Monday, April 9, 2012

Marching with Hoodies: a commitment to community and life

On March 26, 2012, I wrote a blog post entitled, “OWS, Union Square, Hoodies and America’s Gun Laws.”  I received a fairly long, personal and thoughtful response to that post from a young black man named Randy.  Randy is thirty-two, employed, and lives in a mid-sized urban community in Pennsylvania.   Because I was so touched by his response, I contacted him and received his permission to post his response in this blog.

I would have preferred to see Randy’s letter appear as an “Op-Ed” piece in the New York Times or on the “Lives” page at the back of the New York Times Magazine.  His response truly merits a much broader exposure than the limited one of Wassup This Week.  But, given the two-and-a-half weeks that has passed since the Million Hoodie demonstration in Union Square, Randy’s letter would no longer be timely enough for such a venue.

And so, I publish his letter below (enlarged, in red) and follow it with a few added comments.

I am compelled to comment on this post. I am an African American black man. The Trayvon Martin situation is disturbing on many levels. I applaud those that recognize the situation, protest and speak out. 
That being said, I am bothered because there must be something more we can do besides attend protest marches. I have seen violence. I have experienced racism. Heck, I was one step away from joining a gang myself as a young teen just to feel like I was a part of a family.  

I give my background to point out that my stance is not by any means a negative towards this situation, but to call on people not just to observe a situation but to actively consider how to improve the situations of others less fortunate.  

I base my call for action on my own experience. In particular, my experience with 2 important people in my life whom I often refer to on a regular basis as my “adopted parents.” They did not adopt me as far as taking me in physically, but they adopted me emotionally and mentally. They took a random kid who, I would assume, piqued their interest enough to dig a little deeper.

I did not make it easy on them. To be honest, I didn’t really trust them. They were older, maybe by 40 years; they were white; and I was brought up not to trust. I highly respected them and in some ways feared them. I barely spoke to them but was always kind and respectful. They could have easily let me go my way and let me keep walking on a beaten path that would have led to a life much different than what I have today.

To make a long story short – they decided to take me under their wings. This act saved my life on so many levels because of what I was going through at home and what I would soon be going through as a young adult. I feel like they were there every step of the way, whenever I needed guidance and even the times I may not have wanted guidance.

My “adopted mom”--I used to call her “the apple lady” because she allowed us kids to pick apples from a tree in the back of their house--would always tell me this simple phrase when I would complain about circumstances in my life. She would say "Randy – you cannot always change what someone else does; but you can always change what you do." Boy, did I find that phrase annoying.

Here is my point in all this:

Its great to have a march like that Million Hoodie March and recognize when things are wrong – but let us not march with hoodies on for a single situation.  March with the lives you lead, with your entire life.

My two “adopted parents” (who are white and I am black) were marching with their lives and honoring Trayvon Martin before Trayvon was even born!

So now, I’ll wrap up with why I am still bothered.

How many men marching with hoodies have left their own children because they did not want to be fathers and so ran from responsibilities?   How many women marching with hoodies have children and are neglecting them and not showing them the love they need to endure life?   How many older men marching with hoodies are watching the younger men around them failing in life and are not willing to take them in and be a mentor?   How many older women marching with hoodies are watching women go down the wrong path and are afraid to mother them and teach them?

I can go on and on but the point is: this is bigger than Trayvon Martin and one situation – we have people killing each other and neglecting each other and refusing to do anything about it.  Let’s not just walk away from an event such as this and go back home and do nothing.   Let’s consider our own ways.  Trayvon was shot because of one man’s screwed up beliefs.  But, how many folks are harmed mentally and emotionally because of ones screwed up beliefs?  Let us all do better in the little ways that we can and consider how we treat one another.  By doing that – as my “adopted parents” have done – then we are making an impact, changing lives and are truly marching with hoodies.

Randy has created a powerful metaphor.  Marching with hoodies becomes a statement about re-defining community, about improving the lives of others as well as one’s own, about truly integrating blacks and whites and making them equal.

When George Zimmerman muttered to the police dispatcher, “these assholes, they always get away,” he wasn’t able to imagine Trayvon as part of his community.  When, according to Trayvon’s father, the first thing the Sanford police told him when he arrived at the station house was that Zimmerman “had a squeaky-clean record, a license to carry a weapon and is studying criminal justice,” he was being informed, not so subtly, that he was an outsider to this particular Sanford community.

It has been argued that, since George Zimmerman is Hispanic, and his mother was originally from Peru, the exclusionary issues of racial profiling don’t apply to him;  he, too, was an outsider. However, Isabel Wilkerson pointed out that a Duke University study has shown that Hispanic and Latino immigrants to this country "actually reported higher negative feelings toward blacks than most native-born whites.”  Essentially, they tend to hold “the same assumptions about blacks that they perceive are held by native whites.”  This, of course, is simply an effective strategy of assimilation.

For some reason, Hispanics are more readily assimilated into white American communities than are blacks.  After all, Zimmerman had become a trusted neighborhood watch volunteer.  As Khalil Gibran Muhammad writes in an article entitled, “Playing the Violence Card,” because so much violence against blacks is black-on-black, we tend to see violence against blacks differently from violence against other groups.  Therefore, violence against blacks is simply a black problem and “not a problem with social and institutional roots that needs to be addressed through collective effort well beyond the boundaries of black communities.”

And so, we come back to Randy’s letter to me about the Million Hoodie March.   He is essentially asking everyone, black, white, hispanic, to not play the “violence card.”   He is asking us all to treat everyone with compassion.   He is asking us to take responsibility for our communities, defined in the broadest terms to encompass all races.   He is asking us to treat everyone equally, to embrace everyone as brother and sister.

But we have a long was to go before we fulfill Randy’s request. We need a lot more unofficial, off-the-record, “adoptive parents” who are willing to treat our young citizens, particularly our young black citizens as equals.  As Charles Blow concluded in an article he wrote last week about our racial divide, the “perception of unequal treatment eats away at the psyche of these men and boys of color and erodes their faith in a just and honest society.  That is its own tragedy.”

And then, Blow asks a question about the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s murder that neither he nor anyone else should ever have had to ask: “In the decision not to charge Zimmerman, was the boy with the candy accorded the same presumption of innocence as the man with the gun?”


  1. Thank You for sharing my post Tyco. Your follow up response is very well stated with many interested facts. - we must discuss this issue more offline if possible!

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  3. Dear StyleUno:

    This blog topic and its response from Randy is about a very serious social issue in our country. How do you justify adding on to its comments with nothing more than your blatant and fairly crass attempt to sell sweatshirts?

    Tyko Kihlstedt