March 26, 2012

My Adidas...

Back in the early 1980s hip-hop icons Run DMC came out with a famous song highlighting their love for Adidas:

I wore my sneakers but I'm not a sneak
My Adidas cuts the sand of a foreign land
with mic in hand I cold took command
my Adidas and me both askin P
we make a good team my Adidas and me
we get around together, rhyme forever
and we won't be mad when worn in bad weather

Run DMC was one of the first hip-hop groups to talk about their love for a particular brand.  Now of course the idea has morphed into larger more expansive discussion or commercialization of consumer culture (or “bling bling”) which includes beverages, watches, cars, etc…Run DMC didn’t intend to, but they helped perpetuate the whole idea of clothes being an integral part of identity, in this case hip-hop identity.  They also helped foster in an era in which hip-hop was seen as not just a musical genre but a lifestyle – one which was quickly coming to a suburb near you.

Fast forward to this Century.  As we know, hip-hop identity has now been incorporated, commoditified and globalized.  Hip-hop culture has become, if not the quintessential American youth culture, then at least one of the dominant ingredients of Black youth culture.  This includes the ever present use of hooded sweatshirts – more colloquially known as “hoodies.”

On Gloria Ladson-Billing’s Facebook page, she posted a link ( which highlighted (or perhaps lamented) Geraldo Rivera’s comments about Travyon Martin and his hoodie being as responsible for his death as Zimmerman.  I don’t want to rehash the entire discussion which ensued, but the range of comments went from “disgusting” to “a village is missing it’s idiot” to “blaming the victim” to questions of race and clothing. 

In American society, as Melissa Perry-Harris noted on her show this past weekend ( , there is an unofficial dress code for Black boys – No colors (especially red (Bloods) or blue (Crips)), no sagging pants (in some cities it is actually “against the law” to do so), and no hoodies – especially up.

Pictured in this blog, are two images of Travyon Martin.  Take a real good look at them.  Are the clothes he is wearing indicative of “typical” young Black culture?  In perhaps the most widely shown photo of Travyon, he’s wearing a “Hollister” t-shirt.  How many brothas in the hood do you know who wear that brand?  In a different photo, Travyon is at a ski resort with his snowboard and goggles.  How many brothas do you know who snowboard?

The answer to those two rhetorical questions, as TourĂ© articulates in his excellent book Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness is that there are thousands of Black folk, young and old who wear Hollister, American Apparel, Abercromie & Fitch, Lands End or any other brand of clothing.  What is problematic is that we as a culture in our minds eye create stereotypes based on certain types of clothing being worn by particular groups.  And when this happens, we create a sometime deadly equation – perception/stereotype + fashion + race = fear.

One is left to wonder, if Travyon was wearing his Hollister shirt would he still be alive?

**On a personal note, I concur with the President.  Not only IS my son Travyon Martin, so was (am) I.  This is a deeply personal situation, but one which is not even remotely new.  What I see as extremely problematic is that we highlight the injustices whenever cases such as this arise and partake in the usual street theater and feigned surprise at the injustice, but, after a period of time (say when the news cameras and Roland Martin’s of the world leave) we move on back to our normal daily lives until the next time, and the next time.

Emmet Till, Amadou Dialou, Shawn Bell, Oscar Grant, Travyon Martin….

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