The Hoodie's Place in Fear and Fashion

The hoodie, a seemingly harmless wardrobe staple, seems to be vexed by a long history of violence which gives way to fear-mongering and discrimination.

| June 2016

  • “Hoodlum, n. Etymology: The name originated in San Francisco about 1870–72, and began to excite attention elsewhere in the U.S. about 1877, by which time its origin was lost, and many fictitious stories, concocted to account for it, were current in the newspapers.”
    Photo by Fotolia/lolostock
  • In "Hood," Alison Kinney discusses the Grim Reaper, Red Riding Hood, torturers, executioners and the executed, athletes, laborers, anarchists, rappers, babies in onesies, anyone who's ever grabbed a hoodie on a chilly day and the stigma that follows.
    Cover courtesy Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Alison Kinney's Hood (Bloomsbury, 2016) explores the material and symbolic vibrancy of this everyday garment and political semaphore, which often protects the powerful at the expense of the powerless-with deadly results. Kinney considers medieval clerics and the Klan, anti-hoodie campaigns and the Hooded Man of Abu Ghraib, the Inquisition and the murder of Trayvon Martin, uncovering both the hooded perpetrators of violence and the hooded victims in their sights. In this excerpt we discuss how hoodie’s are use as an excuse to discriminate. In this excerpt we discuss how hoodies are often used as an excuse to discriminate.

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Hoods as garments, hoodlums/hoods as people, and neighborhoods don’t necessarily have an etymological relationship, but etymologies don’t have to be true to have real consequences for people and places. The word “hoodlum” and its 1930s variant “hood” can stick to anybody, so long as somebody else thinks he’s a problem. Taking it one step further, the dehumanizing British slur “hoodie,” which conflates the garment and the person wearing it (it’s fraught even to identify the figure of speech — metonymy?) demonizes a supposed hoodie-wearing type. The “hoodie” is young, male, working class, and/or poor. In the UK, he’s often of African or Afro-Caribbean descent, sometimes white or Asian. In the US, he’s usually Black, often Latino, and assumed to wear the hoodie for nefarious, antisocial purposes.

In October 2014, Andrew Padilla noticed a sign in a Harlem store window: “DO NOT ENTER WITH HOODIE OR MASK: IF SO YOU ARE NOW TRESPASSING.” At the time he’d spotted it, “I’d just come out of a meeting with some people who’d come from Ferguson to Harlem. We were talking about Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and how these killings can’t keep happening. Then I saw the bodega with the ‘no hoodies’ sign. It made me think back to the coverage of George Zimmerman’s trial.”

Padilla had a favorite brown hoodie. “It was comfy, it was casual, it made me feel good, kept me warm. I wasn’t wearing it initially as a political statement, it was just an item of clothing. But now, wherever you are, it’s a political statement. That’s nuts.” On that day in October, he pulled his hood up over his head and walked into the store. “I asked the bodegero, ‘Hey, did your sign really say no hoodies allowed?’ and he got mad uncomfortable: ‘Er, um, people wear them to rob us.’ I said, ‘I could wear a clown mask and rob you. There are so many things I could rob you in.’ I tweeted a photo of the sign and put it on my website, and a reporter reached out. There’s a guy from Philadelphia selling these signs across the northeast out of his car at ten dollars a pop. There’s a market for hate and ignorance. That says a lot: not as much as American Sniper grossing more than Selma during MLK weekend, but a lot.”

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