Palace, a PR move characterized as attempting to reassure white viewers that the league isn't a bunch of thugs (and all the racial connotations that word carries).  The NBA was the first sports league to adopt a dress code, one that is very conservative and restrictive, and is also the league with the highest percentage of African American players.  If you think that's a coincidence, Geraldo and I have a joint venture that would like to sell you some ocean front property in Arizona.

It's also why I would have liked to see the Heat show up to their game last night in hoodie solidarity in direct violation of the NBA dress code.  I won't criticize them for not doing it, and I'm glad they took the action they did, I'm just saying that I think it would have been an even more powerful move.  And I think that all these things are related.  We live in a society where we nod our heads in approval to the NBA telling black men they have to wear a suit and tie to the gym where they are about to play an athletic event in shorts and jerseys, then turn around in shock that a black kid who wasn't wearing slacks and a polo got shot by a man with a history of racially motivated calls to 911 and have to listen to commentary that says the black kid would still be alive if he had been wearing a suit and tie.

It all goes back to the idea that black athletes have to play harder and play better than their white counterparts, and black people have to work harder than their white counterparts.  Tim Tebow didn't complete half of his passes last year, and he's a media darling.  Donovan McNabb has a career QB rating of 85.5, has been to 6 Pro-Bowls and one Super Bowl, and Rush Limbaugh calls him an affirmative action hire.  A white meth dealer wearing a hoodie gets a pass.  A black man can be an honor student or a millionaire, but he has to wear what we tell him.

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