Geraldo Rivera and the Pre-Post-Racial America

Remember when the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama was going to usher in a new “post-racial” era in American politics? It was obvious at the time that that was a pipe dream, but it’s remarkable how much the U.S. discourse on race has actually gone backward–as illustrated by Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera’s comments on the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Appearing on Fox & Friends (3/23/12), Rivera asserted that the 17-year-old’s attire was as much to blame for his death as the person who shot him: “I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies,” Rivera declared. “I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.”

He followed this up with a defense of stereotyping, suggesting that it has a rational basis:

When you see a kid walking down the street, particularly a dark-skinned kid like my son Cruz…. What do they think? What’s the instant identification, what’s the instant association?… It’s those crime scene surveillance tapes. Every time you see someone sticking up a 7-11, the kid is wearing a hoodie.

This kind of prejudice is not only universal, Rivera seemed to be arguing, but understandable and acceptable–not just against hoodie-wearing youth, but youth of color in general: “When you see a black or Latino youngster, particularly on the street, you walk to the other side of the street. You try to avoid that confrontation.”

Later, in an op-ed on (3/23/12), Rivera clarified that it was only dark-skinned young males who are wearing hooded sweatshirts who are the subject of this unanimous disdain and/or fear:

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.

Rivera is from New York City, so you’d think he’d be aware that people of all races who live there walk by each other all the time wearing all sorts of clothing without anyone ever crossing the street; indeed, you’d soon be run over if you stepped into traffic every time you saw someone a hoodie coming at you. His “advice” seems to be aimed at people to whom encountering someone from a different ethnicity is an unfamiliar experience–someone like a lot of Fox News viewers, to judge from their online comments on the Trayvon Martin case.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.