Hoodies and Helmets: A Treatise on Racism, Prejudice, Bikers, Guns, Cops and the Generation Gap

“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:

  1. There exists black people.
  2. Some black people are unemployed.
  3. Some of these black unemployed commit crimes.
  4. Some of these black unemployed who commit crimes are male.
  5. Some of these black unemployed males who commit crimes are young.
  6. Some of these young black unemployed males who commit crimes own hoodies.
  7. 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.

Devil’s Advocate…

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  53 comments for “Hoodies and Helmets: A Treatise on Racism, Prejudice, Bikers, Guns, Cops and the Generation Gap

  1. GK
    April 18, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Very poorly reasoned. A series of straw men.
    Let’s play devil’s advocate: what if young black men are much much more likely to be violent criminals than any other group.
    Is a person then justified in avoiding them? Is a person then justified in viewing them with suspicion?

    BTW Tyler Perry should be pulled over and cited for his crass, stupid films.

    • April 18, 2012 at 1:20 pm

      Let’s play devil’s advocate: what if young black men are much much more likely to be violent criminals than any other group.

      Apparently you missed the point of the entire piece. Either that, or you did not read it.

      What IF young black men are much, much more likely to be violent criminals than any other group? What then? Does that give you the right to put that statistic on any one given individual? Does this make you suspicious of all young black men? Even if it does, do you feel this gives you the right to approach random young black men and accuse them of being a thug based soley on what they are wearing?

      Also, where in my article did I suggest that any one given individual should not avoid another given individual for any reason? I avoid people all the time for a variety of reasons. As well, Where in my article did I suggest that one’s private thoughts should be abrogated? Viewing someone with suspicion, no matter how unfounded it might be, is not a crime. But taking it upon ones self to act on it in a way that violates the freedom of another individual who has done absolutely nothing except exist, is.

      • GB
        April 18, 2012 at 1:35 pm

        It’s not that simple. You take in a variety of factors when making a decision, including clothing, the environment, the behavior of the person.

        If one is a police officer or the captain of a neighborhood watch it’s only rational to view a young black man with some amount of enhanced suspicion, given the statistics.

        Your condemnation should be on the people who are responsible for the crimes that engender this stereotype, not the watch captain or police office who is merely responding in a rational way.

        • April 18, 2012 at 1:52 pm

          No, it is not simple at all. In fact, it is very complicated. I have no doubt, whatsoever, that there are many factors that the police need to take into account when dealing with potentially dangerous situations. I condemned nobody, though, just actions and the process that surrounds racism and bigotry. The words contained in this piece are my observsations, opinions and thoughts that I have taken away from personal experiences, statistical data, interpersonal relationships, etc.

          I hold the perpetrators of crimes responsible for their individual actions, not on the entirety of the demographic. I am fully aware of the statistics, as I have stated. But I do not reason that these statistics justify the behavior of bigots who transfer the cimes of individuals onto the entire group.

          While it is a noble thing to address the people who are responsible for the crimes that engender this stereotype, it is also largely useless. They don’t really give a shit, GB, and to pass judgment on all innocent young black men is punishing them for the crimes of another, even if the statistics show that this particular demographic is more likely to commit a crime.

          I am not an expert in this field. As I said, these are my observations, opinions and points of view. I do not suffer racists or bigots very well, and have a difficult time listening to them justify why it is OK to be as such. I am not, in any way, saying this applies to you.

          • GB
            April 18, 2012 at 2:17 pm

            While it is a noble thing to address the people who are responsible for the crimes that engender this stereotype, it is also largely useless. They don’t really give a shit, GB, and to pass judgment on all innocent young black men is punishing them for the crimes of another,

            Good point. Likewise condemning racists then is unlikely to do any good, since they don’t ‘give a shit’, even though they give all white, Southern, republican, Confederate flag-waivers an unjust reputation.

            Good day.

          • April 18, 2012 at 2:39 pm

            Likewise condemning racists then is unlikely to do any good, since they don’t ‘give a shit’, even though they give all white, Southern, republican, Confederate flag-waivers an unjust reputation.

            Yes, this is unfortunately true, GB. I know many Republicans that do not fit the current mold of the GOP, but yet they are lumped in with the rest of them. Now, how do you change that? Can herd mentalitiy even be changed? I wish I knew, GB. I’d like to think it can, but we don’t exactly have a great track record as a species. Thanks for your comments.

  2. jufulu
    April 18, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Al, I’ve been wanting to say this for a while, “You ‘write’ as pretty as a $2 whore” (paraphrasing). I am one who absolutely hates the pants below the belt thing, but who am I to argue about appearances when I dress for comfort (read like a slob) most of my off time and don’t really care what people think of me. Unlike many people, I’m aware of my prejudices and actively suppress them until I am given cause to think badly of an individual. I am prejudiced about: godbots, rednecks, people who wear baseball caps (orientation doesn’t matter), and people who listen to pop music (get off my lawn). The ugly truth is that most people are good people no matter what they look like or sound like.

    • jufulu
      April 18, 2012 at 3:02 pm

      er, that should read ‘pants below the butt’.

    • April 18, 2012 at 5:52 pm

      Well, thanks, Jufule. Gonna have to remember that phrase! Has character! I appreciate your comments.

      • jufulu
        April 18, 2012 at 9:40 pm

        I stole it from Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles.


        • Kilian Hekhuis
          April 23, 2012 at 6:00 am

          Shouldn’t that be “$20 whore”, meaning a “very expensive (therefor: pretty) one”?

  3. Chuck Doswell
    April 18, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    Good job, Al, as usual! The concept of “race” that underlies racism is scientifically bankrupt and has no substantive basis. If you think you know something about someone else because of their skin color or attire, then you’re simply a fool. The evidence against the validity of racism is massive and all around us, if anyone will simply open their eyes to it.

    The very word “prejudice” is rooted in “pre-judgement” on the basis of superficial information. Sure, there are sundry measures that can vary, on the average, between different ethnic groups, but these statistical differences don’t mean a damned thing when it comes to a single, real person. Get to know someone, and then make your judgments if you wish, but don’t be so obviously moronic as to make default assumptions based only on superficial information. Racism is flawed to its very core.

    • April 18, 2012 at 5:51 pm

      Thanks, Chuck. This one took a while to tap out, and forced me into some reflection – some quiet and some not so much.

  4. rapiddominance
    April 18, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    This essay brought me to the point of examining my own racism.

    One thing I can’t handle are white men wearing clown costumes. That shit’s creepy and I don’t know how to change that.

    On second thought, African American clows are pretty scarey, too; so maybe this is more of a prejudice issue for me.

    Now that I think about it, I don’t remember ever having been freaked out by a female clown. Somehow, they seem more benign and, at times, adorable. Is that sexist of me?

    • rapiddominance
      April 18, 2012 at 5:23 pm

      I just read some of the other replies, and I want to be clear that my comment wasn’t some form of objection. I don’t want it associated as part of the ‘pile-on’ that’s occuring as I found your essay enjoyable and engaging. To be honest, I haven’t even evaluated it for accuracy as I’m more interested in the discussion itself.

      My mind is kind of on the ‘fear element’ of prejudice and how there might be various ways to look at it.

    • April 18, 2012 at 5:50 pm

      Clowns creep the hell out of me, as a general rule. RD. Although I seem to remember watching a movie with a female clown that was, well…

      • April 19, 2012 at 12:43 am

        You might enjoy Alice Cooper’s “Can’t Sleep, The Clowns Will Eat Me”

        • April 19, 2012 at 12:43 am


          Al, if you could modify that YT link so it’s a text link? Please?

  5. Inflection
    April 18, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    An interesting commentary from someone who has been subject to this form of stereotyping. I think it deserves a wide dissemination. Op-Ed in your nearby metropolitan paper, perhaps, after a few edits for the audience? This coming from a white man might make a few people think when they wouldn’t listen to a similar lesson from a black man.

    • April 18, 2012 at 5:48 pm

      Thank you for the encouragement. Not sure the local papers here would even print this. Most of their op ed pieces come from people like Ann Coulter… 🙂

  6. April 18, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    Great post Al. Well said. There is no excuse to judge a person based on stereotypes. Each of us is an individual (obviously) and each of us needs to be judged on our own actions. Racism and other forms of bigotry are just poorly reasoned beliefs–nothing more than intellectual laziness in a sense. I agree with the Leary quote at the beginning of your post. Racism and bigotry can be taught. To me, this puts it into the same intellectually lazy as religion. So many people practice the religion of their parents without every questioning it. So too with racism.

  7. greg
    April 18, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    Nice essay. I visit often and like your work. You put a spotlight on a bias that I carry. I tend to lump all conservatives in the idiot/asshole bin in my mind. The only media I frequent are FTBs and similar minded sites that are written by liberal atheist types. I can’t even watch network news. Im sure that cant be healthy. Thanks for making me aware of an issue that I need to work on. Most people are just people. Their political affiliation doesn’t make them bad people. Thanks,

  8. rickschauer
    April 19, 2012 at 9:37 am

    Nice piece, Al.

    E.O. Wilson, in his new book, talks about tribalisms and the necessity of it from an evolutionary standpoint and although I haven’t finished the book yet it seems to me that tribalisms are at the root of this issue (racism/prejudice), too.

  9. jamessweet
    April 19, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    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.

    This is ranging far afield, but I have to highlight this quip, because it touches on yet another logical fallacy: I’m not sure whether the black kids I see are more or less likely to be wearing a hoodie than the white kids I see, but I can say with confidence that most of the hoodied kids I see are white. That’s because in the neighborhoods I spend most of my time, most of the kids I see are white, hoodied or not. (Happily this is changing, e.g. the middle-class suburban street I live on, while still predominantly white, has quite a bit of racial diversity, including several mixed race couples — but still, the majority of kids I see are white)

    As to the central point of the blog post, I very much agree. When I read Crommunist’s famous “shuffling feet” post, I could actually identify in a small (and importantly different) way: I used to have long unkempt hair, often wore ripped or ratty clothes, and just generally looked like a total stoner; and I got pre-judged on that basis all the time. Cops were more suspicious of me whether I was doing anything wrong or not, there was once a woman whom I am quite sure thought I was following her in a parking lot with nefarious intent, etc. But it was much easier for me to laugh it off, since I could always cut my hair and start dressing better (which I eventually did — not to change perceptions, but because my wife made me when I started dating her, hahaha). I did retain a lifelong distrust of police from the experience, which is maybe a good thing anyway…

    In any case, it’s always painful to be judged on some superficial aspect of your appearance — it is difficult for me to imagine how much worse it would be for that aspect to be unchangeable and something you were born to.

    • April 19, 2012 at 12:14 pm

      This is ranging far afield, but I have to highlight this quip, because it touches on yet another logical fallacy

      That was actually meant to be sarcastic, which sometimes doesn’t come across well in print.

      In any case, it’s always painful to be judged on some superficial aspect of your appearance — it is difficult for me to imagine how much worse it would be for that aspect to be unchangeable and something you were born to.

      Yes, indeed.

      • jamessweet
        April 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm

        No no, I know the quip was meant to be sarcastic. I just never miss a chance to highlight that particular fallacious mode of thinking.

  10. MrClean
    April 19, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    I’d like to refute all the points made here, but I don’t think I have the time. This post and the subsequent comments do not strike me as logical, reasoned analysis. It sounds more like the arguments fundamentalists use to defend religious beliefs.

    Tyler Perry was not the victim of racism or the Driving While Black syndrome. He made a dangerous and illegal turn. When the police officer pulled him over he said, “I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t being followed.” I’m not sure where racism fits here.

    Profiling based on statistical data is legitimate and useful in many aspects of human interaction.

    A public health department has limited funds for sickle cell screening. Should they screen everyone regardless of ancestry? Or should they focus on African-Americans who make up the overwhelming majority of sickle cell carriers? If they single out blacks then they are, in fact, engaging in racism. If they treat everyone equally, then resources will be wasted and many more African-Americans will suffer and ultimately die of the disease.

    In large cities blacks have a hard time getting a cab. Cab drivers are aware that they face an increased risk of violence from a black fare, and they complain that blacks don’t tip as well as others. Even the black cab drivers in NYC- many immigrants from Africa (truly African-American!)- are unwilling to pick up other blacks. Is that wrong? Or just rational?

    The problem seems to be in the judicious and rational application of these profiles.

    I think it’s time we start judging other cultures, as well as our own. When African-Americans stop being disproportionately violent, then we will stop being afraid of them. Likewise, when Asians start sucking at math, we will stop cheating off their paper.

    Seriously though, race is an information-bearing trait, and in the absence of other information, there is such a thing as rational discrimination.

    The Zimmerman case is a good illustration of this. Had Mr. Zimmerman not followed Martin, he would not be in jail today.

    • Suido
      April 19, 2012 at 9:46 pm

      There is a difference between recognising racial differences and racism.

      Learn it.

      • MrClean
        April 20, 2012 at 7:45 pm

        Maybe you can elaborate on that? What is the difference between racial differences and racism?

  11. gwen
    April 20, 2012 at 12:48 am

    Nice piece Al. As a part of the demographic highlighted, I appreciate how you nuanced that no matter how many degrees I have/get, no matter how I dress/talk, no matter what I drive, there is the suspicion I somehow did it illegally. Multiply it by 10 for my (adult) sons.
    I remember when I transferred from one college to another to get my nursing degree. I transferred in with a 3.7+ GPA in mostly science courses. When I turned in the OFFICIAL transcripts to the admissions office, I was challenged to prove they were actually MY transcripts. I cannot think of any reason for the challenge, other than the fact I was black. I was eventually admitted, and graduated with honors. The treatment I received from my classmates during my time there would be another essay…

  12. Theodoric
    April 20, 2012 at 5:35 am

    Great post Al. You’re rapidly becoming my favourite blogger on FTB, and that’s against some strong competition.

  13. JM smith
    April 20, 2012 at 7:22 am

    Tyler Perry admits to making an illegal turn; the problem was police harassment. The police officers who stopped him were questioning why he was driving an expensive car. That was unprofessional. They left him go after a black police officer recognize him as a celebrity.

    “When African-Americans stop being disproportionately violent, then we will stop being afraid of them.”

    No matter how law-abiding you are as a black person, you will always be judged the criminal actions of black thugs. This especially puts young men like Trayvon at greater risk of being harmed for no other reason that being suspected of being more violence until proven otherwise.

    My father, brothers, husband and sons have all served this country well in the armed forces. Yet because they are black men, they are considered more likely to (fill in the blank with something negative). Until we can have an honest discussion of the problem of race, we will never get beyond these statistics.

  14. vaiyt
    April 20, 2012 at 9:07 am

    “The Zimmerman case is a good illustration of this. Had Mr. Zimmerman not followed Martin, he would not be in jail today.”

    Yeah, the Zimmerman case is a good example how “rational discrimination” is a load of bollocks. Treating black people on the assumption that they’re criminals is not fucking rational!

    Should we start giving social security benefits to all black people on default because they’re more likely to be poor? I mean, if that’s how we gonna roll, let’s go all the way.

    • MrClean
      April 20, 2012 at 7:56 pm

      I didn’t say anyone should assume that a black person is a criminal. No, not at all. A black person is more likely to be a criminal, but that doesn’t mean he IS a criminal. Big difference.

      Rational discrimination only applies in certain situations when you have no other information available. A neighborhood watch captain or a cop sees a young black man. He doesn’t have time to interview the young man, review his resume, get to know him and his family. Race is an information-bearing trait and he knows only that this person if more likely to be a criminal. Just like a young man (any race) is more likely to be a criminal than an elderly woman. This is rational decision making.

      Regarding Tyler Perry: Where do you read that Perry was questioned about driving an expensive car. That is nowhere in his account of the incident.

      • rapiddominance
        April 20, 2012 at 9:03 pm

        I suppose its one thing when the cops looking for a particular suspect who they have evidence is an african american.

        Its totally different to trail an african american driver thinking, “Hmm. Lets see what THIS one is up to.” This is wrong despite any crime/race statistics as it maintains an oppressive climate for minority groups.

        I don’t know anything about the Tyler Perry story and very little about the Zimmermann affair. Not that I’m looking for an ‘out’, but I found the piece positively engaging aside from those details I wasn’t aware of.

  15. Art
    April 21, 2012 at 4:15 am

    In the early 70s all the boys in my neighborhood wore hoodies, usually in a darkish blue. Jeans, a tee shirt, hoodie and Converse All-Stars were pretty much our default for messin around clothes for at least half the year. As I remember it you could buy the whole outfit, right down to the tube socks and Fruit of the Loom tighty whiteys, for about $45 at Woolworths.

    Cheap, tough and warm, and because pretty much everyone wore the same thing, acceptable to a kid. Everything a kid of a white working class family could want. The dark blue was quite good for hiding at night and, seeing as everyone wore the same thing, it made you both nondescript and anonymous. An important point when some members of our group drifted into delinquency.

  16. Mr. Clean
    April 21, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Its totally different to trail an african american driver thinking, “Hmm. Lets see what THIS one is up to.” This is wrong despite any crime/race statistics as it maintains an oppressive climate for minority groups.

    I agree completely. The question is, what action is appropriate, given the statistics. There are lots of other factors to consider.
    I was once pulled coming out of a neighborhood associated with crime/drugs. I assume it was because I was white and driving a nice car, which seemed out of place (possibly a drug buyer). The difference is, I didn’t get mad at the cops, who were simply doing good police work. I was mad at the other 9 out 10 white people who went to this area to buy drugs, thus focusing suspicion on me.

    Stereotypes exist for a reason. They are not always true, but often they are. The trick is to treat people as individuals and be willing to abandon the stereotype in a given case, while still maintaining an appreciate of the statistics.

    If you are afraid to fly, people tell you it’s safer than driving. It would be irrational to say, “I treat every flight as an individual, statistics be damned. I won’t set foot on an airplane.” No. Statistics and stereotypes are helpful. We just have to maintain flexibility.

    Interesting to note that Zimmerman’s instincts were correct: Martin WAS in fact a criminal and aspiring thug.

    • April 22, 2012 at 2:39 pm

      Trayvon Martin was suspended for smoking weed. Making him about as deadly as a criminal as John Lennon (and less of one than Yoko Ono…). Oh he was also suspended for the super criminal act of being late and skiving class.

      Trayvon Martin is about as criminal as most kids and quite honestly if we are going to consider that as the mark of a criminal then most white kids I know are going to be eligible for a good shooting.

      I don’t see people shooting white boys in hoodies out of hand. What I see is people inviting white kids in hoodies to house parties because “they really know how to party”.

      Something tells me Trayvon Martin probably wouldn’t get called up for a Keg Stand or a round of Beer Pong.

      The problem with stereotypes is that they do not apply to the majority. Otherwise we should all function on the basis that white men are inherently untrustworthy with money. Just look at the List. Northern Rock? Run by a white dude. RSB? Again! Fannie Mae? Freddie Mac… Run by a bunch of white guys. But that’s ridiculous right? Then why should we accept it as normal to discriminate against people of various ethnic minorities for whatever reason?

    • stuartvo
      April 23, 2012 at 2:21 am

      Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. It’s amazing how Zimmerman’s psychic powers allowed him, in true Minority-Report style, to execute Trayvon before he committed the crimes he inevitably would have.

      Zimmerman saved the victims of those crimes-to-be, and he saved the State the expense of the trial, incarceration and execution.

      Oh wait! It wasn’t psychic powers. He just used his intimate knowledge of statistics to make the correct call! Everybody knows that blacks are so much more likely to commit crimes that if you shoot any random one you’re more likely to hit a criminal than an innocent.

      Even if he hasn’t actually committed a crime yet. (Or only committed victimless ones so far.)

      Tell me, Mr Clean, are you the type of guy who is always wondering why his friends call him a racist behind his back?

  17. Mr Clean
    April 23, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Trayvon Martin was suspended for smoking weed. Making him about as deadly as a criminal as John Lennon (and less of one than Yoko Ono…). Oh he was also suspended for the super criminal act of being late and skiving class.

    He was also suspended for possessing burglary tools and 12 pieces of women’s jewelry which he said “a friend” gave him (but he declined to name the friend).

    I was merely stating the irony that there has been an outcry over Zimmerman profiling him as a criminal, when in fact he was a criminal, and an aspiring thug.

  18. snebo154
    April 24, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    I agree with you on essentially everything and I would like to add something that seems important to me. Even if Trayvon Martin was something less than an exemplary young man, even if he had, in the past committed an illegal act, even if he turned on Zimmerman and commenced to beating the crap out of him when Zimmerman confronted him and demanded his name. So fucking what. Zimmerman chased him down with no vested authority to do so, and confronted him against police instructions while carrying a gun, with no proof or even reasonable suspicion that Trayvon had done anything illegal. I am a white, fifty five year old pacifist and I would have felt justified in doing exactly the same thing that Trayvon allegedly did. Zimmerman was unfortunately in need of some feeling of importance in his life and while I understand that people have emotional problems and sometimes do stupid things to raise their self esteem the bottom line here is simple: Trayvon Martin is dead as a result of a completely unnecessary encounter initiated by Zimmerman.
    Wearing a hoodie. Irrelevant! Not in his own neighborhood. Irrelevant! Upset Zimmerman’s paradigm of right/wrong. Irrelevant! Needlessly dead seventeen year old with his whole life ahead of him. Relevant! There are two things in life, reasons and results, and reasons don’t matter. In this case the result is a life ended and that matters very much.

    • MrClean
      April 24, 2012 at 7:10 pm

      Snebo the Pacifist-

      About a year ago I was walking in my own neighborhood when I noticed an SUV following me. It eventually pulled up next to me, and an African-American woman jumped out and demanded to know who I was, where I lived, which house, what color the house was, etc. I was initially quite irritated at this, but she then told me she had moved into the neighborhood recently and her home had been burglarized the night before. I was sympathetic to her, as I’ve been a victim of crime and I understand how angry and suspicious it can make you. I do like somewhat scary in my grungy walking clothes, so I really didn’t hold it against her, even as I could tell she was watching me walk down to my driveway and into my house.

      According to you, I would have been well within my rights to punch her in the face, knock her down, and bash her head in the sidewalk, is that about right? Please correct me if I mischaracterize your post.

  19. snebo154
    April 25, 2012 at 3:49 am

    That depends, did she outweigh you by 60% and approach you in a way that made you feel threatened, if so then yes, self defense is always the right of an innocent person unjustly accosted. That said let me clarify a few things. I have lead a unique life that is so far out of the ordinary that I view things from a different perspective than most and I am well aware of this. I lived what could be called an exemplary life by almost anyone’s standards. I never had any run ins with the law because I didn’t commit crimes. I never drank, smoked, skipped school, never even considered using drugs, taught sunday school until I was 28, I truly was a good person. My sole form of youthful rebellion was occasionally going too long between haircuts. Imagine my surprise when I found myself accused of a crime that I did not commit and facing a few decades in prison. I admit that on occasion I overreact to people accusing or even implying that I may have done something that I am innocent of.
    During most of my life I would have done exactly what you did. Calmly wait until the other person ran out of steam, asked why they felt the need to have my information and upon hearing a reasonable explanation told them where I was going and invited them to follow me home if they felt the need to reassure themselves further of my harmlessness. Upon reflection I can remember similar circumstances where I have done almost exactly that. At times in my life I have not been quite so at peace with the universe and have told people that unless they had a badge their best bet for survival was to stay out of arms reach from me and if they were still there when I looked back they should consider legal council for the upcoming harassment charges they were about to be facing and I would call the police myself if that was what it took to get them off my back. Not once in my life have I struck another human being unless it was clearly self defense (I truly am a pacifist, I never even spanked my children). That does not mean that I would not have felt justified in doing so, I just could never bring myself to do it. Your turn, did you mischaracterize my post?

  20. snebo154
    April 25, 2012 at 3:56 am

    That said was there any other part of my original comment that you disagreed with?

  21. snebo154
    April 25, 2012 at 5:04 am

    I didn’t read all of the comments before posting mine @18.
    When I said I agreed with everything I was referring to Mr. Stefanelli’s excellent article and not anything that you said. Having now gone back and read more of the comments and yours in particular I would like to add that I agree with basically nothing that you have said. First off, just on the grounds of semantics I object to your statement that Trayvon Martin was a criminal. If you think that possession of pot makes you a criminal I would counter that no, it only means that you broke the law. By definition in this country crimes have victims, victimless crimes are an oxy-moron and exist only as a political expedient but either way I don’t think he was arrested for the pot baggy, only suspended and so even by your somewhat simplistic way of thinking; no arrest=no criminal record=not a criminal. Unless you consider anyone suspended from school to be a criminal, at least if they are black. (somehow this wouldn’t surprise me) Next you refer to him as an aspiring thug. I have not seen any quotes from Trayvon or anyone who knew him saying that one of his goals was to be a thug, so unless you knew him personally and he had confided those desires for thugdom to you I don’t think that you have any basis to claim knowledge of his aspirations, or do you just assume that all young men of color share that particular dream? @14 you state that a black man is more likely to be a criminal. What difference does this make, do you actually believe that because someone is in a racial demographic containing a higher percentage of criminals than another that they deserve fewer rights? Should we develop a caste system by race with those individuals whose race commit fewer crimes having more rights? Should Jeffery Dahmer’s white skin have entitled him to a higher status than Martin Luther King Jr? There is so much wrong with almost everything that you have said that I question whether you might be harboring the slightest bit of bigotry deep in your soul or if you just don’t think that anyone but whites deserve the luxury of being considered innocent until proven guilty? You also sound as if you are, or would like to be a cop in which case I can only hope that you don’t live anywhere near Arizona. We already have Arpaio, we certainly don’t need you.

    • MrClean
      April 25, 2012 at 6:07 pm

      To answer your question, no, apparently I understood your post quite well.

      Your response to my comments seems quite angry. Did I say blacks (or anyone) deserved less rights? I did not.

      Does a racist deserve less rights? No. Nor does a criminal. Criminals can be victims of crime too.

      Martin was suspended three times. Comments that were archived in his twitter feed (he wrote under the name “No_limit_N***er”) and facebook are disturbing for there references to violence and drugs by both Martin and his friends. If you read my comments you would note also that he was caught at school with burglary tools and 12 pieces of women’s jewelry and a watch which he admitted were not his.

      As far as blacks being far more likely to be criminals than whites, that is merely a fact. You may condemn me and call me names for pointing that is out, but it doesn’t make the fact go away.

      I prefer to discuss these matters rationally and not engage in ad hominem attacks.

      I’m curious to know- you said that I would be justified in severely beating this african-american woman for questioning me- do you think I would have been justified in shooting her? Or just beating her badly?

      I’m just asking b/c I always thought the rational response would be to maintain my distance, be polite, walk away and call 911 if I felt threatened. But maybe I was wrong to do that.
      I’m not a pacifist like you, so perhaps I am going about this the wrong way.

      • snebo154
        April 26, 2012 at 2:41 pm

        Did you say blacks deserved fewer rights? No, you said blacks are more likely to commit crimes and so police are justified in treating them differently. You obviously have practice at rationalizing your bigotry.

        Does a racist deserve less rights? Why are you more eager to jump to the defense of a racist than you are to defend a black.

        Does my comment sound angry. Maybe, bigots like you make me angry.

        Am I calling you names? No, I’m just profiling you from the information bearing traits I’ve seen in your writing.

        Did you mischaracterize my comments? Repeatedly, you compared what I said about the Martin/Zimmerman encounter to an African-American woman approaching you in a vehicle. Zimmerman weighed 240 lbs to Martin’s 140 lbs, Zimmerman chased Martin down on foot after being told by police not to, Zimmerman accosted him demanding his name and if I remember correctly was not part of an organized neighborhood watch but pretty much on his own and not wearing any type of clothing that distinguished him as anyone of authority. Did Zimmerman grab Martin physically initiating the violence? We will probably never know because Zimmerman has a vested interest in making sure that we don’t think that and it seems he killed the only other person involved in the confrontation.

        Do I think that your comments on this post display a negative bias toward people of color? Yes, and I’m not alone.

  22. MrClean
    April 27, 2012 at 10:36 am

    Thanks for the reply.

    Before addressing anything else I want to get this straight since you say I ‘repeatedly’ mischaracterize your post: I am a of slight build and about 5’10”. Also I’m a nerd. Imagine one of those guys from “Big Bang Theory”. The woman clearly outweighed me by a good deal and we were about the same height. I didn’t actually bring a scale and weigh her b/c I didn’t know at the time you and I would be discussing it. Bottom line though, you say I would be justified in beating her severely. Is that pretty much correct?

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