03/29/2012 07:45 pm ET Updated May 29, 2012

Clothes Break the Man

Last week, Geraldo Rivera got into it with his comments on the Trayvon Martin killing. His exact words were, "I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin's death as George Zimmerman was. I am urging the parents of Black and Latino youngsters, particularly, to not let their children go out wearing hoodies." Facing a backlash, Rivera walked back his comments a little bit earlier this week and offered an apology of sorts.

I remember when it was us that were afraid of men wearing hoods. Now, for many Americans, it's the hooded black man who is the symbol of terror. There are plenty of Americans who would probably agree with Rivera's sentiment. For them, the black teen in the hoodie is something to be concerned about and someone to fear. Our nation is so screwed up on racial issues that I am tempted to meet the profilers halfway: you get to be afraid of us, but we get to avoid being shot. Even that would be an improvement. Look how far we've come, America: Our children aren't being judged simply by the color of their skin, but by the content of their clothing.

What Rivera said was insidious -- but like most insidious comments, there is an element of truth to them. I've told my son not to wear certain outfits lest he be perceived the wrong way. I've grown up watching kids being killed over their Jordans, leather coats, jewelry or even if they were simply wearing the wrong color. When I transferred to Locke High School, I showed up wearing red because I assumed they were Bloods like in my neighborhood. Well, they weren't. Those Crips chased me down after school and kicked my ass, black and blue.

So maybe instead of having the police, we need to have the fashion police. They can roam the streets and let urban youth know if their get-ups are spooking the people. You have the right to remain fabulous, but anything you wear can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion.

Sounds ridiculous? But in many ways, this absurd reasoning is being touted as a solution to racial conflict. France famously banned the burqa, and now there is no conflict between native Frenchpeople and Muslim immigrants. Except for the fact that neofascist Marine le Pen is third in the polls, and except for the fact that Mohamed Merah went on a murderous shooting spree. But other than that, French/minority relations have never been better, right? Closer to home, it is easier for a black man to end up in jail than in college. The conservative solution? School uniforms. It's the clothes, stupid? Really?

To be perfectly honest, I wish changing mindsets were as simple as changing outfits. What a small price that would be to pay if we could eliminate animus and hatred in America. But it's not that easy, of course. If you're so predisposed, any article of clothing can be evidence of evil. When a white man wears a suit and bow tie, he's a hipster. But when Nation of Islam members wear a suit and bow tie -- the very symbol of dorkiness -- they're ominous and dangerous. It's not simply a matter of disagreeing violently with their views. Most Americans don't agree with Michael Moore, but they're not afraid of him.

Styles come and go. Hoodies, like everything else, will eventually be out of fashion. But every season, racial intolerance seems to be the new black. Coco Chanel, who brought us the little black dress, advised people to take one thing off before leaving the house. If that thing were hatred, then surely we'd all the better for it.