Of Suits, Hoodies, and Conventional Wisdom
Today, we bank at our own peril. Indeed, the average customer often faces the choice of either being fleeced by the bankers inside the bank or being robbed by someone outside it. The fleecer often wears a suit; the robber often wears a hood.
However, we tend not to fear the fleecer. Even in the midst of a financial crisis that has had dramatic global implications, we—albeit begrudgingly—still entrust our hard-earned dollars to the very same people who quite literally have destroyed economies. This goes against what conventional wisdom suggests about danger, which is to avoid it at all cost. And it is easy to avoid, right? After all, we know the profile of the fleecer.
Or do we?
In March 2009, during a meeting with then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva boldly stated, “This [global economic] crisis that was caused by people, white with blue eyes. And before the crisis they looked as if they knew everything about economics.” On the surface, his comments appear correct: when the (mostly) men who most often are blamed for the world financial crisis are shown, they are usually white men in expensive suits. Names such as current Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, incarcerated investor Bernie Madoff, and current Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson are often tied to the crisis. Of the 25 people whom TIME blames for the American financial crisis, only two are people of color (former Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O’Neal and current Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao). Even if we blame the financial crisis on an amorphous Wall Street, one likely conjures up an image of white men in suits who resemble Gordon Gekko, the malicious investor immortalized by Michael Douglas in the 1987 film Wall Street and its 2010 sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Furthermore, even if we blame the financial crisis on an equally amorphous Congress, one likely conjures up an image of white men in suits. After all, Congress is comprised of upwards of 90 percent white men.
Despite the apparent “truthiness” (to borrow a term from Stephen Colbert) of white men in suits as fleecers behind the national and global economic crises, many vehemently rejected President da Silva’s profiling of “white [men] with blue eyes.” While chiding President Barack Obama’s praise of President da Silva, political pundit Michelle Malkin calls the latter a “race baiter.” American Thinker’s Rick Moran writes, “It’s a shame Lula doesn’t get out much. If he did, he’d know that there are many African American bankers in America and plenty of people of color working in finance in Great Britain. But Mr. Brown didn’t see fit to mention that.”
Of course, not everyone rejects this notion. There are many who likely find truth in comedian Patrice O’Neal’s joke, “When four white men get together in the middle of the afternoon, that’s not a meeting. That’s a crime scene.” However, we do not fear the suit nearly as much as we fear the hood—if at all. Certainly, this in part because the hood conceals just as much as it protects. However, obviously, it is often the person who dons the hood who is the source of our fear.
Thus, in the midst of the current imbroglio over the murder of Floridian teenager Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, an overzealous resident of Martin’s father’s girlfriend’s gated community who shot Martin as he returned from a trip to a convenient store, the notion that a hood is indicative of potential danger has re-emerged. The most poignant example of this is the recent comments of FOX News host Geraldo Rivera, who stated on an episode of FOX & Friends, “I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly not to let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin‘s death as much as George Zimmerman was.”
Rivera goes on to suggest that “dark skinned” childen such as Trayvon Martin (and even his own son Cruz, whom he mentions in the above clip) all too often fit the “instant identification” and “instant association” of “crime scene surveillance tapes,” and thus there is a measure of justification when society perceives hooded black and Latino teenagers as “gangstas.” After all, as we have learned, the community had faced a rash of break-ins by black men—some of who may have worn hoods.
The hypocrisy of and irony in Rivera’s comments—particularly as several photos of Rivera wearing a hooded sweatshirt have made the rounds—are obvious and rightly have seen him pillorized in the court of public opinion. However, the hypocrisy and irony are not solely what make Rivera’s comments problematic. The real problem is that they attempt to justify and reflect the very lack of discernment that Zimmerman showed when he encountered Martin, who by no means whatsoever was a robber. These comments protect whiteness in any garb, for he does not include white or “light skinned” people among those who can fit the “instant association” with a “menace.” The white body is rarely criminalized or subjected to the same conventional wisdom as is the black body. Rivera and his ilk likely would never profile the fleecer by his clothes or his race but gladly do so for the robber.
Nor should they: profiling a person by his or her attire is just as foolish as profiling him or her by race. Neither the suit nor the hood, neither white skin nor black skin are indicators of criminality. More importantly, wisdom is rarely if ever conventional.