The Hoodie - Prince Mensah

In Memory of Trayvon Martin

just because I wear a hoodie does not mean I'm up to no good -
why does a simple outfit stroke all these fears?
what have we learned about ourselves through all these years?
the last time I checked, character was first on the checklist
but I guess it doesn't matter if my skin is black,
it doesn't matter if my sin is to be black,
it doesn't matter if people presume I'm guilty
so they shoot, oh shoot, they shot the wrong man
and young life is wasted on old misconceptions
race has replaced reason and logic; tragic is our time
for the slime of hatred chokes our conscience -
what should bring us together divides us more
what is essential has become another boring chore -
all I want is peace, why this war on my rights?
All I want is justice, all I want is fairness, all I want
is what you will want when one of your sons gets shot
by a stranger, it keeps getting stranger when a law backs
murder - what is the need to stand your ground when no such need exists?
I am tired of the tears, tired of the false fears that stain and strain
relations between fellow americans - give me liberty or give me death -
liberty to live without fear of partiality, liberty to trust that justice will serve me
just as it serves sons of other mothers

just because I wear a hoodie does not mean I'm up to no good -
why does a simple outfit stroke all these fears?
my life has ended because justice is upended
by forces of schist origins, the old practice
of separate justice has seeped its way
into the body politic and people cannot agree
that, in the land of the free, it is unacceptable
for race to have a place in our considerations -
my life has ended because old habits die hard -
justice is still hijacked by die-hards of division -
america needs an ablution from prejudice;
this country's absolution begins when we actualize
the preamble of the constitution -
all men are equal - not words but deeds -
all men are equal, not in speeches but in laws -
my life has ended because we still pretend that our precepts
give each citizen a fair shot at justice -
I am sorry but you made my color part of the equation,
it sits at the very center of this sad situation -
when shall we accept, in our national psyche, that each race
is the same as the other, to refuse to accept this simplicity
is a crime against common sense

just because I wear a hoodie does not mean I'm up to no good -
why does a simple outfit stroke all these fears?
the love of guns has erased the love for man
death and division have the blueprints for this labyrinth of chaos -
our society is ready to lose its young in its enjoyment
of dangerous vocations - as a young black man,
I always got to check for looks and location,
Why? I am no criminal, I'm just an American -
but my American experience exorcises my confidence
I have more hurdles when I try to exercise my rights -
I belong here, it was my ancestors who built this country -
I belong here, my forebears sacrificed their lives for this nation -
we tell other countries to practice human rights:
can we use that same advice here at home?
you checked my dead body for drugs as you allowed
my murderer to go home without scrutinizing him -
I guess his looks were enough to make him innocent,
I guess he stood his ground so the law protected him -
what if I had the gun and he has the hoodie on?
what if it was your son with iced tea in his hands and skittles in his pocket?
what if it was your son who was walking through the neighborhood?
what if it was your son who was wearing the hoodie?

what if?

what if, america?


Prince Mensah is a regular contributor and Associate Editor here at OGOV.


LS said...

There is something about the face when covered, whether veiled or hooded, partially or completely, that engenders a range of emotions in others, and can either put its wearer in a position of power, or render him/her vulnerable to suspicion, insult, abuse, taunts, even death, as happened here.

Feminists today go on about whether the Islamic veil is a sign of oppression or power; the great Naomi Wolf once came under fire from some in the feminist camp, including Phyllis Chesler, and I believe, Camille Paglia for her sympathy with the Islamic veil.

Ever since its placement in Genesis 38, the Rabbis have had a field day with the story of Judah and Tamar, one which remains to this day, a powerful commentary on the sexual/gender politics of Ancient Israel (though my reading may probably be anachronistic).

With his hood, the medieval monk/hermit/man of the church, separated himself, (among other things), and was both feared and revered. In a more secular setting, we know of the ballad of Robin Hood/Robin of the Hood.

Here in the UK, the hood is more a signifier of class, rather than race, though the latter is a huge part of it. David Cameron was roasted by the tabloids for his stance on the wearing of the hood. Just google the phrase “Hug a Hoodie”, though Cameron himself never really uttered that phrase.

It seems just an item of clothing until it becomes enmeshed in all sorts of what we think are modern day identity issues such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender etc, and when it goes bad, as in this case, we are suddenly forced to confront what we may have led ourselves to believe are old prejudices we thought we have worked through.

May his soul rest in peace.

Thanks Prince, and cheers.

Darko Antwi said...
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Darko Antwi said...
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Darko Antwi said...

'The Hoodie' is cleverly written to take after the voice of an American youth: a proud wearer of hood - and a defender of himself, his race and his costume (lifestyle).

It is well-written in the first person singular to suit a fluent charismatic who is aware of the 'checklist', and righteously aggrieved by the 'misconceptions' of his society. Only the spirit of Malcolm X is this articulate.

When I read this memorial verse, I compared it to the biblical Stephen, a disciple of the early church, who was stoned to death. I found the difference in subject to be slim. But there is a broad similarity in the details of speech:

1. Each voice is addressing a nation. Stephen's speech - in the book of Acts - is a direct address to the children of Israel. The personae in 'The Hoodie' (which is understood to be Trayvon Martin), is talking in absentia to America.

2. In Acts chapter seven, the religious Stephen faces death as a result of travesty of justice. The hood-cultured character in Prince Mensah's poem has died 'because justice is upended'.

3. Stephen charged Israel of its divine laws that have been flouted:'[You] who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it'. On the other hand, Martin convicts America for the set of man-made laws it does not live up to: 'this country's absolution begins when we actualize the preamble of the constitution'.

4. Stephen reminds Israel of its wandering roots, and how it became a nation through the Abrahamic ancestry, and the significance thereof. In his lamentation, Martin also identifies himself with the history of America:'I belong here, it was my ancestors who built this country -/ forebears sacrificed their lives for this nation'.

The comparison aside, there are some issues in 'The Hoodie' that need attention. The issue of prejudice and persecution. Summed up as injustice, American democratic institutions and respect / protection of human rights have been questioned. In the last stanza, the challenge beseeching America's domestic hypocrisy is so bold:'we tell other countries to practice human rights: / can we use that same advice here at home?'

While I read over and over, may I pause here and say:

Prince Mensah's poetic eloquence - tinseled by his American experience - has been a great advantage to the leap in Ghanaian creative writing of contemporary status.

Welldone Prince! You are so brilliant.

Darko Antwi said...

I don't know much about Trayvon Martin. But I feel for him through Prince Mensah's poem. I shall link this page to Cheron Ward, my engaged African American girlfriend. I hope she would like it, and cry a 'little' for Martin. I've never seen her angry nor heard her crying. Always full of joy and kindness. She's a wonderful lady xxx

Julian said...

I am short of words and filled with tears as this clearly brings to life experiences I had at the O2 shopping centre at Finchley Road in London. Most hooded kids that passed through this location were violent and troublemakers.

Their actions led to stereotypes about the Hood in its entirety. I grief with the family of this young man and pray God to bring him back to life in his glorious Kingdom.

I am filled with joy and emotions anytime I read a piece from Prince and we are often touched by the Precision and accuracy at the choice of words he uses. . Well done comrade and hotep

Unknown said...

LS, Darko and Julian - Thanks for your kind comments.

I got my own dosage of rabid ignorance when some individuals choose to send me hate mail, regarding this poem.

It tells me the world still has a long way to go when it comes to racial issues and that poets should never back down in telling the truth in unadulterated form. Like Antaeus (in Greek mythology), we must become stronger in our convictions when we are put down, on account of stating nothing but the truth. This is essential to a writer's existence.

We are on to something important here and it is imperative that the whispers of reason should always drown the shrieks of shallow-mindedness.

Let us keep the fire burning.