Hoodies and Handshakes: Money is the Tie That Binds (from the archives of the old AdTex Interactive Blog)

I write this post in the midst of the media maelstrom brought on by the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an apparently unarmed Florida teen who was slain in a confrontation wit a possibly overzealous community crime watch captain. At this point, emotions are running rampant and all the facts of the incidence have not come to light. Reports indicate possible racial overtones, as the shooter (identified as a “white Hispanic male), might have even uttered an ethnic slur during his 9-1-1- call about a “suspicious African-American male”. Notable was Trayvon’s attire that night. He was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, known in modern vernacular as a “hoodie.” Across the country and all over Social Media, protests are being organized to demand a more-thorough investigation and the arrest/possible prosecution of the shooter. We’ve seen “Million Hoodie Marches” and Facebook profile photos or people in hoodies. The hoodie has become somewhat of a symbol of solidarity in a perceived “cry for justice” in the Trayvon Martin case and beyond. I have but one opinion of express about Trayvon Martin. His death seems to be the catalyst for a discussion about the perception of the value of an African-American teen’s life. Having once been an African-American teen, I believe it’s invaluable. But, I would humbly like to present a personal experience as juxtaposition to the cultural rift highlighted by the Trayvon Tragedy. It involves young African-Americans in hoodies. But instead of Skittles® candy and iced tea, it involved Malt Liquor and money…lots of money.

Here’s the set-up; our company is a member of Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), the +/- $30 billion Automotive Aftermarket trade association. SEMA has a massive annual trade show at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

While we were attending the 2006 show, I had an educational view of the power of money to breach social/ethnic bulwarks. It was about 11am on a mild October weekday morning. At the MGM Grand Casino, I boarded the packed Las Vegas Monorail to the Convention Center. Standing and pole hanging, I found myself inches from four very “hip-hop”-looking, young African Americans. All three of the young men (one was a young lady) wore hoodies. They might have had dreadlocks, twists or cornrow hair styles. They wore the saggy trousers and the Timberland® work boots that were popular then. They also had official SEMA “BUYER” badges. The SEMA show is an industry-only affair and you must provide tax records or business-formation documents for credentials to attend. After a few moments observing the young people, I identified the apparent chief executive/spokesperson. He was the one sipping from a forty-ounce can of malt liquor (I was thinking, “That’s quite a potent potable for a weekday morning at a professional trade show.”) Sensing a learning opportunity, out of the blue, I asked “Forty”,

“What size are we up to now, young man?”

He knew of what I spoke and replied “we’re going to look at a ‘32”, today.”

Now, my planned destination for that day wasn’t the enormous “Wheel and Tire” section of the show. I was looking forward to meeting some lead contacts in “Hot Rod Alley”, the Restoration and Electronics areas. But the following verbal exchange necessitated an agenda shift. To keep the conversation rolling, I asked “Forty”,

“How much does something like that cost?”

He said, “The one we’re looking at is two million dollars.”

Stunned, I mumbled (seemingly to myself), “ Two million dollars for a set of wheels?”

Young “Forty” replied, “That’s two million dollars PER WHEEL, dawg.”

Trying to fathom such ridiculousness, I said (again, mistakenly thinking I was muttering under my breath), “Who can afford something like that?” “Forty” (who must have superhuman hearing), said,

“We don’t ask questions, dawg. We just make it happen for our clients.”

“Their clients? They can’t be ‘legit”” I found myself thinking (and not out loud, this time).

As we arrived at the Convention Center and piled off the crowded monorail, I caught a glimpse of the one of their badges. I recalled seeing the word “Dubs” and the state listed as “MD.” I made a mental note to look them up on the Internet, later that night. I believe this is their company.

Entering the Convention Center, I made a beeline to the Wheel and Tire exhibit hall. I saw lots of righteous rubber, some of the most innovative wheels ever manufactured, famous rappers, pro athletes and plenty of curvaceous female spokesmodels (I think I heard someone call it the “Rumps and Rims” area). But, the most interesting thing I saw was “Forty” and his associates and loads of other “hoodies”, shaking hands and closing deals with wing-tipped, buttoned down, mostly Caucasian-male Wheel/Tire-industry representatives.

This day, the “hoodies” were not being treated as “suspicious”, but as “VALUED CLIENTS.” I found myself thinking, “Now this is different. I bet if those reps encountered these young people on a city street corner, there would be wholesale rolling up of windows and car-door locking. They would be judging these kids on the way they are dressed and would be more concerned about being “jacked” for their rims, instead of selling them.” Then, I felt guilty and repentant about such stereotypical thoughts toward both parties. I was guilty of “profiling.” Not justifying those thoughts, but you see, even though I am a pre-hip-hop baby boomer, I experienced the expedited-car-window-rollup/door-locking scenario, myself.

So, what’s my point and what has it to do with the Trayvon Martin tragedy?

Again, I just offer my SEMA-Show experience as a comparison to the division illustrated by the incident in Florida. A young, black American in a hoodie doesn’t have to be “suspicious.” A middle-aged white man in a suit doesn’t have to be the “victim”. We can all do more than just “getting along”. We can work together in business. I would rather tell the many young African –American men I have mentored to keep wearing your hoodie, keep grooming your ‘dreads”, keep your ‘flava”, but be sure to keep your integrity and be the best you can be in your business dealings. (I would also ask them to consider a nice fruit-juice beverage or coffee, instead of a “forty”, before a weekday-morning business meeting. But that’s just “me.”)

In a LinkedIn SEMA group comment thread on my “Down With Diversity” blog post, I reminded automotive “e-tailers” that it doesn’t matter if the guy placing an online/phone order for your product is wearing a hoodie or a Brooks Brothers suit.Who cares if he just left the country club or just left his job at the automobile plant. It doesn’t matter if he’s “black”, “white”, “brown” or otherwise. It’s all “green.” In your marketing, try to include something for everyone and treat them all with as much respect as possible. Can this formula work for social inclusiveness as well a business?

Now, if you or someone you know needs the services of a great Interactive Marketing company, with a seasoned Business Development Executive who knows how to listen to business people in the “’hood” as well as the boardroom, I can recommend one.

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