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The Black Hoodie (Do you have one?)

Does the Trayvon Martin case scare you?! According to the New York Times Zimmerman was charged on April 11th with second degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin and was released on a $150,000 bond. As a result of  this case, lots of people are talking about the black hoodie. Was it the assumption about what the black hoodie symbolizes that contributed to this tragedy?

Admittedly, I’ve been afraid of what ‘I thought’ the black hoodie meant. I recently got lost downtown at 9pm with my 4-year old son in the back seat. There were no lights or people in sight, and I was afraid. I pulled over to put directions into my phone. My son yelled, “Mommy, what’s that!” In slow motion I turned my head to the window and my heart sank. I saw a man wearing a black hoodie and black jeans. I blinked once, in slow motion and…. there was no one standing in front of my window. It was only a stray dog.

In my fear I saw something in this dark side street that wasn’t even there. After burning rubber out of that area and making it home safely, I had to ask myself, “Why did you imagine a black hoodied man, Patty? Why did your mind go there? Why was that your first thought?” And it didn’t take me long to discover why. I grew up in an area where people that dressed in all black were generally out to hurt or rob people. Because of my background, when I see people with that attire it can make me feel nervous.

I’ve had many other “black hoodie” moments in my life – moments in which  my own assuumptions about people or situations have lead to feelings of nervousness, anxiety or fear. I’ve had them as a teacher, an athletic coach, parent, shopper, tourist, etc. My most vivid memory of a “black hoodie” moment as a teacher was in my second year teaching. I had a Katrina evacuee in my class who I thought was just little too quiet. You’re probably thinking “What does a little too quiet mean?” This particular student reminded me of Earney, a boy in my 4th grade class. Earney earned really good grades but he rarely participated verbally in class, and he always stayed off to himself. One day during recess, a few students were picking on Earney about his clothes. Earney remained calm. He didn’t even acknowledge the boys’ presence. When one of the boys said, “We’re gonna beat your brother up after school!” this must have lit a fire in Earney. Earney had a little brother in the 2nd grade. Earney turned to the boys and socked one of them in the mouth. Without flinching he turned his head slowly back to watching the rest of the kids play while the other boy’s mouth filled with blood. I was so surprised that such a quiet and reserved boy had responded with such force. I made it a point to stay away from him.

Fast forward almost 12 years later, and I made similar assumptions about my quiet student. I thought that if I made him angry he might snap. My assumption and resulting nervousness prevented me from building a strong relationship with my student. I was definitely not his best teacher. 

I share this story because I think it’s important for us to be aware of our “black hoodie” moments and ask ourselves what assumptions we make about our students and others and why our minds go in these directions. Starting this dialogue will help us be reflective and more aware of how we interact with others and especially our students.

What’s one of your “black hoodie” moments? What have learned about yourself and the assumptions you have made about your students this year? How have your assumptions affected your ability to build relationships in your classroom?


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