The Crimes of Hoodies, Short Skirts and Fannie Mae

More guns, fewer hoodies” and we’d all be safer, Gail Collins advised in a New York Times piece after Trayvon Martin was gunned down for “eating skittles while black” – and while wearing said hoodie – in a gated community. A clear threat that had to be stopped.

That’s right. Guns don’t kill people, hoodies do: Trayvon Martin’s “hoodie killed him as surely as George Zimmerman did,” claimed Geraldo Rivera (who later apologized).

Sounds familiar. When women are raped short skirts become the culprit.

Yet few rape victims are wearing short skirts. And even nicely dressed black men can create fear. Journalist Brent Staples noticed that people got out of his way when he nonchalantly walked about. Amazed at his ability to alter public space, he tried humming Mozart to project his innocence. Seemed to help.

But why aren’t pricey cars, fancy suits and expensive watches blamed when rich, white men get robbed? What thief could resist?

Why? Because making more powerless members of society the culprit is meant to distract from the sins of the powerful. It’s women’s fault if men rape them, and it’s black men’s fault if lighter men kill them.

In another example, some blamed liberals for foolishly using Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to help Blacks and Hispanics “buy homes they couldn’t afford,” leading to the banking crises that nearly drove the U.S. economy off a cliff.

What really happened is that rich bankers gave rich campaign contributions to government officials, who in gratitude disposed of pesky regulations. That helped bankers get mega-rich by devising complex financial packages that no one could comprehend.

Used to be that when someone bought a home bankers made sure they’d get paid back. But under deregulation it didn’t matter because the loan was sold to someone else. And that investor sold the loan again. And financial packages were created and sold, composed of fractions of many people’s mortgage loans. They were rated AAA since they were 1) diversified – and hence, “safe” investments and 2) the housing market never goes down. (Yeah, right!)

Fannie and Freddie entered the process late, thinking they’d better join in or lose out.

When the housing market dropped and people couldn’t afford their homes, or sell them for a profit, the banks began collapsing. Lucky for them, the taxpayers bailed them out (or the whole economy likely would have collapsed).

Did deregulation get blamed for the fiasco? By some. But plenty of the “powers that be” — and especially “hate radio” — blamed Blacks and Latinos.

Because blaming more powerless members of society distracts from the sins of the powerful.

The crime does not lie with the man who pulls the trigger, nor with the man who rapes, and certainly not with the fat cat who pays to rig the game. No, the crime lies with those who wear hoodies, short skirts and who bank while black or brown.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 11, 2012, in feminism, gender, politics/class inequality, psychology, race/ethnicity, rape and sexual assault, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I am inclined to agree. Those in power and/or those who have privilege in this country never get the blame for their actions; the blame almost always gets placed onto those of the powerless/less privilege. The people of lesser status are their scapegoats; they are an easy target for the powerful to direct the blame to and a lot of the time many people side with them. Those who are ignorant of their own oppression are more inclined to side with their oppressor simply because they do not know any better.

    This situation could also be compared to another controversial topic in America, bullying. Children who are bullied often look at themselves for why they get bullied. They figure it’s probably because they don’t dress the same way other students do, they aren’t of the same social status or sexual orientation as the other students, or some other reason that puts them at odds with their peers. They consider all of these factors about themselves, yet what they don’t factor in is the probability that something is wrong with the bully and not them. Other students and sometimes even faculty members of the school often don’t help with this realization, for they often side with their tormentors instead of the victims. You hear stories about teachers and principals refusing to take cases of bullying seriously only to find out later that the situation has escalated so much that the victim had chosen to commit suicide because no one would help. A lot of people in this country don’t realize that this is a serious problem, and only when they start to educate themselves about this topic will they realize that this is true.

  2. I would agree. The privileged people are able to “get away” with their crime because they have the necessary resources, money and sorry to say skin color. When a rich person is convicted of doing a horrendous crime, he is able to get the best lawyer to get them off the hook. While people of color are stuck with whomever the courts give them. This is given in the demographics of jail occupants and arrests in America.

    “Because blaming more powerless members of society distracts from the sins of the powerful.”
    I really like this quote because the ones in power are always trying to find away to justify their sins towards one’s race and/or sex. The laws were written and executed by rich, white men, and it seems that those in the minority have to comply with their rules. Like you stated in class and Cathy above we become used to our oppressor oppressing us that we tolerate what they are doing. In a sense we don’t know any better because we don’t know how to recognize when the rich white men are doing to us because we (women and ethnic groups) begin to do it to each other.

    When I first heard about the Trayvon Martin case people were alluding to Emmett Till (a 14 year old boy, who whistled at a white woman in 1955, and was brutally beaten and murdered), how can a person of color become valuable? Even in the case of women, people are not being to value the life of a human being because they don’t see you as a homosapien, but a homosapien that is of a certain gender and ethnic group.

  3. Unfortunately in this society, people with money get what they want and therefore have the ability to change the way people think. Everybody seems to have their price that even morals can’t stand up to. Even in a society with strict rules and systems of government, there is always a select few who will take the risk of ruining someone else’s life for their own profit. This is how the cookie crumbles, and no, it isn’t fair, and it isn’t even moral, but it’s the way people think. So yes, if one is rich, one gets what one wants. If this means putting stereotypes into the people’s vocabulary in order to blame the powerless and make the powerful seem somewhat better than they really are, then that is what they will do. And people go along with this idea because it’s easier. Blame the hoodies, because they must cause gang violence and police shootings. Blame the mini skirts because, of course, they are the ones that cause rape and sexual harrassment. People don’t seem to like to think that they are the ones at fault, or that another person is at fault. It’s always some inanimate object that causes all of the problems. Like how gas guzzling cars are supposedly ruining the environment. In reality, it’s the people who drive and continue to buy the gas guzzling cars and who just have to have their enormous SUV to make them feel “cool”, and “manly”. It is this concept of continuing to blame things rather than people that will ultimately be our downfall.

  4. Kristen Williams

    Reading this blog really just helps put into words the injustice that I have unfortunately seen countless times since growing up. Being not only a female, but a black lower class female, I have been subjected to incidents like this my entire life. Having power a lot of the times comes with the power of being able to blame other people for the actions that you ultimately caused, and the sad truth of this, as stated above, is that the blame gets pointed to the members of our society with less power.
    America has this idea of justice, freedom, and liberty, but the irony of it is that in America ad mist all of the prejudice, racism, and sexism there isn’t any room at all for any of those qualities. Where is the justice when girls are the ones being shamed for being raped, to the point where they are scared to tell anybody or to even seek help? Where is the freedom and liberty when cases like Trayvon Martin come up where he couldn’t even walk out of his house wearing a hoodie without his life being threatened and ultimately taken from him?
    However, maybe one of the worst things resulting from this is that as time goes on these injustices are steadily going on if not growing, however, our society is ignoring them more and more to the point where they are becoming less and less noticeable.
    What makes people with white skin more valuable than people with brown or black skin? Hispanic and black children are kidnapped and gone missing everyday and not much attention gets paid to it in our society. On contrary however, huge search and rescue teams will be formed for a white child that goes missing and news channels will be bombarded with stories on it. Rape victims are being blamed for their own rape, and youth are being gunned down for wearing a hoodie and eating skittles. I could go on forever about instances like these that come up but at the end of the day the point is that if we has a society continue to allow the richer and more powerful people blame the “more powerless members of our society” it could lead to our potential downfall as a people.

  5. I would find people hard pressed to disagree with this post. People simply want someone to blame all the time. If they can have someone to blame, they can reason it out that that’s how it SHOULD have happened, regardless of whether or not it actually should have. Trayvon was wearing a hoodie at night, obviously he was up to no good, not that he might have had a cold head. That girl was wearing a short skirt, obviously she was just looking to get SOME kind of action, since she was advertising what she wanted, not that she simply liked the skirt and wanted to wear it. I used to have snakebite piercings, and while I had them, would get some nasty looks from people who just assumed anyone with facial piercings HAD to be a druggie/waste of life, despite… well, not being either.

    It’s unfortunate for people to need something to blame, but I feel like they need to be able to reason out so that they can feel safer. If they don’t wear a short skirt, they won’t get raped, while the reality is it probably doesn’t increase or decrease the actual chance, they feel like they’re safer. It may be a placebo effect, but unfortunately to many, it works, and it spreads to the point groups of people believe it’s true. But it’s just along the same lines as me saying that I’ve never been struck by lightning because I don’t have 20/20 vision. Haven’t been struck by lightning ever, so it has to be true doesn’t it?

    These things honestly piss me off though, they detract SO much from the actual problem because it creates a fake problem that needs to be dealt with first, it wasn’t the hoodie, or the skirt. It was the fact that Trayvon was killed, it’s the fact that women are raped, THOSE are the actual problems and the issues that need to be focused on. I could not care less about what Trayvon was wearing unless changing what he was wearing would have ACTUALLY saved him, or was actually a reason for why he died. I do not care what a woman is wearing if she’s raped, I care about the woman who was raped, her exact outfit for the day is about as important as what she had for breakfast. Unfortunately, a lot of people think backwardly or are stuck in a certain thought process that has an increasingly tiny spot in today’s world.

  6. Daisy Valenzuela

    I would have to agree with this as well, it seems like people with power can come and harm the powerless, but still blame the situation on the ones that can’t fight back. It’s sad to say that it is a common thing to be happening every day, but its reality.
    I remember a time in middle school when a boy had began to bully me because I was the tiniest one. When I decided to ask my parents to help with my situation, I got a different reaction from my father. I remember him saying, “You must have done something wrong,” instead of him conforting me or going down to fix the situation. To me it seems that the majority of victims in these situations are definitely women or colored people.

  7. I would have to agree with this. I honestly do believe that those with the higher power gets to make decisions that are most of the time unfair. Because they are high in the ladder and have the money to buy out whatever they please, it is everyone else that has to suffer from it. Not only do they make less wiser decisions, but they proceed with it and eventually, others will believe that it is a good thing.
    Along with this subject, having too much power, it is as if the lower class is being bullied by it. The society that we live in, almost makes it okay for the higher class to go through with it. I believe that we all have a voice and a saying. Our freedom of speech has been neglected and it should be about time, that we should fight for our rights. No more bullying! Decisions should be made within votes, not with how much money a person will offer you. Money have made us blind and it made it hard for us to discover the real truth.

  8. Its articles such as these that really show you how far our country still needs to go to reach that ultimatum of complete peace with the extermination of ALL discrimination. I was truly shocked when I had read of poor Trayvon Williams. I had heard the story vaguely but had not spent the time to sit down and fully read what had happened. And now that I know, I am angry. To think that someone can be stereotyped to the extent of being killed is ridiculous in my eyes. Today in my Women’s Psychology class, we talked a little about our own personal experiences with discrimination and hate, and found that, other than being a white male and spending a few months in a Hispanic-majority high school, I really had no sense of what it was like to be discriminated against. It pains me to know that occurrences such as this one still are happening even today.

  9. This article reminded me of a situation that happened at my work once. My manager saw a young African-american boy walking around the store with his backpack (a student) with his red hoodie on. I saw my manager pull one of my coworkers to the side and said to keep an eye on the boy. The student of course paid for his items even if he wasn’t being watched.
    I just find it ridiculous how we always portray the bad people as a certain race and dressed a certain way. Media obviously has an influence on (when does media not influence about a certain topic?) on our judgment on who we can label as the “bad guys.” I just can’t get over the fact that the reason they shot Trayvon Williams was because he was wearing a hoodie.

  10. When watching the television and running into the media making comments on how hoodies kill people, and short after those comments many talks and debates may take place in living rooms by those viewers. It really bothers me when people jump into the conversation and agree with comments that makes no sense. The media has a big influence on people and when fans or just normal viewers starts to believe in this distractions that are not even part of the debate, is just ridiculous. The analogy of short skirts is a perfect example of how in a extreme patriarchy society this would make sense, not just or fair. When the laws of the oppressor benefit some males, some males will value this laws. When one is Latino or African American justice seems to be absent when cough up in the system. In United states of America the oppressor is the white man meaning the oppressed will be the minority, color people. My mother lost her house when the house market crashed and one day during dinner at a family get together, someone was going off on how poor and color people were the reason why the market crashed. This person is obviously white and what I sense on the extreme conservative white mentality is paranoia. It makes sense to me if I put my self in their shoes. To be able to cherish that privilege and when one is aware of that privilege. It can create some paranoia and get blinded by stereotypes.

  11. This reminds me of Michael Moore’s “The Awful Truth” Doc. In it, white NY cops mistook wallets, cell phones and candy bars (yes, candy bar as in ‘almond joy’) for guns and fired. One black young man had 40 bullets shot at him and was hit 19 times. One unfortunate unarmed black man died on his wedding day. (http://cornellsun.com/node/26276) Youtube Michael Moore stinging antics with the NYPD for laughs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeOaTpYl8mE

    This is not just a “white profiling” problem as research has shown whites AND blacks make instant associations of danger and criminality with black males. (TIme Science: Racist Attitudes Are Still Ingrained, 2009) A study conducted by Penn State researcher Dana Fonash, assistant director of development with The Second Mile in State College, Pa., published similar findings in the paper, “Race and Crime in the News: Whites’ Identification and Misidentification of Violent and Nonviolent Criminal Suspects,” demonstrating that the memory of crime stories with the suspects’ pictures reflects racial stereotypes and African Americans are especially likely to be mistakenly identified for perpetrators of violent crimes. Dr. Mary Beth Oliver, associate professor of communications and co-director of the Media Effects Laboratory at Penn State University adds, “When readers were asked to identify criminal suspects pictured in stories about violent crimes, they were more prone to misidentify African American than White suspects. The same readers, to a far lesser degree, tended to link White offenders more with nonviolent crime… essentially, people’s `mismemories’ of violent crime news seem to implicate all Black men rather than the specific individuals who are actually pictured.”

    Should we blame the popular and long standing show COPS? Fox news? Hollywood? (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080717134527.htm) The guilty party will not stand up and even if they did reason would tell them to sit down. Racially motivated profiling is a social creation but that creation has innumerable reverberations. In a raging river who could soundly nominate themselves as being the first ripple? Words are easier to catch than pictures and these messages are so subtly visual one would have to go into the sub-conscience itself to discover, translate, and uproot them.

    This is not to say we are rendered completely defenseless. Change can be brought to the personal level as each person asks themselves, “How much do I add to the problem?” “How much do I take the day’s news as unbiased information with no social or political motive?” “Do I care enough to do the research searching multiple sources if necessary? How much am I willing to interact with varying demographics to make my own connections and observations?” It has never been so easy to be drowned in information while being completely unaware of the conditions, tribulations, and advances of the outside world. It is no longer an issue of education but effort.

    As a side point, I recommend R Jeneen Jones’ short essay, “The Truth About Black Crime” as a worthy read. (Canadian or not)

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