As an ex-Clevelander (moved away for school) but lifelong fan of my hometown Cleveland teams, I never could have imagined the day when I would openly support and endorse LeBron James again. His ESPN special to announce where he would play basketball, which he titled “The Decision,” was a crushing blow to me, and mostly because it came as a total surprise. My uncle had actually been one of James’s summer league coaches when he played for the Northeast Ohio Shooting Stars. My uncle had always touted LeBron’s loyalty. I once asked him why he thought LeBron would keep playing on their team given how much other teams must have been after him. My uncle’s response was, “loyalty, Bean. Loyalty.” I could hear my uncle’s voice, calling me by my family nickname and uttering the word that I knew would keep LeBron James a Cleveland Cavalier: Loyalty. Too, this was a young man who was friends with Jay-Z, who grew up steeped in hip-hop culture and its commitment to claiming one’s hood, so I knew James would rep his set for life. And then “The Decision” was announced. How could someone who had grown up with the legacy of “The Drive,” “The Fumble,” and “The Shot” (aka “The Move”) announce that he was leaving the city like this? This place we all thought of as his hometown club (the closest he would come to Akron since that city didn’t have a professional team)? Fine, you want to play somewhere else but to call the announcement “The Decision”? I was devastated personally as well as for my hometown, a place I still feel deeply committed to. His decision felt cruel and mocking and I thought I would never look at him the same way. I wouldn’t cheer for him or wish him well on the basketball court; in fact, I would make a point of being his anti-fan. But then he did this:
I’m no longer the Cleveland fan looking past James wearing a Yankee cap, seemingly taunting our baseball club, today I’m neutral as a fan of LeBron and the Miami Heat but definitely a fan of how he fashioned himself to support Trayvon Martin. From what I’ve read, the decision to have the team pose in hoodies was LeBron’s idea, and it was a very eloquent one.
Denis Wilson contends that in the 1930s, Champion apparel company manufactured the first hooded sweatshirt for the practical use of warehouse laborers in New York. Interestingly, Wilson links the popular rise of the hoodie in the 1970s to the film Rocky and the simultaneous emergence of hip-hop. According to Wilson, hip-hop should be credited with turning a textile of practical use into sinister apparel. Though the hoodie had consistently identified the outcast, hip-hop, he asserts, would make the hooded figure menacing. While that point is certainly debatable, in a context where hoodies are certainly associated with youth culture, hip-hop, and deviance the decisions made by individual National Basketball Association (NBA) players and entire teams to wear hoodies makes an eloquent statement.
Much like President Obama’s claim that if he had “a son, he would look like Trayvon,” when Carmelo Anthony tweets a picture of himself wearing a grey hoodie with the words “I am Trayvon Martin!!!!”, the brevity of their remarks become the conduit for richer and deeper ideas. Thus, Obama’s statement, Melo’s tweet, LeBron’s shoe, and the other statements regarding Trayvon Martin should be read like poetry with its form being marked and defined by an intensity of meaning in tight and relatively brief utterance. The identification with Trayvon Martin’s experience of being stalked while going about their daily lives isn’t abstract. The President’s memoir Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance documents his coming to consciousness as the only black member of his immediate family. He learned how threatening his blackness was perceived through the barely concealed fears of his grandmother of the black men who haunted her memory after asking her for money:
“Yeah, I know–but it’s probably a little scary for her, seeing some big man block her way. It’s really no big deal.”
He turned around and I saw now that he was shaking. “It is a big deal. It’s a big deal to me. She’s been bothered by men before. You know why she’s so scared this time? I’ll tell you why. Before you came in, she told me the fella was black.” He whispered the word. “That’s the real reason why she’s bothered. And I just don’t think that’s right.”
The words were like a fist in my stomach, and I wobbled to regain my composure. In my steadiest voice, I told him that such an attitude bothered me, too, but assured him that Toot’s fears would pass and that we should give her a ride in the meantime.
[…] Never had they given me reason to doubt their love; I doubted if they ever would. And yet I knew that men who might easily have been my brothers could still inspire their rawest fears. (88-89)
What an inheritance. If President Obama had had a son, he would have inherited this burden. It was just this burden that Dwayne Wade thought about when he learned of George Zimmerman’s assault of Trayvon Martin and recalled his son’s request for hoodies for Christmas. I was moved by how evocative black men’s statements about Trayvon Martin have been.
Their statements are also powerful given that people like Geraldo Rivera blame Trayvon Martin for what happened to him because of what he chose to wear; folk like Frank Taaffe think that Martin could have helped himself had he been more “up front and truthful”; commenters on blogs reveal that they think that angry “mobs” have already condemned George Zimmerman to the “electric chair.” Instead of wholesale support for the arrest of Zimmerman, some folk have other axes to grind. When I read comments on news stories related to the case, that is where I find commentary from seemingly disgruntled people about the protests for justice in the Trayvon Martin case. Some of the disgruntlement expressed focuses its ire on the fact that race has become a focus of this case. I’m not exactly sure where some people want to set the bar for when an event counts as racist but I want to state for the record, for all concerned, that this meets the standard. George Zimmerman’s targeting of this child as “suspicious,” pursuing this child beyond the 911 dispatcher’s call for him not to, identifying him as an “asshole,” and shooting him is racist. The fact that he wasn’t arrested for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin also counts as racist. So yes, in addition to making gestures of solidarity and support for Trayvon Martin’s family, the protestors are also protesting racism; especially in the criminal justice system. Protestors want it to be safe for all black boys, wearing a hoodie or not, to be able to walk down the street from the store and to make it home alive. They want it to be a crime when people kill them. They want those people to get arrested.
I want to also point out that all of the protests against this egregious injustice have all been peaceful and, as in the case of the NBA players, eloquent. Their rhapsodizing on this tragedy stands in stark contrast to the actions of the woman who threw flour on Kim Kardashian who was appearing at the London Hotel in West Hollywood to promote her new perfume. That woman’s actions were mean spirited and inarticulate. We still have no idea what she was trying to accomplish; what she was trying to say.
For more posts on Trayvon Martin, see the A Heap See Page.