“You Have My Permission to Wear a Hoodie Every Day”

In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death, what advice should a mother give to her young, brown son? Rasha Hamid pondered that question, and wrote this poem to her son Jibreel.
mother and son by Joe Newman

Photo by Joe Newman

Editor’s note: When Rasha Hamid heard about the death of Trayvon Martin, she thought immediately of her own son, Jibreel, and wrote him this poem. She provides this context:

I am a teacher, currently living and teaching in Khartoum, Sudan. Before coming to Sudan two and a half years ago, I taught in East Harlem and Hamilton Heights, New York City for 12 years. Through my teaching, I hope to make the world a better, safer, more equitable place. To this end, I have many conversations with my students about fairness, equality, justice and activism in its many forms.

I wrote this poem after having conversations with my ten-year-old son, Jibreel, about Trayvon Martin and realizing it was time for me to talk to him about racial profiling. He has, of course, experienced racial profiling, but I hadn't yet felt compelled to talk to him about it in such explicit terms.


I remember
when you wrapped
a brass paper fastener
around your chubby finger

Look, Mommy,
You said
I’m the Brown Human!
I’m a superhero!

And yesterday
After we read about Trayvon

You said,
It must be scary
for a 17 year old
to have a man with a gun
following him

people listening all around
while he screamed
for help

no one

helped him

if I was standing
behind the guy
with the gun

I would go up
and take the gun from him


like I come down from handstands

You know?

and I think,

Stay a superhero


You will need all of your

To stay alive

when you walk
down the street

No one will know
that you know

if you add
28 and 82
you get 110
and if you add 110 and 011
which is like 11
you get 121
and that’s a palindrome

And you know
that if you add 1 brown boy
wearing 1 hoodie
and 1 crazy man
and 1 gun
and 1 bullet

in certain places

you get
this terrible feeling
of sorrow
and bubbling of fear
that pushes tears
from your eyes

When you walk down the street

No one will know
you carry a map of the world in your head
and the blood of three continents
in your veins

that at ten,
you plan out where you will live
when you grow up
by where you might not get
racially profiled

If everyone is brown,
then they won’t think
brown people are bad

When I am afraid,

I want to say,
after pressing my lips
against the diminishing roundness
of your soft brown cheek,

Stay safe.
Keep your hands out of your pockets,
my love,
Don’t travel with
3 Musketeers bars
or Skittles
or cans of iced tea

Don’t wear hoodies
nor carry
a wallet
Nor drive a car
Nor walk down the street

While wearing
your brownness

Someone may feel threatened

Shuffle, my son,
Speak quietly and with great restraint

When they say
Liberty and justice for all
They’re not talking about you

Your very humanity is
Suspended by a fragile thread

But I tell him instead

Trayvon did nothing wrong.
Being brown is not wrong.
Going to the store is not wrong.
Wearing a hoodie is not wrong.
You have my permission
to wear a hoodie
every day
if you like

Some will fear you
for your brown skin
and your brilliance
and your boldness

But stand up
for what’s right

If you are afraid
Speak up anyway

And if there is a time
You need to be quiet
and hide the fire inside you
Repress your screams of
“It’s not fair!”
To keep yourself safe
That’s all right, too.

And when you are safe,

As a wise man once said,
The only thing necessary
for the triumph of evil
is that good men do nothing

do something
Speak up
Sing out
Walk tall
Be free

And love

For the fierceness
With which you love
is your greatest

And as you once said,
my wise child
Love is the strongest thing
Nothing can break it

And you,

are love.

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