Barney Frank, the retiring Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, never known to speak anything but his mind, used his address to graduating seniors at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth Sunday to make a cringe-inducing joke about hoodies.
“I do want to acknowledge a man who has played a major role in diminishing inequality in Massachusetts,” said Frank, referring to the activist Hubie Jones. “He’s a great man and I’ve worked with Hubie for many years. You know he got an honorary degree today. You know when you get an honorary degree they give you one of these,” said Frank, indicating the white graduation hood around his neck. “Hubie, I think you have a hoodie you can wear and nobody will shoot at you.”
Hoods are part of graduation dress, along with robes, for people with advanced or honorary degrees. A white one like Frank’s signifies a degree in the arts.
Hoodies are the sweatshirts with hoods like the one worn by Trayvon Martin the night he was killed in Florida by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. Since Martin’s death, hoodies have become a symbol of racially based divisions when a Geraldo Rivera blamed Martin’s hoodie for his death.
Frank also made some more direct political points. He gave a full-throated defense of public spending on education. “People sometimes have a problem with taxes. Well we have a problem with taxes here. Not enough of them go to this institution,” Frank said of the public school.
He also bragged about lobbying for federal funds for public schools, a process called “earmarking” that has come under fire by fiscal activists and good government groups in recent years.
“I’ll have no apology to make for working for funds for this first-rate institution,” Frank said.