On Twitter, the land of rational thought (sarcasm), there was a conversation that was started by one of my favorite follows Barrington Martin II about the realness of systemic racism and I read a puzzling reply to his tweet. To summarize, the user told Barrington “take off your suit & tie, put on a hoodie and drive through a gated white community and see how the white people treat you”. This user thought that their example proves systemic racism but all it proved was that judgement of appearance is real and I argue that it’s necessary for everyone’s survival. My reply:
So, let me explain my tweet in further detail: We all prejudge and it’s necessary to do so for our own survival. Whether you are consciously aware of it or not, you prejudge every single person that you encounter and this is not a bad thing. To be even clearer, you are likely only prejudging people you are unfamiliar with and not prejudging someone could lead to all types of negative outcomes. You have to be able to assess if someone is a danger to your existence or someone that could potentially be beneficial.
Your public appearance matters as to who will be attracted to you for a meaningful interaction, but wearing the wrong attire could prevent people from interacting with you. Regardless of race, a man in a suit presents less of a danger than a man in a hoodie because we all understand that suit attire could represent someone’s higher level of prestige or economic status. Well made suits cost hundreds to thousands of dollars and anyone who would spend that much money on clothing wants it to be known how much they care about their appearance. They are willing to spend the money to give the appearance of someone that is nonthreatening and approachable. There is a reason why men’s suits are considered “business attire” and you can’t do business if you’re not approachable.
How many men in suits have you seen break into a car? How many men in suits have you seen rob a convenience store? How many men in suits have you seen commit home invasions? I’d bet none. Now how many men in hoodies have you seen commit these crimes? Plenty. Wearing a hoodie does not determine your criminality, that would be absurd, and wearing a suit does not determine that you’re even a businessman (or a good businessman at that) however, humans make snap judgements all the time and your attire matters depending on the situation.
One of my favorite bank robbery scenes is from the movie “Heat” and if you pay attention, they are in a business district of Los Angeles and they aren’t walking into this high-class bank wearing jeans and sneakers, they are walking in dressed like everyone else. They took advantage of the assumption that someone in a suit is harmless to commit a robbery and it allowed for them to catch the employees of the bank off guard.
Like the example in my tweet about wearing pajamas to a job interview, you know that the occasion of interviewing for a job warrants you to dress your best in order to impress a potential employer and even more so, to impress someone that does not know you. I’ve literally heard old managers tell me that they didn’t hire someone because they didn’t even attempt to look appropriate for the interview. Not getting that job you wanted because you chose to neglect how you would appear to a stranger affects your survival financially.
Fair or unfair, this is the reality and first impressions matter when it comes to you meeting people. You cannot expect someone to ignore your outward appearance because it is something that is built in all of us. We have to be able to assess people and we have to be able to make guesses to see if you’re someone we should gravitate towards or reject wholly. We literally don’t have the time or mental capacity to get a personal profile of every stranger we see and with the absence of clear information, we have to make assumptions.
You have no control over what someone thinks about you, but you have control over how you present yourself to a world that does not know you. This is part of the reason why people choose to conform with how they appear rather than attempt to be rebellious with their appearance, because the act of visual rebellion is considered a negative by most people. Excessive tattoos, piercings, colored hair etc. are viewed by most people as acts of rebellion and you will be assessed harsher than someone without. The more you appear different, plus being a stranger, the more likely you will be viewed as unapproachable or unfavorable. Simply put, conformity makes people feel comfortable.
Prejudging people is not a bad thing, however, allowing your prejudgment of someone to supersede the new information that you have of said person is a bad thing. If you want to be suspicious of a strange man in your gated community wearing a hoodie, you probably should be. However, if you find out that it’s the cousin of your neighbor, then you now have new information and you should lower your guard.