Hoodie History 101: Bun B Speaks On The Death Of Trayvon Martin

Bun B and Trae tha Truth (center) at a local rally for Trayvon Martin
Bun B and Trae tha Truth (center) at a local rally for Trayvon Martin
Photos via Bun B on Twitter

When Rocks Off researched our hoodie history, we found its roots and its perceptions to be as complex and racially charged as the death of Trayvon Martin. The hoodie, of course, has become the visual rallying cry for Martin's supporters on Twitter and Facebook profile pages nationwide.

While the hoodie may forever be redefined in the U.S. after the events in Sanford, Fla., last month, negative belief systems about hoodies and hip-hop are no doubt prevalent beyond our borders.

In a May 12, 2005 article in British newspaper The Guardian about a shopping center in the United Kingdom that chose to ban hoodies, Angela McRobbie, a professor of communications at Goldsmiths College, was quoted as saying:

"The point of origin is obviously black American hip-hop culture, now thoroughly mainstream and a key part of the global economy. Rap culture celebrates defiance, as it narrates the experience of social exclusion.

Musically and stylistically, it projects menace and danger as well as anger and rage. The hooded top is one in a long line of garments chosen by young people, usually boys, to which are ascribed meanings suggesting that they are 'up to no good.'"

Simplify McRobbie's quotes to common-speak and you've probably transcribed what many assume to be of George Zimmerman's inner dialogue the day he shot Martin. Indeed, McRobbie has a right to her own opinion and professional analysis, which are all very debatable, but she's definitely wrong about the point of origin.

The hoodie's origin can actually be traced to the formal wear of monks back in medieval Europe. In the 1930s, they were marketed to laborers working in freezing temperatures in upstate New York.

And it wasn't until the '70s when hip-hop was born in the Bronx and began to influence fashion that hoodies started to become more popular. It all took off from there, but one could argue Rocky's sprint up the 72 stone steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art popularized the hoodie as much as hip-hop.

The image of Trayvon Martin that inspired the hoodie photo phenomenon.
The image of Trayvon Martin that inspired the hoodie photo phenomenon.

Regardless of how you feel, the garment really belongs to more than just hip-hop. As many point out, the hoodie is affiliated with academic spirit.

Designers Tommy Hilfiger, Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren used hoodies as important parts of their fashion collections in the '90s. So the debate over the hoodie's origins and those responsible for its popularity are really a jump ball.

However, one consistency in parts of the world where hoodie debate has occured is that the garment has faced an uphill battle. All over the planet from New Zealand, to the UK to the U.S., hoodies have divided people and conquered political dialogue long before the death of Trayvon Martin.

"Hoodie is something we see all over America and all over the world," said Houston music icon and hip-hop legend Bun B in an MTV hip-hop tribute to the death of Trayvon Martin. "But people are starting to identify this culture of people by their clothing and are starting to attribute certain things based on the way they dress and that's simply not fair."

Rocks Off interviewed Bun B, who has been a center figure at local rallies for Trayvon Martin, and he expressed his opinions to us on Geraldo Rivera, justice versus revenge, and hip-hop's responsibility in the Trayvon Martin controversy.


Rocks Off: Bun, there are many aspects of the death of Trayvon Martin that people across the United States are enraged about, from the police department seemingly soft-pedaling the handling of the case, to the reports of George Zimmerman hunting down Trayvon Martin that day, to the conservative media's stances on the issue, like Geraldo Rivera blaming hoodies as much as Zimmerman in the outcome. What part of this story really irks you and is really motivating you to get involved and why?

Bun B: The incident itself was enough to get me involved, but to be honest, Geraldo's comments really set me off. As a black man and as a rapper, I have often been unfairly misjudged based on my appearance. But its deeper than race though. Incidents like this one remind me that we all fight against stereotypes everyday.

RO: CNN columnist LZ Granderson recently put out a column that pointedly said that in the protest around Trayvon Martin, everyone has to keep in mind revenge and justice are not the same thing. And that was in response to the $10,000 bounty issued by the New Black Panther Party for the capture of Trayvon's shooter. It's hard not to be emotional if you're moved by the situation for Trayvon's family. Do you feel LZ has an important point, though?

BB: Absolutely. While I understand the Black Panther Party's intention, we cannot turn this into vigilantism. Can we count on the government to protect our children? No, not always. But we have to be careful not to ignite tensions that already exist. At that point, we lose sight of the real issue at hand, which is justice. But even that term itself means different things to different people.

Hoodie History 101: Bun B Speaks On The Death Of Trayvon Martin

RO: Bun, the protest, public rallies and movement around Trayvon Martin is involving hip-hop figures on many levels. Why do you feel it is important for hip-hop figures to get involved in this public outcry for justice that's happening in cities across the country?

BB: Hip-hop is supposed to be the voice of the people. We in the hip-hop community have to return to being that voice. It's our job to make the world aware of what's happening in our cities. It's our job to say what the oppressed cannot.

RO: If George Zimmerman is not charged in the death of Trayvon Martin, what do you think his nationwide community of supporters should do next?

BB: Whether or not he's convicted, I think the "shoot first, ask questions later" law that allowed a person like Zimmerman to feel obligated to take someone's life unprovoked should be reviewed and revised.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

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