ROLAND S. MARTIN: A Fight for Trayvon Is A War Against Stereotypes

By Roland S. Martin

As I walked the streets of New York the other day, I saw several white youths with hoodies, tattoos and nose rings. Not one time did it enter my mind that they could be skinheads.

While walking into the Howard University Hospital in Washington earlier that day, a few African-Americans rocked various types of hoodies. There wasn’t a knot in my stomach; I didn’t cross the street out of fear; and no, I didn’t nervously look around for a cop or two.

As a native of Houston, I grew up in a black neighborhood. Went to a black church. Attended mostly black schools. I’ve seen every kind of black person possible. The drug dealer. The doctor. The bully. The letter carrier. The crack addict. The city councilman. And never have I walked in fear of black folks, who have given me no reason to be scared.

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Oh, let’s be clear; I’ve seen a group of menacing-looking black folks who scared the heck out of me. But I can say the same for whites, Hispanics and Asians.

What the Trayvon Martin murder should tell us is that the stereotypes that we have of people can have deadly consequences. For Martin, he was nothing more than a young man wearing athletic shoes, jeans and a hoodie. For George Zimmerman, that’s the uniform of a suspicious person. And it was on the basis of that simple observation that Zimmerman followed him in his car, got out, accosted him and eventually gunned him down.

It has been amazing to listen to the reaction of some folks. But nothing got me more charged up than hearing Geraldo Rivera say on “Fox & Friends” that by wearing a hoodie, Martin contributed to his own death.

“When you see a kid walking down the street — particularly a dark-skinned kid like my son Cruz, who I constantly yelled at when he was going out wearing a damn hoodie or those pants around his ankles, ‘Take that hood off!’ — people look at you, and what’s the instant identification? What’s the instant association? It’s those crime scene surveillance tapes,” Rivera said.

“Every time you see someone sticking up a 7-Eleven, the kid’s wearing a hoodie. Every time you see a mugging on a surveillance camera or they get the old lady in the alcove, it’s a kid wearing a hoodie. You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a ‘gangsta’ — you’re going to be a gangsta wannabe? Well, people are going to perceive you as a menace. That’s what happens. It is an instant reflexive action.”

He later added: “When you see a black or a Latino youngster — particularly on the street — you walk to the other side of the street. You try to avoid that confrontation. Trayvon Martin, you know, God bless him, he was an innocent kid, a wonderful kid, a box of Skittles in his hand. He didn’t deserve to die. But 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.”

Rivera might have thought he was well-meaning, but that’s just nonsense.

It wasn’t Trayvon’s hoodie that led to his death; it was the skin color. It was what was going through Zimmerman’s mind when he saw the kid. We do a disservice to ourselves when we try to explain away such nonsense.

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In a show of solidarity, all of the members of the Miami Heat basketball team took a photo wearing the team’s hoodies, with their hands stuffed in their pockets. The leader of this effort was my good friend Dwyane Wade.

“This situation hit home for me because last Christmas, all my oldest son wanted as a gift was hoodies,” Wade told The Associated Press on Friday. “So when I heard about this a week ago, I thought of my sons. I’m speaking up because I feel it’s necessary that we get past the stereotype of young, black men and especially with our youth.”

The problem today is that minorities, especially black men, have long had to make accommodations for the negative view others have of us. See, it doesn’t matter about our degrees. Our fine, tailored suits don’t matter. We’ve made all of the accommodations to fit into this society. We’ve cut our hair. We are careful about the clothes we wear. We change how we talk so as not to sound threatening. We’re fine, upstanding citizens. Yet we still are seen as suspicious. And as in the case of Trayvon Martin, we can end up dead.

We are sick and tired of being seen as suspicious. We are sick and tired of being seen as a stereotype and not as a full human being. We are sick and tired of having to give our black boys “the talk” and still having to bury them so young.

As civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer stated so well during the civil rights movement, “we are sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

For those who continue to tout this so-called post-racial America, look at the image of Trayvon Martin. You tell his parents that the age of Obama is a post-racial America. You tell his parents, Tracy and Sybrina, that their son was judged by the content of his character and not the color of his skin.

Even President Obama stated Friday that the murder of Trayvon requires a national “soul-searching.”

“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Obama said.

America, no more. We no longer will accommodate your easily bruised feelings by clenching our teeth and praying it all will get better. No more. What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now. If you think for a moment that we will be satisfied with a police chief’s stepping down or press releases expressing outrage, you have another think coming.

This, folks, is war. This is war on racism. This is war on bigotry. This is war on stereotypes. This is a call to arms. This is time for the soldiers in the battle for social justice to stand up and say, “I report for duty, sir.”

This fight will not become just a moment. We will not let that happen. This incident will lead to a movement. A movement for respect. A movement for decency. A movement to be treated equally and not be stalked and stereotyped because of the amount of melanin in our body.

Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN analyst and author of the book “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as Originally Reported by Roland S. Martin.” Please visit his website at To find out more about Roland S. Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at


  • Gannie100

    I have sat on the brink of tears since this incident. This so easily could have been any of my sons, I have four. I have always told them to be very careful to realize that because they were born black they will always “fit a description”…that description ~ black male.

    • Michael

       You have spoken truly. I have a son as well and I hate to think about telling him that he has to behave differently and dress differently because he is African. Our children should not have to be told different than any other child of how to behave in public, but history shows that we would be putting them at risk should we fail to tell them.

  • Michael

    Sir, you took the words right out of my mouth. Mr. Rivera was speaking foolishness. There was no real logic to his argument other than saying that a piece of clothing has mind bending powers, that will transform a melanated person into a criminal, in the minds of some White Americans at least. I guess it’s too scary for him to simply admit that Bro. Trayvon was killed because he was African-Diasporan. Cowardly and illogical Mr. Rivera.  

  • Oneamerican

    It was a terrible tragedy. Racist cop wanna be guns down black teenager.  Police botch Investigation. Police Chief Steps Down. President steps in.

    Done. Over.  Go on about our business and let the system work.

    Geraldo was right.  Dead on.  I have had he conversation with my son many times.  We all know the importance of dress and how it impacts people. This is Non sequitur.  You will lose every time.  To rally a people to form a movement over this borders on Criminal Manipulation of Grief if there were such a law.

    And Roland Martin in a Designer Hoodie looks about as threatening as a jelly doughnut dredged in chocolate.  A Hood signifies secrecy. So it needs to be raining, you need to be working out or something if you don’t want to look suspicious  …. period … case closed.

  • Mallethead

    You make a lot of assumptions without knowing all of the facts. The only fact here is that a young man died. Why, we may never know the truth, but please do not make assumptions.