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  • (Or the Semiotics of Race)

    I have read a few stories on the Trayvon Martin tragedy and its cause célèbre. I would like to express my thoughts and feelings on this forum.

    Trayvon Martin ( African-American) + Hood = Suspicious ?

    On February 26, 2012, when Trayvon Martin was gunned-down in Sanford, Florida, he was wearing hooded clothing, but, more importantly, he was a young African- American. So, why has hooded clothing become synonymous with evil when worn by African-American youth?

    Priests wear hoods.
    Monks wear hoods.
    KKK members wear hoods.
    Sometimes people walking in the rain wear hoods.

    For over 100 years, the Ku Klux Klan (the original “boys in the hood”) members wore hooded clothing, which, in addition to disguises, represented hatred and intimidation. But, hooded clothing has never been demonized in the general public until now.

    What happened to Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African-American youth who was killed by a neighborhood watch commander, is an archetype of what happens in America everyday.

    I would like to site an example from history: In 1944, George Stinney, Jr., a 14-year-old African-American youth, was executed in Clarendon County, South Carolina. He was found guilty for the deaths of two white girls, ages 8 and 11. Officers without legal council, witnesses, or his parents interrogated Stinney; therefore, as a result, Stinney was forced into confessing to a crime that he may not have committed.

    When some of the white citizens heard about the first-degree murder charged against Stinney, their vitriol was apparent when they threatened to wrest Stinney from jail to lynch him. However, in my opinion, Stinney was a totemic image by which to appease their loathing of black men. In other words, it did not matter if Stinney was innocent or guilty.

    In our culture and society, we are taught to fear and hate any phenomena that is different or ostensibly in opposition. As a result of our society's binary system of knowledge, we see a difference between up and down. (Actually, they are relative to each other.) Western thinkers like to dichotomize things and categorize them in compartments: love and hate; birth and death; black and white; right and wrong, etc. Usually, in each binary, there is a hierarchy, e.g., white represents good and black represents evil; therefore, white is the hierarchy. It is obvious that binary systems of knowledge are ethnocentric and phallocentric.

    The white male hegemony has an unconscious antipathy for anything black, dark or darkening. He has a conception for purity, which is usually represented in white. Many things are altered to fit a conception of purity:

    Sugar cane is altered into white-refined sugar;
    Whole-wheat flour is altered into white-refined flour;
    Dark cocoa is altered into white chocolate;
    Brown rice is processed into white rice, which is less healthy.
    Conceptually, vanilla is white; however, in nature, when ripened, it is black.
    (It has been proven that when food is refined many nutritional constituents are compromised.)

    Black people
    White people
    Red people
    Yellow people
    Green Martians

    The above terminology has no essences; they are unstable representations. In my opinion, historically, humankind has given too much power to symbols.

    Race is a relatively new concept. William Dunbar first used it in a poem in 1508. Dunbar used “race” to delineate a succession of kings. In ancient Greece, for example, its people were not characterized by their physical appearances. It has been scientifically established that the ancestral lineage of Homo sapiens (modern humans) originated in Africa. Therefore, “white” people evolved from the DNA of the African ancestry, which means that “race” is a myth.

    Now, this brings me to Chicago, a modern city, which has a reputation for being one of the most segregated cities in the country and a city of strangers, who, for the most part, judge each other by appearances. Ethnic groups are inclined to live within their own neighborhoods for a plethora of reasons: ethnic homogeneity; kinship ties; cultural heritage; and solidarity, which are a strong weapon against racism or the fear of the other. What creates racism? -- But, racism can be deemed a psychological disease or just an ignorance of history and/or biology.

    Education can free all of us, if we choose to accept the truth.

    [I shot the above photo twenty years ago, before the popularity of hooded clothing in urban sub-culture.]
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