Thursday, February 18, 2016

Book 12: Hood

"After the US-Dakota War of 1862, a US military commission tried 392 Dakota men and boys in seven weeks and sentenced 303 to death, although President Lincoln reduced the number to 39. In Mankato, Minnesota, the army arrayed the prisoners in rows on a custom-built scaffold, with identical white muslin hoods muffling their faces. The victims, who'd had no lawyers and were prohibited from speaking in their own defense during the trials (which were in English, anyway), sang through their hoods. They were hanged all at once, before 4,000 witnesses. It was the largest mass execution in US history."

Dates read: December 26-29, 2015

Rating: 5/10

When Trayvon Martin was shot, there was a movement to blame what he was wearing (a hooded sweatshirt) for his death. A young black man should apparently know better than to wear a hoodie out and about in public. Never mind that Trayvon was a 17 year-old kid who was threatening only to the Skittles he was carrying with him, never mind that Trayvon was a human being who should have been able to wear whatever the damn hell he pleased while going about his own business. A hooded sweatshirt, obscuring his face, made him scary. Made him responsible, somehow, for his own cold-blooded murder.

Obviously that's ridiculous (if you disagree, you should feel free to take your pageviews elsewhere...this blog and blogger are probably not going to be for you). But the hood has been a potent symbol for centuries, and this book examines the cultural history of hoods. Who wears them, and why? What do they mean? Author Alison Kinney traverses a wide history and a variety of contexts to explain the role of the hood; from state-sanctioned execution and terrorism like the Inquisition, the Klan, and Abu Ghraib, to protesters, fairy tales, and all the way down to college students to show how the hood is used by both the powerful and on the powerless to signify the roles they play. The first two sections, which focus on the death penalty and terrorism, are the strongest ones to me, the most cohesive. The rest of the book is more loosely organized and lacks the kind of narrative focus and drive that makes the first two sections compelling.

It's interesting to focus in on one object this way, to think about how its meanings have changed through time. And this book is one of series (other entries include the remote control, drones, etc), but honestly this is the only one that sparked my curiosity enough to pick up. Kinney has clearly done her research...she illustrates how not only has the use of the hood changed over the course of history, but how there have been latter-day distortions of past use of the hood (which she refers to as "shaggy medievalism") to serve the purposes of those who use it in their own time. It's a quick and engaging read, especially if you're inclined to enjoy thinking about privilege and abuse of power.

Tell me, blog friends, what object would you enjoy reading a cultural history of?

**I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review**

No comments:

Post a Comment