Michael Wore Hoodies

The above is one of my favorite photos of Michael. I love the pics where he looks a little bit tough; a little bit “gangsta”; a little bit “hood.” Why? Well, need I explain? Bad boys are sexy. Okay, forget the cigarette, we all know that was just for show. But the real key to this pic’s appeal is thanks to a fashion statement that has become an icon of our culture-and for young black men, especially, an important symbolic element of identity. I’m talking about the hoodie.

I had planned to pick up with Part Two of my rebuttal to Wyman’s article “The Education of Michael Jackson” today but I decided to postpone that just a bit (look for it about midweek) after going on Facebook and seeing a rash of articles posted about hoodies. This is all in reference to the planned Million Hoodie March on  Washington and in response to a comment made by Geraldo Rivera that “hoodies are a problem.” Geraldo’s remark, of course, is in return a response to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Most of you know the details by now. Martin was a 17-year-old African-American kid who was armed only with a pack of Skittles and a bottle of Arizona Iced Tea, walking home from a convenient store, when he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida.


Trayvon Martin was wearing a hoodie. Just for wearing a hoodie, did this young man lose his life? Some are saying yes. The situation cuts straight to the heart of racial profiling. Many people will see a young, black man wearing a hoodie and automatically think “gangsta,” or translation: “Trouble.”

But in this day when the hoodie has become as much of a fashion statement as drooping pants, are such knee jerk reactions justified? As a college instructor, I see them worn every day, by both black AND white kids. These kids are not gangstas. They are good kids, enrolled in college–a little mischevous sometimes, but trying to make a better life for themselves. Trying to make a future. My brother wears them-my brother who is a hard working, 23-year-old white kid who simply likes to identify with his rapper heroes like Eminem.

In "Bad," Michael Used The Hoodie To Symbolize His Black Identity

Since when have we taken to shooting unarmed kids for following fashion trends? Well, this isn’t a new phenomenon. In the 60’s, people were terrified of any kid who had long hair and a beard. I still remember how mortified my grandparents were when a group of “hippies” moved into the neighborhood.  I didn’t really understand their fears. We had walked by “the hippie house” on numerous occasions, and the long-haired boys who were always in the front yard when we passed seemed like nice and pleasant enough young men. They always smiled, always waved; were always very polite. In my child’s mind, I couldn’t see what was so wrong with them, other than that they were “different.” But now, as an adult, I understand that my grandparents’ fears were based on profiling. Young people with long hair were considered hippies, and hippies were associated with all the bad things they heard in the news like drugs and riots and the Manson murders. In their estimation, the neighborhood was going to hell because soon there would be drug houses, crime, prostitution and who knows what matter of evil, ugly, nasty things happening…all because some boys with long hair and beards, who liked their music a little too loud, had moved in.

Over the decades, as hip hop culture has replaced rock culture as the predominant trend setter of youth fashion, we’ve seen the focus shift. But regardless of the outer wear, it is the same old biases and prejudices underneath.

I’m not so much outraged by Geraldo’s remarks as simply disappointed. Disappointed because Geraldo, as one of the few journalists who treated Michael fairly during the whole Arvizo debacle, had almost redeemed himself in my eyes from those embarrasing days of Al Capone’s vault.

This 2004 interview that Geraldo did with Michael is a good example:


But now he has gone and stuck his foot in it again. I will just say that the reason I’m not totally outraged is because I understand the context of his remarks. I “get” what he’s saying, which is basically, if we allow our kids to adopt the outer emblems of gang wear, we should not be shocked if there are some who will perceive them as a menace-and act accordingly.

“People look at you, and what’s the instant identification? What’s the instant association? It’s those crime-scene surveillance tapes. Every time you see someone stickin’ up a 7-Eleven, the kid’s wearing a hoodie,” Rivera continued. “Every time you see a mugging on a surveillance camera or they get the old lady in the alcove, it’s a kid wearing a hoodie. You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a ‘gangsta’ … You’re gonna be a gangsta wannabe? Well, people are going to perceive you as a menace. That’s what happens. It is an instant reflexive action.”-Geraldo Rivera


But I am disappointed because Geraldo, as a journalist, should know that shifting the blame to the hoodie is not addressing the real problem. It is only addressing the band aid. It is only addressing the outer emblems of what we all know is a much deeper problem. Kids of color can stop wearing hoodies, they can abandon the drooping pants, they can tuck their polo shirts neatly into a pair of crisply pressed khaki slacks, but they can’t change the color of their skin. And they can’t change those deeply embedded issues of racism, profiling, and prejudice that led to Trayvon Martin’s death in the first place.

“The hoodie can’t be redeemed,” Geraldo says. Well, it’s not the hoodie that is need of redeeming. The key is in those very “knee jerk responses” he mentions. Those knee jerk responses-and the deep rooted reasons for them-is what has to be addressed.

These are the very issues that Michael spent most of his life trying to address, but so few were listening. Just yesterday, I found myself debating someone who said that “Black or White” was just a cliched’ message. Well, my point was, if one only pays attention to the chorus, then it might seem that way. But give a listen to the verses. Take a fresh look at the Panther Dance coda. Michael was saying that true racial harmony and equality is only an empty ideal. Perhaps it can be achieved, but before that can even start to happen, a lot of ugly stuff is going to have to be purged from us first.

Michael also dedicated much of his life to advocating our childrens’ right to live in a world free from violence, hatred, abuse, and bigotry. In his speech at Oxford, he said in essence that the message we are sending our children is that violence should replace love. Our answer to school shootings, he said, should not be metal detectors and more guns, but to simply give our children the one thing they are missing most: Love. Something so simple; so easy to do. Instead, we simply perpetuate the cycle by instilling paranoia and fear.

Trayvon Martin died as a result of this. He didn’t die because he was wearing a hoodie. He died because of George Zimmerman’s paranoia and fear.

Michael's Disguises Often Included Hoodies. He Also Liked Them As Casual Wear

Michael loved wearing hoodies. They weren’t part of his “image” or his stage wear (after all, he was Michael Jackson, not a rapper!). But in private, they were a great way to disguise himself and a great way to make it through crowded places vitually unrecognized. There are many humorous stories about Michael from the people who knew him best about him using hoodies to sneak into movie theatres and stores.

But on a deeper level, Michael understood the symbolic brotherhood of the hoodie. Much has already been written, here and elsewhere, about Michael Jackson as an outspoken defender of civil rights. There is not much more to the subject I can add here, except to say that Michael-in the words of almost everyone who knew him-had more than “a bit of hood in him.” He didn’t come from the ghetto, as early Motown PR had erroneoulsy claimed, but he did come from a very tough, working class neighborhood. He grew up in a time when “colored” kids still had to adhere to a 6pm curfew and were not supposed to be past the downtown railroad tracks after dark (I can only imagine this was quite a challenge for Michael and his brothers, since many of their early gigs required them to be in clubs on that side of town!).

I know there are many who tend to think that Michael had a relatively soft upbringing. They look at his Jackson 5 fame, the time spent at Berry Gordy’s and Diana Ross’s mansions, and think, this kid never knew what a hard time was-or what it was really like to be a poor black kid growing up!

But they are wrong. Not only was Gary a tough environment (and let’s not forget, Michael was there for the first ten years of his life) but Michael was also conditioned at an early age to playing in some of the toughest and sleaziest night clubs and strip joints in the area.

As an adult, he still knew the sting of racism. I’ve mentioned before the story that Latoya told in her book, about the racial beating he took in a store in Alabama. “I hate n*****s,” the store owner reportedly said, over and over, as he pummeled Michael on the floor (according to Bill Bray). I know many have questioned if this incident has ever been verified. I still don’t know; other than Latoya’s word that it did.

But allegedly, Michael’s only “crime” was that he went in the store to look for candy. The incident erupted over the store owner beleieving-so he claimed-that Michael tried to pocket a five cent candy bar.

IF the story is true, there are some other questions that can be raised as well. The store owner did not recognize the young man he was beating to a pulp as Michael Jackson. Most likely, since this occurred during one of Michael’s frequnt road trips to Alabama with Bill Bray, Michael may well have been in disguise before going into the store. We know that his “disguises” often involved dark glasses, fake moustaches, masks-and yes, sometimes, hoodies.

So imagine this racist store owner has no idea that the young black man who has wandered into his store is the world famous Michael Jackson, but rather, just any young black man from off the street? He gets suspicious, follows him around the store, and “invents” a reason to jump him.

Michael didn’t lose his life that day, but according to the story, he did end up badly beaten and in an Alabama hospital.

And this wasn’t the only time that Michael’s disguises would land him in similar trouble!

So perhaps Michael Jackson on that day-a young man who was simply bored with sitting in the car at a gas station, and decided he wanted a candy bar-could certainly identify with Trayvon Martin, a young man who just wanted some Skittles and a jar of iced tea.

We can blame the hoodie all we want. But as Michael reminded us over and over, racial prejudice isn’t a simple problem with a simplistic solution. Among the many responses to this incident I have seen posted on Facebook, perhaps one of the best is one I saw earlier this morning, a pic of a white child-obviously the child of a Klansman-wearing a KKK hood. The caption on the photo summed it up best: “Geraldo, Let’s Be More Concerned About White Children Who Wear Hoods Than Black Children Who Wear Hoodies.”

ETA (03/28/12): Saw this video today! Am adding it here because it’s too lovely not to share!



18 thoughts on “Michael Wore Hoodies”

  1. This is the perfect segue into Michael’s ‘They Don’t Care About Us.’ Justice for Trayvon Martin! Not only should Zimmerman be charged but chief of police and the officers who failed in their duty to investigate the case in a professional manner should be fired! There is no excuse for the negligence shown by law enforcement in this case. This case has been mid-handled from the start. Where’s the justice??

    1. Zimmerman is going for self-defense, but I don’t know how he’s going to make that stick. The kid had no weapons. From all indications, there WAS an altercation (witnesses heard the commotion). From what I’ve heard, after Zimmerman reported a “suspicious person” to 911, he disobeyed police orders and proceeded to follow Trayvon. I’m sure at some point Trayvon probably demanded to know why he was being followed. Words were probably exchanged. Things got heated, and Zimmerman lost his head. He was acting like a Barney Fife cop. There was no reason to follow the kid. Even if something, let’s say, did look suspicious to him (giving him HUGE benefit of the doubt here) all he had to do was make the 911 call, and let it go. He was told to do that, and didn’t listen.

      1. Zimmerman was looking for it, he just couldn’t help – he must go after that black kid and had to use his gun!

        The prosecution and the police of Florida are total disgrace!

  2. Raven,

    “”Blood on the Dance Floor” was released on March 21, 1997″. I did not realize it but luckily came across on March 21 this year “The strange story behind the global hit, which was released a decade and a half ago today”.

    Teddy Riley talked to Joseph Vogel:
    “Michael Jackson’s ‘Blood on the Dance Floor,’ 15 Years Later”

    1. That is a great article from Joe Vogel, as always. An eerie story, isn’t it! I had linked to this story on FB. I wasn’t able to get anything up here in time for the anniversary, though I will be writing more about BOTDF in the future. I still wish it had appeared on the Dangerous album. I think it would have been a better fit there.

      1. Yes, I also wish BOTDF was included in the Dangerous album and had much greater success in the States like other hits that were included.

        I checked on you on FB only when this site was down … sorry for sidetracking from the current blog.

        We expected too much from you – to write something everytime and on everything. Hope you don’t mind.

        1. I agree Sofia. Raven, with your busy life, I never cease to be amazed at how you’re able to find the time to write such thoughful and indepth articles for us here. Thank you for the time you devote to your articles and to your thoughful responses to each of us.

          1. I HAVE had to slow the pace considerably. I’m working two jobs now, whereas before it was only the one, so I don’t have the time to put into it that I used to have. I still try to update at least once a week, more when I can. But I’ve had to learn to pace myself. I have the fortune of being able to write very quickly-it takes a lot less time for me to knock out a 5k article than most people would suspect, but there is also all of the research that goes into most articles, not to mention the layout, which takes more time. Each article is definitely a labor of love!

  3. By the way, I’d like to draw attention to this well written article addressing the tragic Trayvon Martin case:

    “Geraldo’s commentary is a classic example of derailment. Trayvon could have been wearing a My Little Pony t-shirt and George Zimmerman would have perceived the young man as a threat. We cannot center this discussion around clothing. We cannot allow a piece of clothing to bear the brunt of the responsibility that belongs to the murderer and to the society that created him. This is a discussion about race, about unchecked vigilantism, about a state that encourages vigilantism, about a police department that continues to allow the murderer of a child to remain free, about a country where the parents of black children have to worry about the George Zimmermans of the world each time they let their children leave their homes, and about the fact that Trayvon Martin is not the first nor will he be the last young black man who was killed because of his black skin. If we allow the conversation to be derailed, we do Trayvon Martin even more injustice than has already been done unto him.”


  4. Great article, Raven! I am so glad that you wrote about this. This whole thing has troubled me from the beginning, especially since I have two young adult sons and they also like to wear hoodies. It could have happened to them if they were ever at the wrong place at the wrong time. Trayvon was profiled as criminal by Zimmerman before he was shot and now he is being portrayed as criminal because of a suspension. It just goes to show what lengths those with power will go to cover their own butt. Zimmerman’s father is a judge and his mother worked at the court house. Don’t tell me that his connections are not keeping him out of jail! He has police record himself, but they are still blaming Trayvon, like he was some drug addicted thug! This happened with Michael. I have read about the incident that you described above in Latoya’s book. He was treated no better when accused of molestation, guilty before proven innocent. The media tried to poison the public’s mind against him. Look at all the hateful, racist things said about President Obama! When you are black, it doesn’t matter if you are just a kid, the President of the United States or the world’s most famous entertainer, at the end of the day, you are just another “you know what” in eyes of ignorant people.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I, too, really despise the racist comments that I hear against Obama daily. People can like the man for the job he has done as president or not (this is America, after all) but leave the color of his skin out of it. He has had it tough for several reasons. Being the first black president, he’s had to deal with the racists on the one hand, and on the other, the burden of the overly idealistic who were expecting “greatness” and for a miracle to happen-i.e, that he could pull us out of the mess we’re in in less than four years. At the end of the day, he’s just a man running a country, making both good and bad decisions, same as all the ones who came before.

  5. I’d like to include this interesting article, “Trayvon Martin: What It’s Like to Be a Problem,” March 28, 2012 for The Nation magazine, on the subject at hand by Melissa Harris-Perry (professor of political science at Tulane University, writer and T.V. commentator):

    She discusses the continued idea of “being black” in the U.S. as perceived in the culture as “being a problem.” A sad state that she describes as being exemplified not least of which by the shooting of Trayvon Martin; the need by some to illegitimatize Obama’s presidency; and what appears to be an increased tolerance of racial profiling, especially in the south, when it comes to immigrants. I would add to her list by including the intolerance of those in power to have amongst them a powerful black man by the name of Michael Jackson.

    She says, “Despite the dramatic legal changes brought about by the ending of Jim Crow, it is once again socially, politically and legally acceptable to presume the guilt of nonwhite bodies.”

    A sad state of affairs indeed…:-(


    1. I still think, no matter how they try to spin this, it is going to come down to one simple, indisputable fact…Zimmerman was armed. Trayvon Martin wasn’t. I think Zimmerman targeted this kid by following him; Martin blew up because he knew he was being followed; words were exchanged and things turned violent. But most peoples’ reaction, if they knew they were being unfairly targeted, would be similar to Trayvon Martin’s. Yes, he could have kept a cooler head and maybe he would still be alive. But I think there comes a point where you just get tired of taking crap.

      It reminds me of once when a group of my grad school friends and myself were going through airport security. It was a school sponsored field trip to a writers’ conference in Vancouver. They allowed all of us to go through security without any problem, until they got to the one girl in our group who just happened to be a rather androgynous lesbian. For no good reason we could see other than that she looked “different,” she was detained and searched, while everyone else got to proceed without any hassles.

      I think after awhile a person’s psyche can just snap, and say “enough is enough.” I remember a line from a poem I once heard at a reading. It was a poem about the Montgomery bus boycott and I have pretty much forgotten the entire poem, except for this one line that stood out in my mind: “That day, Rosa Parks was tired.”

      We can say the same thing about this case. That day, Trayvon Martin was tired.

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