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Thoughts on understanding image as icon in a troubled world

Trayvon Martin wore his hoodie, and he died. Mahsa Amini removed her hijab, and she died. Each of these actions sparked calls to action and civic protests based on race, sexism, power, and an imbalance of hegemony in local, national, and global contexts.

American and Iranian social-political powers exist to favor those who have positioned themselves with the ability to define sovereignty and the rule of law. To say that the hoodie and the hijab have no relationship overlooks their symbolic importance in speaking to and against structures of power. The hoodie and the hijab are the epicenters of racism and sexism operating throughout the local/global–glocal reality. By popular and academic standards, a post-modern world does not commit itself to the divisions of cultures. Rather, such a post-modern global ideology is said to embrace multiple points of difference to establish equity, justice, and tolerance for varying cultures, customs, and expressions. The lines of demarcation between racial and sexual equity and the opposing inequity are drawn by the wearing of a hoodie by Trayvon Martin and the removal of a hijab by Mahsa Amini. These realistic lines are drawn by authoritarian hegemony to retain a power base favoring those who have developed and operate their national/state religious, social, and governmental machines.

Those who assume positions of power fortify a constructed process and indoctrination against those deemed to be a threat to the agents of power. Trayvon Martin was just a Black kid wearing a hoodie who did nothing to provoke, dismantle, or disturb the regime of power in America. The hijab of Mahsa Amini did nothing but expose – as she took off her hijab – to the world the imbalance and sexist standards of the Iranian government against women. In Iran, hiding behind the patriarchy and authority of religion, sexism provoked Amini to remove her hijab as she would no longer stand for sexist injustice. Amini was murdered because she unclothed herself in public. Trayvon Martin wore his hoodie, and he was murdered in public. These two acts of violence articulate the same perspectives of political fear, social injustice, and marginalization of groups deemed subservient by the governmental power base.

Trayvon Martin was not hiding in his hoodie; he wore it. His hoodie did not mask him; he wore it. Trayvon did not wear his hoodie in solidarity or for political reasons. He wore his hoodie simply as a symbol of who he was: a kid in America. Yet, Trayvon’s hoodie has become an icon of what it means to be a threat to Black youth in contemporary America. After Trayvon, the hoodie has been elevated to a symbol that disturbs institutional racist ideology in the American social and political fabric.

Alan Lechusza

The hijab of Amini has now become a symbol of feminist resistance against Muslim forces of power. The Iranian practice of injustice toward women maneuvers women into areas of sexual tension threaded by male-dominated political justice structures. Amini’s removal of the hijab reveals, talks to, and speaks against Muslim religious institutionalized sexism against women.

Wearing a hoodie in America has become a signifier of resistance since the Trayvon Martin case (February 26, 2012). Trayvon simply wore his hoodie, and by that insignificant act, the hoodie was translated into a symbol of oppression, a voice for the socio-economic communities to “wear arms” in resistance to police brutality and governmental injustice. By removing the hijab in September 2022, Amini proclaimed the need to speak and act against Iranian socio-political dominance. Removing the hijab was the visible expression of resistance to Muslim sexist ideology articulated by suppression against women for the protection of men in positions of assumed power.

The hoodie and the hijab arise as a loudspeaker for a contemporary subaltern voice. These articles of clothing identify globally persistent socio-political persecution against specific races and genders. At a time in history when countries strive to appear fair and equitable, the reality of these two crimes against humanity is not limited to their respective countries. Horrors such as these are rapidly becoming a cultural norm, which makes the importance of Trayvon’s hoodie and Amini’s hijab more relevant as icons of resistance against racism and sexism. So long as one wears a hoodie or removes the hijab, the cause is echoed; where there is no justice, there cannot be any civic peace. We are all Trayvon; we are all Amini.