“Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps! End of list.” – Denis Leary
This is a treatise by virtue of it’s length. It’s a long piece, even for me. Roughly 4000 words. I will start by asking you a question. Do young black males wearing hoodies scare you? The topic of how one dresses, their motives for doing so, how the public perceives them and how any one individual might react has been the subject of debate for a very, very long time.
With all the conversation that has been generated lately regarding the Martin/Zimmerman case, the issue of what we wear has been more in the mainstream than usual. The fact is that young, unemployed black males wearing hoodies commit crime.
Hoodied Black criminals…
“Young, unemployed black males wearing hoodies commit crime.” Is this really a true statement? Yes, it is. But because you are shaking your head right now in disbelief that I would actually put that in writing, and because I fully expect the asshat quote miners to stop at that sentence, jerk their knees, and construct entire blog posts in a twisted effort to make me out as a racist, I will qualify by stating some facts:
- There exists black people.
- Some black people are unemployed.
- Some of these black unemployed commit crimes.
- Some of these black unemployed who commit crimes are male.
- Some of these black unemployed males who commit crimes are young.
- Some of these young black unemployed males who commit crimes own hoodies.
- Some of these young black unemployed males commit crimes while wearing their hoodies.
However, the same paradigm exists for every other member of the human race. Just substitute “black” in the above paradigm with White, Asian, Native American, European, etc., and nothing changes. In fact, you can substitute the word “unemployed” with preachers, politicians and policemen, stockbrokers, auto mechanics and computer repair technicians and every other profession on the planet. In further fact, you can substitute the word “male” with “female.”
The truth is, you can pretty much interchange all of these and still come up with the same result. Some people wear hoodies while committing crime, but not all people wearing hoodies are criminals. There is a criminal element in every demographic imaginable, and I hope this little exercise has made it very clear how stupid it is to prejudge a young black male wearing a hoodie as being anything other than a human being wearing a freaking hoodie.
But let’s just say, for a minute, that there can be found a study somewhere on the interwebz that shows hoodies are worn mostly by young black men. I haven’t been able to find such a study, but apparently one exists because hundreds of people on my social networks have said most of the hoodied kids they see are black. I’m still thinking, “big deal,” this still doesn’t justify a belief that all hoodied black kids are any more of a potential criminal than the non-hoodied black kids.
At this time, I am willing to bet that fully half of you over forty just had a flashback of your mom reading you Dr. Seuss’ “The Sneeches.” If your over fifty, it was the “half-black / half-white” Star Trek episode.”
This got me thinking further, and I decided to do some fieldwork. Nothing scientific, mind you. My fieldwork was not worthy of inclusion into the work of those fine folks at the Gallup organization, but consisted basically asking about ten local black high school students why they were wearing their hoodies.
Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home. I am a professional. You might be construed as a pedophile, which would not end well for you. Most people in town know me and many know I am a writer. When doing this type of research, I always tell people that I am working on a story for my blog, a book or whatever. In this case, it was right after school, off school property on a public path, in front of the entire neighborhood, out in the open, for all to see.
From the answers I got, I ascertained two things.
- 80% of them had after-school jobs, which is phenomenal for high school kids and totally blows the “most young black males are unemployed” hypothesis out of the water. Props to them.
- The youth I spoke to said they wear hoodies (and their pants halfway down their asses) for the same reasons that youth of all races have always used to justify the gravitation toward any particular trend in fashion. They either seek a sense of individuality separate from the previous generation or believe that what they are wearing projects an image that is attractive to them and their peers.
The second one is part of the generation gap. Most of us whose children are teenagers or young adults (of all races) do not have a high regard for some of their choices in fashion, and hoodies and the wearing of pants halfway down the ass are fashion choices which are not limited to just black kids. For those of us who are older, these fashion statements have nothing to do with race.
With regard to the whole pants thing, many of us don’t make a racial connection. We just think it looks stupid on all kids, regardless.
However, when my generation was in high school, many who were conscious of current styles among our peers wore polyester slacks, polyester shirts with sewn-in scarves and contrasting colored collars that matched neckties, platform shoes and belt buckles the size of Wyoming. Our parents didn’t hold a high regard for our choices, either.
When many of our parents were in high school, they adorned tie-dyed shirts, psychedelically patterned pants and did some really strange things with their hair. I am confident that my grandparents had issues with the clothes that my parents wore.
I seriously doubt 80% of any of us had jobs, by the way.
As far as hoodies go, I personally don’t care for them. I don’t like the look of them on anyone. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a hat-wearing kinda guy. I don’t even like sweatshirts. To me, a hoodie looks like someone down at the tog factory loaded a bunch of sweatshirts on the jacket line while quality control people were out to lunch. Now, get off my lawn…
Ride ‘Em In…
But appearances do lead to prejudgment, so let’s get away from hoodies for a minute and use another demographic that I am more familiar with. Bikers. Not motorcycle enthusiasts, but bikers who wear what bikers wear. You know the ones I am referring to. As some of you know, I used to be one. I have ridden thousands of miles with groups of men and women who also “dressed the part.”
As with all other demographics, it is true that there is a criminal element among the biker community, and as such, it is also true that most bikers are not criminals. I can say with great certainty that the old woman at the gas station who looked on in fear as we thundered into the parking lot at the gas station/convenience store was probably safer at that moment than almost any other time, as anyone who even thought of giving her a problem would have to deal with us, first.
Bikers are prejudged very regularly because the general public has a perception about bikers that is based on a combination of real-life issues with some outlaw bikers who actually do commit heinous crimes, and the image of bikers that Hollywood has perpetrated on the general public.
Thus, when a group shows up with leathers, loud pipes and wild looks, the unsuspecting public become afraid that all hell is about to break loose, that somebody (probably them) is going to get beaten and/or robbed and all the women present are going to be stripped naked and forced into servicing the entire group.
As bikers, we knew this, and because of these prejudices we would often go to great lengths to assuage the fears of the general public by participating in toy drives, holding events where the public can check out our bikes and ask us questions, engaging in fund-raisers for medical research, and other public services like blocking the efforts of those ass-fedoras from the Westboro Baptist church when they protest funerals.
The point of bringing up bikers is not to try to suggest that the prejudices toward bikers is somehow on par with what the black community is contending with, or that they should change their dress to accommodate bigots or that somehow holding a public event will dissuade the racist.
That would not only be patronizing and insulting, it would completely miss the point, which is that the prejudices against bikers have no aspects of racism. It’s prejudice without the bigotry. It is fear almost completely based on the physical appearance of the biker, particularly the attire – which unlike skin color, is something that can be changed. Stay with me on this, because I am going to explain why this is important by examining…
The Racist Angle…
The game changes completely when you add racism to prejudice. Sticking with the biker thing, when a group of bikers enter an establishment that is not generally frequented by bikers, race is the last thing on most people’s minds. A black biker is still seen as only a biker to most, and the fears that are common to the general public where bikers are concerned are still in play. However, the bigots of the bunch will see both the biker and the black guy. Allow me to expand on that…
As a white biker, I can walk out of the establishment, go home and change in to a pair of khakis, a polo shirt and some trendy shoes and go right back into the same venue and nobody would bat an eyelash – even if I showed back up on my bike. Why? Because the perception that the public had about me was solely based on what I was wearing. I change what I wear; the public’s prejudices of me are dissolved. In my case, it’s all about my attire.
If I were the black biker in our story, it wouldn’t matter if I donned a hoodie, a plain shirt or an Armani suit. I’d still be black, and when I walk back into that venue, the image of the “badass biker” might be gone, but the bigots of the bunch will only see half of their fears abated. If you think that racism is not based on fear, consider this, from ThinkQuest:
“Racism exists practically in all countries, but in certain places and situations it is especially common. Some of the very common reasons for racism to arise are fear or the need for a “scapegoat”. If things are going badly many people’s natural reaction is to blame somebody else. This is exactly what often causes racism, if the unemployment is rising or the national economy is very weak, many people will look for a scapegoat to blame, and in most cases they will choose the people that they do not know, such as those with a different ethnical or cultural background.
“Racism is caused by fear. In some cases racism can generate such an enormous amount of anger that it can cause a war. The thing that causes this anger is mainly fear. Fear that the stranger will take your house, your job, your wife. You don’t know who this stranger is, and he doesn’t know you.”
The racist bigots in our story who see the now-differently-dressed black biker return to the venue will have no problem continuing with their bigoted thoughts, which – depending on which outfit the black man returns in – might include,
- “Oh, look, a black man in a hoodie. Obviously a thug.”
- “Oh, look, a black man (in a plain shirt). Probably casing the joint.”
- “Oh, look, a black man in an expensive suit. Bet it was paid for with the proceeds of crime.”
Asking For It…
The psychological aspects of racism and how it manifests in the mind of the bigot completely destroy the argument that the black man who gets assaulted or even murdered had contributed to his own attack, or was “asking for it” by dressing a certain way. Haters are gonna hate, and they are going to do it no matter what their targets are wearing. This even transcends into the racism that exists within police departments, which is why so many black parents have to give “the talk” to their child.
Those (like Geraldo) who insinuate that people like Trayvon Martin had somehow been at least partly responsible for being a victim is sheer ignorance, and yes, racist. Although the psychology between racial and sexual crimes may be vastly different, they share a commonality that what the victim is wearing has nothing to do with the crime, no matter what the perpetrator claims.
Rape is not a crime of passion, but one of control. Psychiatrists have known for a long time now that when the rapists gives the reason for the crime as being due to what the victim was wearing, the psychology doesn’t jibe. Rape victims run the gamut from elderly grandmothers wearing plaid, flannel nightgowns to women in drab business suits to Muslim women in full body robes to babies in diapers.
The person who assaults or murders a black man and says he did so because the black man was dressed a certain way – wearing a hoodie for example – belies the psychology regarding racially motivated crimes. This is obvious when you consider that victims of racism include the whole of the black community from the poorest, most uneducated up to the best dressed, most successful and renowned among the black community.
“Most middle-class whites have no idea what it feels like to be subjected to police who are routinely suspicious, rude, belligerent, and brutal.” ― Dr. Benjamin Spock
This is an example of the ignorance that pervades much of non-black America, which does not realize the reach that racism has. Many people think that once a black person becomes successful financially, and can afford a nicer house, finer clothes and a luxury car that they no longer deal with racism. Mexicans and Native Americans deal with this shit, too.
Just last week, Tyler Perry was pulled over by the local cops as he was leaving his studios here in Atlanta. From the story:
“Perry’s predicament began when he admittedly made a left turn from a far-right lane — a trick his security detail taught him, to make sure he wasn’t being followed, Perry explained on Facebook. Two white Atlanta police officers pulled him over, but apparently did not realize they’d just stopped Tyler Perry. When Perry explained his illegal turn was to make sure no one was tailing him, one officer allegedly asked, “Why do you think someone would be following you?” Perry said in his post.
Before Perry could answer, the second white officer started “banging” on his passenger’s side window — apparently taking issue with the window’s tint, Perry told his fans.”
Once they realized who he was, it was all puppies and kittens. Tyler is still pissed though, and I am sure we’ll be hearing more about this.
Hell, even Will Smith addressed the problem in “Men in Black II,” when the auto-driver of the “New Hotness” Mercedes was a white guy. He said something to the effect that it used to be a black guy but he kept getting pulled over.
They Know What It Means…
Many “experts” in the ether are quick to point out that the young black male knows fully well that he will be perceived a certain way (thug, etc.) due to his choices in clothing.
OK, so let’s play devil’s advocate, again, and say that a young black man knows that the some of the general public will think bad things about his character because he’s wearing a hoodie (or whatever). Let’s take it one step further and say this information was further validated in that phantom study I referred to earlier. My reaction is the same. So what?! The fact remains that the act of being black while wearing a hoodie is no crime.
Suspecting someone of being a thug just because of what they are wearing (a hoodie, for example) doesn’t give the right to stop, detain, question, assault or kill them. There’s a concept called “probable cause,” and it does not include wardrobe. Even the cops know that. This is why the police told Zimmerman that they did not need him to leave his vehicle. No matter how they perceive themselves, or how much they want to wear a real badge, neighborhood watchmen are not cops. Hell, they’re not even security guards.
Notice the words “police” and “security” are nowhere to be found in “Neighborhood Watch?” Notice the only two words are “neighborhood” and “watch?” That is all they are supposed to do. Watch. If they notice something amiss, the only action they are supposed to take involves their finger and a dial pad and not take matters into their own hands, particularly if that hand is holding a gun.
A Brief Digression About Guns…
Let me digress here, for a second, regarding firearms. This is the part of our conversation when flags go up on both sides of the 2nd Amendment issue. No, there is no cut-and-dried argument when it comes to guns. Trust me, I’ve been having this debate for a long, long time. I am probably the most liberal person you’re apt to meet, but I also own guns.
Yes, I totally understand the pros and cons regarding guns in ‘Merica. We’re a bunch of cowboy buckaroos. On the one hand, I can agree with the statistics regarding the failure of the mutual deterrence concept. Fighting fire with fire usually doesn’t work without everyone getting burned. Yes, I do reason that our gun laws are way too lax, and also reason that it should be a lot more difficult to obtain a handgun. Background checks should also include psychiatric evaluations.
I also know, though, that most criminals do not obtain their weapons from the local gunsmith, and there is merit to the argument that strict regulation penalizes the law-abiding citizen. I also understand the fear and trepidation that involve the government keeping track of gun owners. For the umpteenth time, and in anticipation of the inevitable question that will come up in the comments, I will address how a liberal like me can own a gun, and even justify the use of deadly force.
I am, for all intents and purposes, crippled. I can walk a little, as long as it is not more than twenty or thirty feet – and even then I have to use a cane and I move rather annoyingly slow. Most of the time when I am out, I am in a wheelchair or scooter. Given my physical condition, I do not exactly have the opportunity to avoid an attack by running away, and my overall body strength will only come in handy if I find myself having to kick the ass of your average third-grader.
My options, therefore, are limited to either allow whatever events that are about to unfold and resign myself to the fact that I am about to be the victim of a crime, or to be as prepared as I can to defend myself using whatever tools are available to me. You do not have to agree with me, but please, don’t make me insert any more disclaimers or ask me to further defend my position on firearms. At this point, I’d rather you find a grammatical error. Surely there’s an offending typo, apostrophe or comma somewhere.
Back On Point…
While I reason that most of the time the choice of attire worn by our youth can be addressed by the generation gap, it is conceivable that under certain circumstances the choice of “thuggish” attire might be a way of trying to avoid trouble. It worked for me quite frequently. Wait, what?
Take a brief ride back to the biker thing. My health does not afford me the pleasure of riding anymore. I don’t pose any sort threat riding in my wheelchair, but when I was riding, the perception that I was dangerous did come in handy for me quite a few times.
There have been occasions where had I not been perceived as some sort of outlaw, I would have found myself as the victim of violent crime. A thug will think twice about attacking a biker simply because it is believed that a biker is heavily armed, very dangerous and entirely capable of putting up a formidable defense. Most of us were not dangerous, but the other two points were largely accurate. Thugs gave us a wide berth, even when we were alone and there were several of them.
Given the neighborhoods I lived in, traveled through and worked in, looking like someone who was not to be fucked with was a pretty good defense that kept me out of trouble and out of the sights of the local criminal element. It is quite possible that a small number of these kids want to appear like a thug so that a “real thug” will think twice about attacking them. Personally I would not recommend this, but who am I to judge?
Finally, The Religious Angle…
Yes, I know, you are waiting for me to take aim at the church here, because there is a religious angle to racism. I have written a lot in the past about the history of racism in America and prominent role that Christianity had played, along with the appropriate scriptural references. However, it goes beyond that because I know plenty of racists who are unbelievers, too, as well as members of other religions.
Racism in America might have originally been justified, promulgated and spread through Scripture, and there are many who continue to use the bible to justify their racism, but to say that all racism in this country is the fault of religion is patently false.
Racism became a cultural problem a long time ago, and while fundamental Christianity is not exactly chomping at the bit to help eradicate it, the problem is, as I said, culturally systemic. If every church closed down tomorrow, and the entirety of fundamentalist Christianity (biblical literalists, etc) suddenly became either progressive Christians or atheists, racism would still be here.
One Final Thought…
The ThinkQuest website I linked to earlier puts it very nicely,
“To fight racism we have to get to know each other and learn more about each other’s cultures. We have got to share each other’s joys, but also learn that we often have the same problems and worries.”
PS: Those of you who say that, as a white dude, I have no right to even address racism, let alone procure such a detailed commentary on it? You can suck it. I am a member of the human race, and I do not have to be a victim of racism to hate it and want to see it’s end, nor do I have to be black to understand it.