REVIEW: "What Color is Your Hoodie?"
Marginalized people- this is one way to describe the queer community. But what if you happen to be “double the queer” because of your race? Today in our society, dialogue about race is happening every day (and sometimes it’s not constructive). There may be many voices on this topic, but there is a voice many don’t think about. As a gay black man, Jarret Neal’s perspective provides a worldview that people both outside and inside of the community may not be aware of. Through his collection of thirteen essays, "What Color is Your Hoodie?," he provides pieces to the puzzle of this man’s world.
Born to a 14-year-old mother and raised in a household with an alcoholic grandfather, Neal was in eighth grade when his gym class accidentally walked in on their coach showering. It was Neal's first glimpse of a naked man and it "ended my boyhood," he says.
He was well into college when he finally admitted to himself that he was attracted to men; still, the "daily taunts" from his more athletic, more self-confident peers and the absence of a father haunted him for many years. To counteract it, Neal joined a gym and worked out tirelessly, until he realized that he'd never have the body that he wanted. So instead, Neal chose to write.
It was "write or die," he says, though he's been told that his style is "either too black of too gay" and he once assumed that "as a boy I wasn't supposed to care about books…" Even so, he devoured the works of gay men—particularly those who were black. The passion for books led to a teaching career.
Neal’s first essay is “Guys and Dolls/Weights and Measures,” is a strong start for the book. Although the essays are separate texts, they share a similar structure. Neal draws from powerful memories about his childhood and then weaves together an analysis of the man he has grown up to be. The reader understands Neal on a personal level and gets a sense of his values. This leads into his examination of pop culture and porn in his next chapters, “Let’s Talk About Interracial Porn.”
Neal also discusses topics like Barack Obama (“My Last Love Affair”), the reactions to football player Michael Sam being out (“Sam I Am”) and also Trayvon Martin. All of these topics are a reminder that Neal is a black man living in a society where racism is real. It also is a reminder that Neal is a gay man living in a heteronormative society.
“Peewee’s Peepee,” Neal’s story about adult elective circumcision, was the most engaging piece in my opinion. Neal spoke about body image, and how many gay men struggle with it. This all stems from not feeling “masculine” enough, and Neal discusses why so many men play into that ideology. This essay felt the most personal and involving.
"What Color is Your Hoodie?" is a book with a true voice. In order to understand and help one another, we have to shut up and listen. This is one the books that reinforces that. Neal’s honesty emotions and thought-provoking examinations provide a perspective that many people don’t even consider.