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

Posted on Apr 4, 2012
LaDawna's pics (CC-BY)

By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout

(Page 3)

What the shooting of Trayvon Martin tells us is that too many young people are not only being stripped of their hope and dignity, but also their lives. American society has become what Steve Herbert and Elizabeth Brown refer to as a “political culture of hyper punitiveness,” one in which it has become easier and apparently more acceptable to punish children who do not obey, who refuse to be invisible, who question authority - children whose presence reminds us of how far we have moved from the ideals that once allowed Americans to make a claim on democracy.[9] We now live in a bifurcated country of gated communities organized to protect at all costs their isolated privileges and desperately poor no-go zones, also isolated and armed to the teeth. Living in these paranoid life worlds we have become a nation that emulates the fictional Dexter, the much-celebrated serial killer in the cable TV series of the same name. Crime now drives social policy and vigilante culture increasingly plays a prominent role in shaping American life. This is a bunker culture where guns rule, corporations have learned to capitalize on the growing culture of cruelty and punishment, Hollywood thrives on the spectacle of racial violence and the American government devolves into a torture state. But it is also a society that has intensified its racism behind the cloak of colorblindness and other post-racial myths while at the same time exercising with more diligence its policing and punishing functions.  Glen Ford, the editor of Black Agenda touches on this in his comment about why the George Zimmermans of the world think that they can get away with assaulting and punishing black youth.  He writes: “They do these things because they can, and they think they can because they believe they’ve been given permission by a significant segment of society to carry out these attacks on young black men.  And inevitably, if they are given what they believe is the green light, some people are going to take it.”[10]

Given these contexts and conditions, the issue is not whether a crime takes place because a young person wears a hoodie, but, what kind of society do we live in when a child can be shot for emulating a style that is associated with that of black and brown urban youth? Since the arrival of the Puritans, punishment has been inextricably woven into the fabric of American life, and increasingly it targets young people who have been pushed to the margins of society. Hence, it is not surprising that in America there is a rush to punish individuals for committing crimes but no longer a passion or commitment to examine the larger issues that produce the crimes. We now believe that some individuals were just born evil and our responsibility begins and ends with their expulsion-not their salvation. We gloat over justice being served by sentencing young people such as Dharun Ravi to years in jail for a horrific, homophobic crime that prompted the suicide of his roommate Tyler Clementi, but we never raise questions about the forces at work in a society that daily reproduce and reinforce this hateful culture in the first place.

Too many young people have not only been expelled from American society, but they are being punished with a kind of mass vengeance that suggests the emergence of a new political and economic culture in which life has become cheap and democratic values extinct. Trayvon Martin’s death should not be trivialized by the distracting discourse of hoodies; nor is reducible to the actions of a potentially mentally unbalanced shooter. It is not (yet) about a clear-cut act of racial violence, nor, for that matter, simply about the isolated and yet shocking death of a young man. It is about the death of the idea of justice, not merely its practice. It is symptomatic of the way in which an entire generation of young, poor, minority youth are being punished, excluded, starved and thrown up in the elimination system of a new and violent, self-mutilating social order. It is about the stench and reality of death being promulgated by a society that has become cruel, corporate-owned, politically corrupt and morally bankrupt. Martin’s death is symptomatic of a war on young, poor, white and minority youth, the destruction of youthful human minds and bodies, and the slide of a hyper-market-driven country into a moral and political coma which enables it to function without apology, without ethical considerations into a world of power relations, values, and practices that are punishing in their effects and cruel in their conception. For many young people, the hoodie is not the central danger. Violence is the central force in the lives of poor minority youth, and the rhetoric and metaphors through which it gains legitimacy extend from an ever-pervasive reality of police brutality to the modes of punishment creep that extend from their schools and the streets to their homes. Violence now is the major force for producing identities, desires and social policies. Unfortunately, for too many young people, violence has become the normal condition of their lives, the only space left where many of them can even recognize how their agency might be defined and what their future has to offer them. What Trayvon Martin’s death tells the American public is that, as Patricia Ticineto Clough and Craig Willse have pointed out in a different context, we live in a society, “in which the production and circulation of death functions as political and economic currency.”[11] The price paid for that is not simply the tragic death of a young African-American boy, but an ongoing assault on millions of poor young people in this country. The cost is high, and with it comes the tragic violation of human life and the death of democracy itself. Surely, in remembering the death of Trayvon Martin, we can and must do more than don a hoodie to signify the superficial solidarity of the new post-racial world order.

This article may not be republished without permission from the author.


1. I take this up in great detail in Henry A. Giroux, “Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability?” (New York: Palgrave, 2010).

2. Rich Menjamin, “The Gated Community Mentality,” New York Times (March 30, 2012) p. A27.

3. James Carroll, “A Nation Lost,” Boston Globe (April 22, 2003) online at Common Dreams.

4. Jorge Mariscal, “Lethal and compassionate: the militarization of culture,” CounterPunch (May 3, 2003).

5. Zygmunt Bauman, “Wasted Lives” (New York: Polity Press, 2004), pp. 92-93

6. Erica Goode, “Many in U.S. Are Arrested by Age 23, Study Finds,” New York Times (December 19, 2011).

7. Reuters, “45% Struggle in US to Make Ends Meet,” MSNBC: Business Stocks and Economy (November 22, 2011).

8. Etienne Balibar, “Outline of a Topography of Cruelty: Citizenship and Civility in the Era of Global Violence,” in “We, The People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship,” (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), p. 128.

9. Steve Herbert and Elizabeth Brown, “Conceptions of Space and Crime in the Punitive Neoliberal City,” Antipode (2006), p. 757.

10. Glen Ford, “Vilification of Young Black Youth Deeply Embedded in American Culture,” The Real News (April 1, 2012).

11. Patricia Ticineto Clough and Craig Willse, “Beyond Biopolitics: The Governance of Life and Death,” in Patricia Ticineto Clough and Craig Willse, eds. “Beyond Biopolitics” (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), p. 3.

This article is a Truthout original.


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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:

Report this

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

Report this

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.

Report this

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?

Report this

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.

Report this

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.

Report this

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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