Osgoode’s Black Law Student’s Association put out a call for members of the Osgoode community to wear red/black hoodies in a photo today as a sign of “solidarity with Trayvon Martin and his family in their time of tragedy” (March 29, 2012 12:15pm Atrium). The facts of Martin’s murder (which is, of course, a legal term of art that I’m using even though it’s pretty clear that Florida doesn’t think it applies) are egregious and covered everywhere in news and commentary (I particularly like Colorlines, and Ta-Nehisi Coates in the Atlantic for his incredibly thoughtful passion on a variety of topics).
Canada, of course, has very different gun laws and self defence laws. A stand in solidarity with the family knows no boundaries or jurisdiction, but what other actions on this issue might be meaningful for Canadians? Let us assume that a Zimmerman here would be in custody. Is this a U.S. issue? Of course, it is not, though the context here is different. It made me think of three things, so I’ve just done a little roundup of links based on these different lines of thought.
First, of course, about state sponsored profiling, surveillance and violence against people, particularly young men, of colour. Any who haven’t had a look at the Toronto Star’s recent series “Known to Police” about the incredible levels of police stops/documentation of black and brown people, particularly in certain city neighbourhoods, you can find it here. Early last year, I did a few posts on profiling arising out of the case of Stacy Bonds, in Ottawa, because I thought these highlighted gender as a sometimes hidden issue in profiling – for both racialised women and men, gender is very relevant to the context and consequences of “profiling”. These are critical issues for Canadian law enforcement. If you’re interested, I recommend following the activities of U Windsor Law’s “LEAP” (Law Enforcement Accountability Project), here. Director Prof. David Tanovich writes about and litigates in racial profiling cases.
Second, I thought about the clothing thing. Hoodies, Hijabs, slutty clothes. Too little, too much, scary, provocative. I appreciate the importance of the hoodie protests, but I did love the one below, from Wake Forest students, which mixes hoodies and hijabs. This blog has had a significant amount of stuff about the niqab, but mainly centered around the niqab in court case, N.S. (see here). I haven’t looked at the cases of women who are accosted in public and assaulted by people who try to tear off their veil like this one, or this one, nor at more common incidents of discrimination against women wearing the scarf, the veil, niqab or burqa. There is a recognition of the connection between these two items.
There is also significant recognition of the ways in which placing the blame on the hoodie replicates the narrative which sees rape as a consequence of women’s clothing choices (see here for all the IFLS posts on slutwalk and related issues). So lest you wonder whether Hoodies are a Feminist issue, there are, in my view, at least 4 solid central reasons that the answer is yes. Audre Lorde puts one of the reasons better than I ever could:
Some problems we share as women, some we do not. You [white women] fear your children will grow up to join the patriarchy and testify against you; we fear our children will be dragged from a car and shot down in the street, and you will turn your backs on the reasons they are dying .
Audre Lorde, “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference”
My last thought was that I don’t need to analogize Zimmerman to police in order to get into the Canadian context. I can look to private security companies, particularly in malls or even the security provided at Universities and Colleges and schools, and the ways that these entities engage with the racialized public. See here for the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s info sheet on profiling – it goes far beyond police, and beyond security guards. The OHRC’s 2003 Report, the Human Cost of Racial Profiling, isn’t purely law enforcement focused. It takes testimony from those members of our community who have been directly affected, and is worth a read:
“It would be interesting if the powers that be would at least listen to the comments coming out of the affected communities. An entire community cannot have the same impression and … all [be] deluded.” (R.M.) (The Human Cost of Racial Profiling, p13)
“This situation actually scares me because I have teenage children and I have an older son, and I fear when they go into a mall … I constantly counsel my son because of issues like this that occur about going out into the public and how to conduct yourself and what happens if something like this happens, the reaction is anger, the reaction is frustration, at their young age, if they react, then the situation escalates even further.” (L.V.) (at p21)
“My friends who are White are bewildered because their sons do not get stopped, and my friends with Black children are afraid, because they have already had their own teenaged sons stopped, or they have young sons coming up who they know will experience the same treatment. … “(D.W.) (at p25)
I include these testimonials because I wonder what I should along with standing in the photo (if they let me, my hoodie isn’t the right colour, i had only brown and orange, not red or black…). Trayvon’s case seems, to so many, such an obvious miscarriage of justice – a true travesty, so egregious. But the reality is that profiling is normalised, that blaming people for the misfortunes they experience because of what they wear, for the suspicions that fall upon them because of how they look, is so ordinary as to be an organizing factor in our daily lives. It’s true for me that, hoodie or not, these days I could probably walk around Mount Dennis (one of the neighbourhoods the Star focused on in their Known to Police series) for days without getting stopped. It’s been a long time since the last time I think my partner was racially profiled (he speeds, so not every stop is suspect). Even the cousins and friends are aging out of the bad years. I don’t have as much time as I used to have to hang about in the mall with my friends, and the suspicions of sales people about who has enough money to be where feel insulting but not dangerous to me because of class/professional privilege. So what should I be doing? I don’t wear the hijab. And I’ve kind of aged out of certain kinds of reactions others might have to my clothes. How should I be demanding accountability from our police forces? How should I be challenging the daily, non police, profiling that goes on? What political and personal actions can I take? I’ve got some ideas. I could use more.
As a postcript, this morning on CBC a caller pointed out the way that the word hoodie itself brings in the notion of “hood” – bad guy. Check out Law Prof Antony Paul Farley’s poetic riff on the word here, at SaltLaw, Or revisit David Cameron’s so called “hug a hoodie” speech: “For some, the hoodie represents all that’s wrong about youth culture in Britain today. For me, adult society’s response to the hoodie shows how far we are from finding the long-term answers to put things right.”. One of my colleagues told me that the hoodie, in Saskatchewan, is called a Bunny Hug. And not that I was checking up on her, but I googled it, and I found corroboration in … the Miami Herald? The piece closes with a clear hit:
Humans give fashion its meaning. Not the other way around.