‘No [Hoodies] Allowed’: The NBA’s Dress Code & the Politics of New Racism —Excerpt from After Artest: The NBA & the Assault on Blackness
—Excerpt from After Artest: The NBA & the Assault on Blackness
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan
The murder of Trayvon Martin has prompted widespread discussions about race in America, persistent inequalities within the criminal justice system, differential values afforded to different bodies, and the real-life consequences of racial stereotypes. Amid many of the discussions, media reports, and the protests have been questions about the racial signifier of the hoodie. From the million hoodie march to the backlash directed at Geraldo Rivera, who named the hoodie as a co-conspirator along with George Zimmerman, the discourse has reflected on the racial signifiers embedded in the hoodie. In other words, how is a black body, inherently criminal and suspect when read within a hoodie; what are the dialects between the hoodie and the black body within these processes of criminalization? These types of questions have been asked and represented in a spectrum of spaces, highlighting the ways the black bodies are imagined as threatening within the dominant white imagination. Pushing the conversation beyond individual prejudice and “what was in George’s heart,” such counternarratives have reflected on how media narratives, popular culture, and a culture that criminalizes black bodies produces a Trayvon Martin, whose mere presence is seen as a threat, all while producing a George Zimmerman.
As a scholar of race and sport, these questions have long guided my work: how do the representations of black athletes, particularly those in the NBA, buttress larger ideological, political, and criminalizing processes? How does the ubiquitous references to NBA players as “thugs” and “gangstas” as “criminals” and “punks” normalize blackness as questionable, undesirable, and inherently suspect? The murder of Trayvon, the prison industrial complex, the racial segregation in school discipline, and the levels of state violence are a product of these cultural projects. According to a report from the Opportunity Agenda, “distorted media representations can be expected to create attitudinal effects ranging from general antagonism toward black men and boys, to higher tolerance for race-based socio-economic disparities, reduced attention to structural and other big-picture factors, and public support for punitive approaches to problems.”
In my recently release book – After Artest: The NBA and the Assault on Blackness (SUNY 2012), I explore the broader criminalization of blackness inside and outside of the NBA’s arenas, that among things has focused on the attitudes, demeanor, and clothing of NBA ballers. I, thus, present to you a short excerpt from the book, one that explores the racialization and criminalization that is evident in the NBA’s dress code as a way to expand our conversation about the murder of Trayvon Martin to reflect on how popular culture, media discourses, and the language of everyday racism both normalizes the criminalization of blackness and points to the importance of intervention in this regard.