“Take that thing off,” I snarled at my dashing, dark, handsome then late-teenage son. Named for his grandfather, in those not so long ago days Cruz styled himself a ghetto gangster, fashion-wise. His baseball cap worn askew, the rim almost unbent, I worried that gravity would leave his brown behind, bare-assed when his low-slung pants completed their descent to his knees just a step or bump away.
“And pick up your pants,” I often added as he walked out the door.
Let me leave the issue of low-slung pants for another day; except to say that any kid who looks for a job similarly dressed is not seriously looking for a job, unless it is as a bank robber or pimp. Jay-Z, Eminem and the tiny handful of others aside, as President Obama wisely once said, “Maybe you’re the next Lil Wayne, but probably not.”
It was a refreshing moment when the leader of the political party that sometimes revels in victimization spoke the plain truth. Most success is not flashy. It requires heavy lifting and an education. It also demands personal responsibility because regardless of the bad hand poor folk are dealt; they must do the best they can to provide for themselves and their families.
Posing like a hip hop mogul when the holes in your pants are real is ultimately self-defeating.
But leave the subject of self-destructive pretense for another time, let’s talk hoodies.
His hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman did.
Remember when my friend and colleague the estimable Juan Williams got fired from NPR for saying that Muslims formally garbed freaked him out at airports? Juan is among America's sharpest commentators. He wasn't justifying his reaction, he was copping to it. Maybe shock therapy or a semester of sensitivity training could change it, otherwise It is what it is.
No one black, brown or white can honestly tell me that seeing a kid of color with a hood pulled over his head doesn’t generate a certain reaction, sometimes scorn, often menace.
When you see that kid coming your way, unless you specifically recognize him you are thinking ghetto or ghetto wannabe high-style or low-brow wise-ass. Pedestrians cross the street to avoid black or brown hoodie wearers coming their way.
Because this is a teachable moment let me speak plainly.
Whatever Reverends Sharpton and Jackson say in Florida Friday, after listening to the 911 tapes and hearing the witness’ testimonials, I believe Trayvon Martin would be alive today but for his hoodie.
I want the feds to thoroughly investigate and prosecute vigorously if the evidence warrants. But understanding the wrath currently focused on George Zimmerman and the police chief and the town council and the gun sellers and everyone else, I am begging parents of kids in Trayvon’s vulnerable demographic to heed my politically incorrect approach to this story.
If you dress like a hoodlum eventually some schmuck is going to take you at your word.
Remember Elvis’ ‘In the ghetto’? or that old Johnny Cash song about not taking ‘your guns to town son, leave your guns at home Bill, don’t take your guns to town?’
The kid in the both songs dies in totally predictable gun fights. Trayvon was unarmed save his box of skittles. But his hoodie gave his assailant cause to think him the enemy.
Maybe his specific encounter with an over-zealous, gun-toting, blood-lusting neighborhood-watch captain was less predictable than usual, but not by much.
I am begging parents to unbait the trap. Don’t let your child provoke madness. Agonize all you want about the unfairness of stereotypes. Argue how it amounts to a million, million little cuts of racial profiling. Work to change the world. Rail against the inequities of life; but don’t let your child go out into the hard cruel world wearing a costume that is really a sign that says ‘shoot me.’
‘And as his mama cries,’ sang Elvis.
Geraldo Rivera is a Senior Columnist for Fox News Latino.