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Doc Cleveland: Police, Danger, and the Social Contract
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.