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Hoodie Politics: Trayvon Martin and Racist Violence in Post-Racial America

Posted on Apr 4, 2012
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By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout

This article originally appeared at Truthout.

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The killing of a young African-American boy, Trayvon Martin, by an overzealous white Hispanic security guard who appears to have capitulated to the dominant post-racial presumption that equates the culture of criminality with the culture of blackness, has devolved into a spectacle. While there is plenty of moral outrage to go around, a recognition that racism is alive and well in America, and that justice has been hijacked by those who can afford it, the broader and more fundamental questions and analyses are not being raised. Complex issues get lost when spectacular events are taken over by a media frenzy that feeds on sound bites and simplified answers. Yet, under the intense spotlight on the personal defects of the two men involved, important issues such as the social and human costs of a corporate-driven gun culture, the privatization of security forces, the price paid by poor minority youth whose every act is criminalized, and the crimes committed through an all-embracing racism are shrouded in darkness, off stage and invisible. To bolster the incredulous claim that we live in a post-racial society, crimes such as these are often isolated from a larger set of socio-economic forces that might provide a broader understanding of both the needless death of a 17-year-old black youth but also its relationship to a much more all-encompassing war on youth that is causing massive suffering and needless deaths among many young people in America.[1]

While it is the tendency of liberals to rush to universalize the deeply felt personal loss that resulted from Trayvon Martin’s death, the rosy raceless sentiment was ruptured when President Obama uncharacteristically drew attention to his own racial difference and suggested that, if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon. But the fact of the matter is that since the dawn of the post-civil rights era young black and brown youth have been routinely and radically othered as a generation of suspects, if not a dangerous scourge. While poor minority youth may garner some sympathy when their needless deaths get public attention, too many of them experience an existential and real death every day that often goes unnoticed. The popular slogan “We are all Trayvon” may be paved with good intentions, but it bears the burden of hiding more than it reveals. Young poor minorities are not “us”, they are the excluded, the other, the excess and the disposable. What needs to be remembered is that they have been made voiceless, powerless and invisible in America. Marginalized by race or class and forcibly excluded from the American dream, they register more as a threat to be either contained or eliminated than as an object of compassion and social investment. They are not merely excluded but punished for living outside of the power relations that give rise to the corrupt privileges of the Second Gilded Age. One notable example is made clear in the question raised by Rich Benjamin in a New York Times op-ed where he writes: “After all, why did the police treat Mr. Martin like a criminal, instead of Mr. Zimmerman, his assailant? Why was the black corpse tested for drugs and alcohol, but the living perpetrator wasn’t?” [2]

What is missing in this debate over the legalities of the case (as against questions of justice) is a hard look at the underlying economic, racial and political conditions that make such a senseless act of violence possible. While it is easy to ridicule as racist Geraldo Rivera’s claim that the boys “hoodie”  was somehow responsible for his death, as if it carried an unequivocal and dangerous signifier for all young people, regardless of what their race, neighborhood, or class location might be. The real question in this case is, what kind of society allows young black and brown youth to be killed precisely because they are wearing a hoodie? Indeed the politics of diversion runs deep in American culture. And questions concerning what kind of society we have now become as reflected in such a tragic killing are simply ignored. Such questions are dangerous because they invoke wider social considerations and prevent us from wallowing in a purely privatized discourse that, in the end, for instance, only allows us to focus on the most narrow and restricted of issues such as the personality of the shooter, George Zimmerman. Defined by the parameters of an utterly privatized discourse the only question that seems to matter is, “Who is George Zimmerman and why did he shoot this young man?” Actually, the more plausible question is, “What kind of society creates a George Zimmerman along with a formative culture that elevates vigilantism over justice, emotion over reason, fear over shared responsibilities and violence over compassion?” This is not to suggest that Zimmerman should not be brought to justice through a fair trial, but that Zimmerman’s dreadful act is symptomatic of a larger war being waged on poor and minority youth that places them in ongoing conditions of uncertainty regarding their education, health care, employment and also their future, particularly in terms of whether they will live or die. Nor does the narrow focus on the prevalence of a gun culture, gated communities and private security forces (Rambos for hire) in the United States provide either an adequate focus for understanding why, “Military force has replaced democratic idealism as the main source of US influence” or why war is a source of national pride rather than alarm.[3] Nor does it tell us why the spectacle of violence has become the greatest source of entertainment in American popular culture, furthering enabling, “the process whereby civil society increasingly organizes itself for the production of violence.”[4]


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By heterochromatic, April 5, 2012 at 7:04 pm Link to this comment

my statement was about ...that’s the law. that’s what ‘s on the books and just
because I don’t agree with it doesn’t mean that my views should outweigh the
wishes of the majority….as their view is not indefensible.

I agree that we should work for better, but we have to take care not to arrogantly
over-value our own opinions.

Report this

By MollyJ, April 5, 2012 at 6:43 pm Link to this comment

Accepting that imperfections exist does not mean you don’t work to improve it, in either realm.

So if you aren’t a proponent of the death penalty, what was that statement, “troy Davis was executed because 12 people were convinced that he
murdered somebody” about?

And I disagree with your statement of the infrequency of errors in the death penalty.  No one can say they actually _know_ a number but there is good evidence that it is far from infrequent.  Let’s just say that if a doc wanted to test me with a test that had a false-positive rate like the death penalty, I’d be leary. Check out this web site:

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By heterochromatic, April 5, 2012 at 6:33 pm Link to this comment

Molly——I’m also not a proponent of the death penalty, but it’s not that often
that an innocent person is executed.

Tens of thousands of people die due to hospital-induced infections for every
innocent person executed by the justice system.

Report this

By MollyJ, April 5, 2012 at 6:25 pm Link to this comment

Hetero, just as I am willing to accept the imperfections of the health care system (of which I am a professional member) I am willing to accept the imperfections of the trial system.  But there is nothing about the trial system that requires a death penalty.  And as I’ve said, the risk of wrongfully executing the wrong person is too real and too frequent and therefore, the death penalty is simply not necessary.

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By heterochromatic, April 5, 2012 at 6:14 pm Link to this comment

Molly—- how man y rich people or people who hire experienced trial attorneys
were indicted for murdering police officers in the last dozen years?

the problem with rich people getting more lenient sentences is real, but you’re
wrong to think that justice is all about whether you can hired your own defense

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By heterochromatic, April 5, 2012 at 5:51 pm Link to this comment

Molly——you have a better alternative to jury trials for criminal offenses?

If not, then you might want to remember that trials always leave room for some
doubt., but it’s not required that there be NO doubt left.

it was reasonable that the verdict was arrived at as it was and also remember that
appelate courts arer required to honor the verdict unless the trial was legally
defective to a material degree.

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By MollyJ, April 5, 2012 at 5:39 pm Link to this comment

hetero, Troy Davis was someone whose jury trial left plenty of room for doubt and yes the system said he had no more recourse left and he was killed by the state.

But Davis’s case illustrates exactly the problem with the death penalty.  Blacks are way over-represented on death row.  You can be flip about that but it should make you uncomfortable.  The kangaroo court justice that over incarcerates and executes blacks may someday be brought to bear on you and yours.  A system that cheapens life grows ever less discrimminant.

People with money and non-public defenders are rather under-represented on death row, too.  Do you seriously think that getting the death penalty should be a function of what kind of defense you can _afford_?

I actually looked at the residents of death row in my state.  It was uncomfortable.  I’d like to think the courts in my state “get it right” but I know that the odds are that they do not always.

The state should not be in the business of executing it’s people just simply because we cannot really eliminate a margin of error and the human costs of error are unacceptably high.

Give it some thought.

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By MollyJ, April 5, 2012 at 5:31 pm Link to this comment

Costa, Zimmerman followed Trayvon.  He called 911 and said he was following him and the 911 operator told him there was no need to do that.  By your read, Trayvon should have turned around and, and…thrown his Arizona Ice tea at him.  Oh, yeah,but Zimmerman had the gun.  Check and checkmate.  Dead teen.

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By heterochromatic, April 5, 2012 at 11:50 am Link to this comment

Roger—- troy Davis was executed because 12 people were convinced that he
murdered somebody….that has shit to do with Martin.

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By costa piperakis, April 5, 2012 at 10:11 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It is ten o’clock in the evening.dark shadows looming.and black figure comes to you in a hooded sweat have a weapon available.are you prone to use it?I think i might think twice,when banks put up notices about wooded sweat shirts ,and “ethnic personel.I would just be a “mite paranoid"and the police have not even finished the investigation,yet Oprah has the defendent hung up to dry.doe the term innocent untill proven guilty come to mind?

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By ciarrai, April 5, 2012 at 6:58 am Link to this comment

There is a great deal of inequity on all fronts. Absent, however, from this and all liberal comment on the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case is any mere reference to interracial crime, specifically, black on white crime. Why the white knuckle hesitancy to even mention this element of the issue of the racial divide? What’s the worst that could happen? Al Sharpton might leave MSNBC? Really, why no article, essays, news, pieces, segments on the very real issue of black on white crime?

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By Roger Lafontaine, April 5, 2012 at 6:48 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why was Troy Davis executed ? And why was Trayvon Martin ‘executed’? Is there a connection? Their own innocence was their crime. Neither of them committed a crime and yet they were both executed. One by the Law,  the other by a substitute of the Law.

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By heterochromatic, April 4, 2012 at 5:51 pm Link to this comment

holy platitudinous pontificating, batman!  but that was
more hot air than is produced on Hot Air.

sounds nice but is as nourishing as a bowl of steam

Report this

By jaabirlx, April 4, 2012 at 4:29 pm Link to this comment

We need a comprehensive word for the syndrome that Mr. Giroux taxonomizes: I use the word “Securitarian” to echo the word “totalitarian” . . . for Securitarians, political liberties are dependent on Security—and of course, there is never any limit to the violence that must be done in the name of being safe, nor are there any legal limits that have to be obeyed, because all the armed vigilantes are as much a part of making us “Secure” as anyone in a uniform. And of course anyone in a uniform is even less culpable.

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By MollyJ, April 4, 2012 at 3:11 pm Link to this comment

Henry Giroux is a national treasure.  When I read his stuff, I always feel like I’ve been to a class taught by a learned man.

However, I had actually already happened onto some of his ideas.

But he is among a growing group of people that speaks out effectively against the militarization of life and the active plan to incarcerate everyone—but particularly minorities—who do not conform to a narrow idea of appropriate behavior.

I think that Giroux has spoken to the lack of real and important work and jobs that do not await even some of the bright college bound kids but also the people who, 40 or more years ago, would have been decently paid blue collar workers. 

Thanks again Henry Giroux.

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By Arouete, April 4, 2012 at 12:40 pm Link to this comment

Before pontificating nincompoops and ignoramuses do yet more violence to Trayvon Martin by trashing the very law that is his own best defense they should go READ it before making complete fools of themselves. It’s easy enough for a 17-year-old to understand.

We have all read much about this horrid incident but almost none of it contributes to the most important questions as to this law and law enforcement. The following at Open Salon may be helpful to sort out what everyone seems to be missing: This law is Trayvon Martin’s defense and George Zimmerman’s indictment and and at least one of the Martin family attorneys agrees!  Do yourself a big favor and see:

“Martin v. Zimmerman: Everything You ‘Know’About SYG is Wrong” at

and for a more detailed expose see “Trayvon Martin: Defense a Pig-Sty Beneath a Racist Facade?” at

For everyone’s information in an “IMPORTANT UPDATE” comment to those links provided it is stated,

“I just got an email from the attorney for Travon’s parents. It might not be appropriate to mention her name—you can sleuth that out for yourself. I passed her the links for the two posts I wrote and she just wrote back,

“Thank you. Your blog is very well written and thought out…I agree with your analysis.”

“So pass it around please. This is the analysis their legal counsel want’s to get out. Please help deliver the massage.”

People who go around pontificating on the law should at least have the integrity to do read the dammed thing and apply it’s plain language to the facts as we know them. No one who has taken even five Minutes to read this simply-worded statute could possibly concluded it’s a defense for Zimmerman for the only person who can assert this defense is Trayvon Martin.

Anyone who trashes this law trashes Trayvon’s best defense and does him one more ignorant violence. There can be no excuse for this cavalcade of ignorance.

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By gerard, April 4, 2012 at 12:32 pm Link to this comment

The saddest but truest essay on the suicide of the American experiment I have yet read. What to do?
  1. Don’t be afraid to know the truth.
  2. Free Bradley Manning and Julian Assange.
  3. Dismantle the culture of fear and violence.
  4. Reinstate and honor democratic laws, processes
    and values.
  5. Be kind.

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