The Hoodie: Racialized Gaze and My 90’s Hip Hop Subversive Spirit

Given my vocational contexts, most people these days probably associate me with wearing jeans, a button up shirt, and a sports coat when they see me. However, when I was in college, the uniform I wore most often was a hoodie and jeans. I loved and continue to love hoodie’s, there is something familiar and comfortable about hoodie’s for me.  The hoodie for me goes beyond comfort, and begins to transcend into the awareness of my identity, formation, and social place and posture in the world I live.  The clothes I wear, in many ways, has as much significance to me as Time and Space do for Willie James Jennings in The Christian Imagination. My hoodie communicates to me, and reminds me who I am, how people perceive me, and how I defiantly respond to racialized and stereotypical gazes.
As I stated, I most often wore hoodies throughout college. I also received the most constant racialized gazes there on my Christian campus, than I did anywhere else in my life. I knew myself to be a young bible geek excited to have the opportunity to study the scriptures as my major and to be among other believers in Christ. However, what people most often saw was a suspicious, scary, and dangerous young black male in a hoodie. I can still remember the awkward way people avoided eye contact as they awkwardly moved to the edges of the sidewalk when I came by. This was in contrast to the extremely generous smiles and greetings being displayed on campus normally between students. One of the most encouraging things that happened during my last year as a student, was two separate white female friends of mine on campus admitted on separate occasions that when they first met me freshman year, they used to be afraid of me. They also admitted that it was ridiculous for them to have thought so, after now knowing me. My only caution was to make sure that this revelation would be applied to humanizing all black males rather than making me the exception to the rule.  I applaud these two young women for their courage to admit to me, which I had experienced more broadly throughout my time there as an undergrad. The racialized gaze that interpreted my young black male body in a hoodie as dangerous and suspicious until proven otherwise, is not merely an isolated issue to Christian College racism, but it pervades the racialized American experience, in that black male bodies are always seen as more threatening than their white counterparts. The same act performed by differently pigmented people, especially when hoodied up, is interpreted as two completely different acts. This is the case, even when merely walking down the sidewalk of one’s own Christian College Campus as a Bible major.
For me, my hoodie reminds me simultaneously of the stereotype projected on me by the dominant culture and the rebellious spirit of early 90’s hip hop, that positively reminds me that I must resist such dehumanizing elements in my life. The hoodie for me then, has interwoven well with my embracement of the prophetic tradition. In the same way that Jesus often utilized and borrowed the revolutionary terminology of taking up the cross from the zealots of his day, so too can we as Christians employ the hoodie with it’s 90’s hip hop subversive spirit to thrust us into a faithful prophetic witness against hegemony, tyranny, and oppression in all forms as followers of Christ.
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4 comments

  1. Pastor John Keller · March 24, 2012

    Thank you for your well-written reflection on being a black male Bible-geek at a mostly white Christian college. I must confess my life has been so “sheltered/isolated/removed” from the daily life of my African-American brothers like yourself. I pray that I might find a path that leads to more loving, honest interaction.

    • Drew Hart · March 24, 2012

      Pastor John,
      Thanks for stopping by and for your honesty. I will tell you what you probably say all the time as a pastor. There is no better time than today to make a change. Hoping you find that path. May I suggest getting hold of and reading Divided By Faith, I know it has been powerfully instrumental for both black and white pastors alike in America. Hope to continue the dialogue!

  2. toddhiestand · March 25, 2012

    Crazy dude. I wear a hoodie EVERY day and have never once felt disrespected or like people saw me as a danger. Maybe the only time I ever experience any prejudice is from well dressed businessmen but I don’t think that had anything to do with the color of my skin and most to do with the fact that they probably see me as a dumb kid who isn’t nearly as important as them. All that to say, thanks for this post.

    • Drew Hart · March 25, 2012

      Thanks for reading. I actually have an extended version of this post coming tomorrow. Someone wanted me to unpack it a bit more for another source, so I put a little more time in to writing this one. If you get a chance you should check it out, it probably is a bit more helpful in discussing race and the hoodie. Peace Todd.

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