On the ninth anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death, the racial conversations in America around the hoodie continue.
The garment has been long associated with a racist stereotype of criminality in Black communities and a device for racial profiling in the United States. Martin was wearing one on 26 February 2012 when he was shot dead by a neighborhood watchman in Florida while out buying a pack of Skittles.
Now, in the same month Martin would have turned 26 had he lived, wearing a hoodie is still sparking conversations and debate around racist perceptions of Black young people.
“I’ll never forget when Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012, I was 12 years old,” wrote Chicago Bulls’ player Coby White on Instagram.
White has been wearing a number of custom-made hoodies from A3 Craaaftz, including ones celebrating historical figures during Black History Month such as Claudette Colvin, Matthew Henson, Shirley Chisholm and one of Martin featuring the logo “Don’t Shoot”.
“This is when I realized racism was real. From that moment on I knew I had to be very aware of my surroundings as a means of survival,” he wrote. “My father made sure I was cautious, especially if I had a hoodie on in public.”
At the time the hoodie was caught up in a sort of semantic call-and-response revealing racism around crime in America, according to Richard Thompson Ford, the author of Dress Codes.
“As the hoodie because associated with ‘Black hoodlums’ in the media, some Black people avoided them and others embraced them: the public image of the hoodie made it into a statement of racial pride and defiance, solidarity with a community, an emblem of belonging, and all of that reinforced the negative associations for those who were inclined to be afraid of assertive Black people,” Ford said.
Ford added: “Putting on a hoodie as a Black man involved a decision to make a statement that could make some people mistrust you, get you hassled by police, even killed.”
After Martin’s shooting, Jason Sole, a professor at Minnesota’s Hamline University, created a Facebook post with the #Humanizemyhoodie hashtag which fought to take the stigma out of men of color wearing hoodies. Sole vowed to wear a hoodie to class every day to change the perception of the garment.
The organization now sell a range of hoodies themselves. Co-founder Andrew Wright said he founded the group with Sole to “stand out against perceptions against Black and indigenous people of color wearing hoodie sweatshirts. We are fighting to be free and [are using] the hoodie to hold one our our most important conversations of our time: what does it meant to be Black and to be human?”
With last year’s racial reckoning around the Black Lives Matter protests and the movements within the fashion industry to attempt to address racial inequalities, Wright believes that things have moved forward, including new spaces online for Black-owned beauty and fashion lines.
“I think fashion has definitely changed,” he said. “It has become bolder when talking about the injustices [and] the messages about Black designers and fashion activism has amplified.”
Still, issues of fashion and Black identity persists. This week a teacher sought to discipline a black pupil in Oklahoma wearing a T-shirt with the logo “Black King” on it.
“Clothing has always been used to justify harm against Black bodies,” said Wright. “We still haven’t looked at the harm cotton has caused Black bodies since slavery and how we still wear the seeds my ancestors picked.”