Book of the Month

Donal's picture

Clothes Make the Victim


Among all the discussion of the Trayvon Martin case, at least two pundits felt compelled to remind us that how we dress does have an effect on how others perceive us. Chez Pazienza got hammered by his readers, while Scott Adams readers tended to agree with him. I'll leave you to guess between the two quotes below:

Geraldo inadvertently created a controversy by stating the obvious: Our choice of clothes can influence how people treat us. That's a view that every living human agrees upon. Most of us act upon that belief once or twice a day. When I get dressed, the first two questions I ask myself are 1) "Who is going to see me?" and 2) "What do I want them to think of me?" You probably do the same thing.
But the way you choose to dress or otherwise adorn yourself is exactly that -- a choice. Your choice. And while in a perfect world no one would draw immediate conclusions about you based on your personal style, news flash: We don't live in a perfect world, and ignoring or defiantly thumbing your nose at the fact that there may be certain unintended consequences to the image you choose to project is both irresponsible and thick-headed.

A few decades ago, I recall hearing about a study where men—dressed in either black or tan trenchcoats—tried to gain entry to office buildings. The men wearing the black raincoats were turned away more often, therefore were assumed to have been perceived as lower status. (As far as I can tell, black trenches are now just as stylish as khaki or tan, and just as expensive, but maybe it was different back then.)

Of course, Geraldo claimed a lot more than what you wear affects how people perceive you. The man with the 70s pornstache is calling for a reverse dress code:

"But I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was."

Essentially, Geraldo was saying that Trayvon invited being shot because of what he chose to wear. The claim that a woman invites catcalls, groping or worse, by what they choose to wear has led to the Slut Walk movement, and Geraldo's claim led to hoodie marches. If you look at the SlutWalk mission statement, they want to fight against a culture that uses their free expression in how they choose to dress as an excuse to disrespect and rape them. Likewise, people reacted against Geraldo's statement that the choice to wear something as common as a hoodie is an excuse for being profiled and shot down. It's called victim-blaming.

Chez and Scott are correct to a point, but the difficulty is that there is no clear line between reasonable judgements on appearance—which we all try to make all the time—and unreasonable judgements—which we all probably do from time to time, but rarely while wielding deadly force. Which is why wielding deadly force should not be left to just anyone playing cops and robbers.

Do people have a right to dress exactly as they please? Well, we have laws, but generally, yes. Do they have a right to expect no reactions from others? No, but again we have laws, so they should have a right to not be profiled, attacked, raped or killed by others. The rub is having those laws enforced for everyone.

BTW, as you can see in the top photo, the NRA store is doing their part to make the hoodie seem just a bit more threatening.

Chez and Scott are correct to a point, and if I had children, I'd definitely be telling them to think about what they wear.

That said, there's two ways to parse what Geraldo said. The first is how you and most people are parsing it (and how it was intended to be parsed, I'd reckon). The second is to change the emphasis:

But I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.

See, it's not that he was wearing a hoodie. It's that he was black while wearing a hoodie.

And that girl was female and wearing a skirt. What was she thinking?

Wealthy patrons invited Ikkyu to a banquet. Ikkyu arrived dressed in his beggar’s robes. The host, not recognizing hin, chased him away. Ikkyu went home, changed into his ceremonial robe of purple brocade, and returned. With great respect, he was received into the banquet room. There, he put his robe on the cushion, saying, “I expect you invited the robe since you showed me away a little while ago,” and left.

 

Yes I guess clothes do make the man...except when they don't.

Well, all the recent hoo-ha about clothing options and the perception thereof has me reconsidering the philosophies of nudists.

Flowerchilds new petals ?

I don't think that Sean Bell or Diallo were wearing hoodies. The concept seems to be equal to the nonsensical; "Look at how short her dress was. She was asking for it!"

Nonsense is nonsense.

Geraldo probably had too many stories told to him when he was a kid about the Zoot Suit Riots.

I would argue that hoodies are just not the same thing, they do not carry the the same kind of potent countercultural message that say,  Zoot Suits, or even miniskirts or biker jackets once did.

Just because they use the same root word of 'hood, it does not mean they represent the 'hood, but just that they have a hood. It's a coincidence. Grannies favor fleece ones, the US Marine Corps sells them, and probably every damn American sports team, professional and amateur, probably does too.

About the only reasonable side to the argument is that they can be seen to some as referencing tough guys like Rocky Balboa if worn by a large male. So are those who are suggesting not wearing them saying males of color should not look like are in good shape and able to defend themselves in order to not to draw would be attackers? Dress more fem so you don't get challenged? Is that the advice? Ask gay men about how that has worked out for them in the past.

I do think one can make a strong argument that pants hanging down past your butt crack still do carry a 'hood message (as people like Bill Cosby have,) but hoodies really don't, they've just got too many other associations, including many "all American" ones.

Geraldo is basically taking the, "If you dress like a gangsta, don't be surprised if you're treated like one," line.  Though, it only seems to apply to minorities.  Still, it's nothing more than old people complaining, "why can't the kids can't dress normal these days?"

There's always going to be a segment of society that thinks women should wear dresses, men should wear collared shirts and dockers, and nobody should have tattoos or piercings, jeweled teeth or saggy pants.

If you read some of the comments on a site like BusinessInsider you'll see this sentiment expressed all of the time.  People get actively angry about other people not dressing, thinking or acting normally.  Some of them are kind enough to preface such thoughts with, "nobody deserves to be shot, but..." even as they argue that all of this self expression tends to cause dangerous misunderstandings.

It is, largely, about control.  Geraldo defended his comment as simple advice to parents about what they should let their kids wear.  In that sense he's on the same side as a Bill Cosby.

I don't think the visceral reactions you are talking about are about control but about tribalism. Donal's post is trying to point out how people often chose their clothes to send a message. And that message is often (but not always) about tribe association. Some people get irritated when they see someone protest that they want to be part of the tribe but want to wear the colors of a different or opposing tribe. It's more like: geez doncha know this tribe finds that message offensive? What do you expect if you bear opposing colors?

These days, here's one example--if you want to fit in with techie world, don't dare come calling wearing a suit and tie!

I should say that for parents, yes, you are right that it's about control, they want to teach their kids what messages the clothes choice send in their culture. The eternal ironic problem with that is that the parents often don't understand the kids subculture. But fo other people expressing irritation, it's just about tribe and symbols and communication.

I just think that the hoodie does not qualify as much of a potent message sender, pretty weak stuff to claim it does. It's too ubiquitous.

On the other hand the Rep. Bobby Rush story of the other day made me realize that one part of its wear still does have a relatively strong iconography--if you pull the hood up! If you pull the hood up and it's not raining or cold, that carries a message in our culture of someone trying to hide their face from recognition by cameras or witnesses..

Understand your intent, but here is what Camille Cosby had to say about the death of her son

http://www.cultural-expressions.com/thesis/cosby.htm

Chairman Mao had a excellent solution to this whole problem, ya know! cheeky

Cartoon source:

"Politics of Dress under Mao" @ Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding

 

"you can't make a fashion revolution without breaking legs..." (or something like that...)

It is also true that fashion tribes don't necessarily always have to be waging culture wars:

Crosby" of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young posed with his father Floyd, an Oscar-winning cinematographer, in the Ojai, Calif., home Floyd shared with his second wife in 1970. "In the last few years we've become good friends," David told LIFE. "What I like best about him is that he seems to feel no need for me to be like him, so we're not offended by each other's differences. Like he knows I get high. He doesn't do it and he doesn't approve of it, but he doesn't inflict his values on me."


Frank Zappa in his eclectic Los Angeles home with his cat, his dad Francis, and his mom Rosemarie in 1970 [....]

"My father has ambitions to be an actor," Frank told LIFE. "He secretly wants to be on TV." His mom, meanwhile, thought Frank's career was fine and dandy, but envied something else about him. "The thing that makes me mad about Frank," she said, "is that his hair is curlier than mine — and blacker."

Read more: http://life.time.com/culture/rock-stars-and-their-parents/#ixzz1qj0UDPwL

 

I liked the photos of Ozzie Osbourne at home with Mr. and Mrs. Satan. They seemed like such a happy family, sitting down to Sabbath dinner together.

Mich. teacher says she was fired over Trayvon fund drive: 'I don't think I did anything wrong'

According to the SPLC, a national civil rights group, Harris' eighth-grade journalism students asked her about the death of Martin ....

Harris gave the students an editorial-writing assignment on the shooting. But the students wanted to raise money for Martin's family and asked the school's administrators if they could each pay $1 to wear hoodies instead of school uniforms for a day, the group said. It said the school regularly has fundraisers in which students are allowed to "dress down."

The 26-year-old English teacher said she approached school administrators "through the chain of command" but that Superintendent Jacqueline Cassell said the project could not go forward. Harris said she was in the process of explaining this decision to the students when she was called for a meeting with Cassell.

The superintendent suspended Harris for encouraging the students and then fired her after she showed up at the school to drop off prizes for students when she had been told to stay away, the SPLC said.

Latest Comments