Geraldo, Trayvon’s Hoodie, and the Rape of Mr. Smith

Posted on March 24, 2012 by

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Geraldo Rivera‘s comments about hoodies and the death of Trayvon Martin are as odious as they are familiar. Blaming victims is nothing new. Blaming victims for their wardrobe choices is also not new.

Here is some of what Rivera said:

I am urging the parents of Black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies.

I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.

I’ll bet you money, if he didn’t have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way.

You cannot rehabilitate the hoodie. Stop wearing it. Don’t let your kid.

There are some things that are almost inevitable.

He wore an outfit that allowed someone to respond in this irrational, overzealous way and if he had been dressed more appropriately…

In 1975, the American Bar Association published a short piece by Connie K. Borkenhagen titled “The Legal Bias Against Rape Victims (The Rape of Mr. Smith).” It’s a fictional dialogue in which a businessman is questioned about being robbed at gunpoint. The idea is to illustrate victim-blaming bias. The fictional Mr. Smith is asked about his clothes, like many victims of sexual violence, with the clear implication that by wearing an expensive suit he was asking to be robbed.

The piece works because it takes a set of questions (still) commonly asked of sexual assault victims, and recontextualizes them.

As a further illustration, consider this reworking of Rivera’s words:

I am urging the parents of girls particularly to not let their children go out wearing skirts.

I think the skirt is as much responsible for the girl’s rape as the rapist was.

I’ll bet you money, if she didn’t have that skirt on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way.

You cannot rehabilitate the skirt. Stop wearing it. Don’t let your kid.

There are some things that are almost inevitable.

She wore an outfit that allowed someone to respond in this irrational, overzealous way and if she had been dressed more appropriately…

It should sound just as bad, because it is. Women can wear skirts. Young men of any color can wear hoodies. It’s time to stop blaming victims for their clothing or any other reason.

The responsibility begins, and ends, with the victimizer. Not the victim.

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