I'll Always Wear My Hoodies
Photo by Seb Barsoumian / Unsplash

I'll Always Wear My Hoodies

Let’s not limit what Black men can comfortably wear because of racial subtext assigned to an article of clothing.

A great poet once said (actually, it was Daryl Hall — and he was singing): Some things are better left unsaid. The other night, someone offered a tip to a friend of mine, and it definitely deserved to be filed under “Stop talking.”

My friend shared the exchange with me later that night as we were taking a Lyft home from a concert. Earlier in the evening, my friend had wanted someone to deliver a message to me in the crowded venue, and she described me to the messenger, who had never met me and who, like my friend, was White.

It would have been easy for my friend to simply say, “the only Black guy in the building,” but to her credit, that wasn’t the first thing that popped into her head. She instead cited several distinguishing characteristics. “He’s tall and Black,” she started, “and he’s wearing a white shirt with a hood.”

She meant a hoodie, of course, and the messenger immediately received the message.

“You can’t say a Black guy is wearing hoodie,” the woman scolded her.

My friend was still perplexed as she recounted the story later. She knew all about George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, and the current widening racial divide in the United States, but why, she wanted to know, was she not allowed to say I was wearing a hoodie when I was still wearing the same hoodie.

I like to think I stand out in most crowds, but if I don’t, I’d hate to think I might be lost and never found in a throng of people because a White person thinks they can’t say I’m wearing a hoodie. It’s just another way forced awareness and allyship can fall flat and pointless.

It was a good question — and I didn’t have a good answer. I see White guys rocking hoodies on the street and on TV all the time, and I rarely give them a second thought. Hell, if Harry Styles pairs one with a skirt at next year’s Grammys or if Timothée Chalamet sports one on the Oscars red carpet, they’ll likely get standing ovations from the fashion police.

But the 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin was a game-changer for Black guys in hoodies. During the last decade, they’ve been nearly indivisible from the insidious racism that persists in the U.S. That has less to do with Black guys in hoodies than with White people who make a big deal out of Black guys in hoodies. By trying to sidestep a racial stereotype, that woman at the concert venue had bought right into it.

I like to think I stand out in most crowds, but if I don’t, I’d hate to think I might be lost and never found in a throng of people because a white person thinks they can’t say I’m wearing a hoodie. It’s just another way forced awareness and allyship can fall flat and pointless.

Even in a world where pronouns have taken on a significance we never would have imagined way back in 7th grade English, there comes a moment when hyperawareness becomes a barrier to simple communication. I’ll admit, there are times when “they,” “them,” and “their” trip me up. As a lifelong grammarian, those three pronouns don’t necessarily roll off my tongue if I’m talking about one person. When the antecedent of “they” wasn’t completely clear in a recent conversation, I mistakenly thought I was listening to an anecdote about a group of people when it was, in fact, a one-person show.

But I get it. When the very identities of people are involved, we should try to be sensitive and respectful. My identity, however, is not wrapped up in what I’m wearing above the waist. If a Black man wears a hoodie, it’s not a fashion crime — nor does it suggest he’s about to commit an actual crime. That’s what some people assume, and that’s the only thing wrong with Black men wearing hoodies.

I’d never call out a White person for describing me as one. Racism may have made “hoodie” a dirty word in some circles when it’s paired with “Black guy,” but why should I be forced to wear a suit and a tie to go the gym just because of some trigger-happy civilian security guy? I mean, if one of CNN’s White male anchors had worn the same hooded sweater on-air that Don Lemon did this past January, would Stephen Colbert have built a whole joke around it? Would Tucker Carlson have weighed in? Discuss that one amongst yourselves.

I was reminded of my concert hoodie while watching the second episode of the second season of the Sex and the City spinoff And Just Like That…. Miranda, thankfully, seems to have fully recovered from her season-one case of well-meaning Whiteness, but the show is still insisting on making points about race. In the cringiest scene of the new season so far, a snooty older Black woman castigated her son for pounding on the cab of a taxi driver who refused to pick him up and then scolded her daughter-in-law for wearing a wrap around her head in her own home. (She’d earlier shaded her zebra-skin skirt by making a reference to The Lion King.)

“Didn’t the Emancipation Proclamation free us from headrags,” she had the nerve to say. I hope to God a White person didn’t come up with that.

But I digress, slightly.

Well-meaning white people who police the language of other white people while tiptoe-ing around Blackness and subconsciously holding us to special sartorial standards aren’t as enlightened as they might think they are. “You can’t say a Black man is wearing a hoodie” is tantamount to “Black men shouldn’t wear hoodies. White people might be looking.”

Please. Let’s not try to limit what Black men can comfortably wear because of some racial subtext White people have assigned to hoodies. They don’t make us look like thugs or, as Tucker Carlson suggested, homeless.

It will take a lot more than Tucker Carlson and painfully politically correct white people to taint my relationship with hoodies. I have a closet full of them. And if you happen to see me wearing one, don’t worry: I won’t mind if you go ahead and say so.

This post originally appeared on Medium and is edited and republished with author's permission. Read more of Jeremy Heligar's work on Medium.