There are few statements as powerful in this world as political statements. Whether this be in the form of a news article, tweet, blog post, or attire. Attire in and of itself is its own kind of statement.
As Kinney (2016) described, something as simple as a hood comes with a connotation that can ruin lives. The act of wearing the hood might even be intentionally political as we saw in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting. The hood is obscurity and hiding. Its attached to a certain group of people, a group of people that we as a society often demonize.
Other articles of clothing can carry connotations nearly as powerful. Certain items become so attached to causes or groups that they become a symbol. One such item is Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hats. A bright red ball cap that always seems slightly oversized with the phrase embroidered in thick but plain white script. The brim is wide enough to throw a big shadow across the wearer’s face, almost hood-like. During the election campaigning season, these hats became ubiquitous with the Trump campaign. It seemed like every young Trump supporter had one, especially young men.
Of course, the Trump campaign was entrenched in parodies and judgement. One of these came from John Oliver on Last Week Tonight. In late February of 2016 a segment on Trump was aired. During this segment, Oliver coins the term “Make Donald Drumpf Again” as a clear poke at the famous campaign slogan (Moyer, 2016). The phrase refers to the Trump family’s original name many generations ago and aims to separate the iconic business name from the presidential candidate.
The phrase blew up overnight. The segment on Trump easily became the most watched Last Week Tonight video on YouTube (Addady, 2016). The phrase circled Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and more. Because of this massive success the show created their own version of the iconic red ball cap. On first glance the hats look nearly identical–same red, oversized design with white text. Of course, the caps carry very different connotations once you actually read the text.
I managed to acquire a “Make Donald Drumpf Again” hat for free on campus.
Wearing it around campus was never a big deal. Colleges are mostly liberal and regardless it’s too dangerous to try to commit a political hate crime in such a populated environment.
Wearing it other places, however, is another story. I found this out firsthand when I unthinkingly slapped it on my head backwards before heading to Costco on a Monday in the early afternoon.
Costco is a rather liminal space. Time seems to not quite exist. Surrounded by 60 pound bags of dog food, fresh produce, and paddle boards Costco is eclectic and confusing. The only people in a Costco at 1 pm on a Monday afternoon are retirees, low-wage part-time workers, and salespeople.
As you can imagine, this hat got me several looks. Because it was on backwards this often meant that I only heard hushed whispers and people stopping in their tracks. What was a kid (who looks maybe 18) doing in a Costco at 1 pm on a Monday in a Trump hat? Some people managed to look twice. Those people often laughed or grumbled away depending on whether or not they wanted it to be a Trump hat.
Two men actually confronted me and I applaud them. The first was an older black man who ran up to me from behind and talked so fast I couldn’t understand him. It made me uncomfortable and I kept walking. He kept walking beside me. Finally I managed to make out his words–“You take me back to my beat boy days! I really like the hat and how you wear it! I like the statement!” His presence still made me uncomfortable so I chuckled and agreed so I could get away.
The other encounter occurred as I stood in line to exit the store. Behind me were a senior white couple. Their cart contained a lot of medicine and various other things. The man waited until I shifted my gaze backwards in boredom to speak. “I like your hat. You’re a smart girl. We need more kids like you.” It was clear he hadn’t actually read it. I nervously laughed and agreed. I shuffled forward to have my receipt checked. Behind me I heard his wife make a noise between a exasperated sigh and a gasp. “Honey, that’s not…that’s not what that means.” She must’ve actually read the hat. I didn’t want to be part of that follow-up conversation so I booked it into the parking lot.
As I sat in my car, in the blazing afternoon Florida heat, the experience became real. Such a small object made such a statement. A statement that I hadn’t even meant to make. That hat created friends and enemies. A phrase plastered on the back of my head on a bright red, very noticeable cap led to people skidding to a stop, gasps, noises of disgust, noises of relief, and even conversations.
A hood carries the weight of a marginalized people. A “Make America Great Again” hat carries the weight of the people in power. A “Make Donald Drumpf Again” hat straddles that line. At first glance it is judged as a symbol of power yet subtly conveys support in the other direction. If people go beyond their passing, judgmental glances to actually read the text, the hat becomes a symbol for the people fighting back, not caring if they’re parodying one of the most powerful men in the world.
A simple hat. A cultural divide. Snap judgments. Radically different reactions. Costco at 1 pm on a Monday afternoon.
Weird stuff, man.
By Emily Skjerve
Addady, M. (2016, March 09). John Oliver’s ‘Make Donald Drumpf Again’ Is Really Taking Off. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2016/03/09/make-donald-drumpf-again/
Kinney, A. (2016). Hood. New York: Bloomsbury.
Moyer, J. W. (2016, February 29). John Oliver slams Trump, a.k.a. Donald ‘Drumpf,’ for 22 brutal minutes. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/02/29/john-oliver-slams-trump-a-k-a-donald-drumpf-for-22-brutal-minutes/?utm_term=.a8e0adbbbef6