Do the Clothes Make the Man?

27 May

The owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, Marc Cuban, made this comment during an interview that he gave a few days ago for which he took a lot of criticism and for which he later apologized…

“We’re all prejudiced in one way or the other,” Cuban said in the Inc. interview. “If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it’s late at night, I’m walking to the other side of the street. And if on that side of the street, there’s a guy that has tattoos all over his face – white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere – I’m walking back to the other side of the street. And the list goes on of stereotypes that we all live up to and are fearful of.”

Following his apology a lot of folks then became upset about his apology because they felt that he had been pressured into it, and all because of what has become known as “political correctness”. After all what was wrong with his statement? He was just telling us about his fears wasn’t he? Can’t he be afraid of a black kid in a hoodie if he wants to be…without having to apologize for it?

And therein lies the rub, for what lies inherit in Mr. Cuban’s statement is the racist message that many white folks just don’t see…

Because, why isn’t a white guy in a hoodie, late at night, scary? If you put the bald white guy with all the tattoos in a hoodie then you wouldn’t be able to see his bald head and tattoos would you, so he wouldn’t look scary anymore would he? But the black kid in the hoodie is scary because???

A hoodie is just short for hooded sweatshirt which is one of the most ubiquitous pieces of apparel that can be purchased on this planet. They’re everywhere and I would venture to guess that almost everyone has one. Every sports team in America sells them with their logos attached. Every College and university in America sells them too, with their logos attached. Every High School in America sells them also and with their high school’s name and mascot prominently displayed. You can buy hoodies with names and logos attached from Amusement parks, to sporting goods companies, to church groups to the nation’s Armed Forces… to whatever you’d like.

So what makes them look scary when a black kid is wearing one? Is it the hood? When I wear my hooded sweatshirt and I put the hood on it means that I’m cold or it’s raining or perhaps if it’s neither raining nor cold I’m just trying to look cool. If a woman puts the hood up…she’s either cold, wet or just being cute like Little Red Riding Hood. But a black kid with a hoodie is scary because…the hoodie makes him a hoodlum? Or Could it be the black face inside? Is he less scary when he doesn’t wear clothes? Because that’s all a hoodie is isn’t it?

If you are not afraid of hooded sweatshirts then what are you afraid of?

Mr. Cuban painted a picture of a specific white male that scares him: Tattooed all over with a shaved head. We all recognize that stereotype as the description of a probable “skinhead” or “Neo-Nazi” type of white male and our knowledge of the violence inherent in those groups is what triggers our fear…but to simply describe a “black kid in a hoodie” provides no description at all. So what would be stereotypically specific to that description that would trigger his fear? Or trigger your perhaps instant recognition of what Mr. Cuban was getting at?

And that’s why he needed to apologize. and that’s why we all need to examine our fears more closely and ask how we got to be so afraid of what we are afraid of…in the first place.

Here in the USA we have always prided ourselves on our diversity and our cultural “melting pot” that makes us so varied in opinion and population, yet it seems that difference is what most Americans are afraid of…when oddly enough and Statistically speaking… and the numbers here are overwhelming…if anyone were to ever cause you harm, they would almost certainly be wearing the same color and kind of face as you.

Perhaps what we have most to fear is simply fear itself?





13 Responses to “Do the Clothes Make the Man?”

  1. ruminationville May 27, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    I’ve just started to “tweet” (more than anything to hone my writing skills 🙂 and tweeted this: “Terrific! @wordpressdotcom piece on why we all need to examine our fears of a “black kid in a hoodie.”” Best, Leslie

  2. The Crazy Crone May 27, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

    Congratulations – great, gutsy post.

  3. A Voice May 27, 2014 at 8:44 pm #

    The reality of the situation is that we are all conditioned to pay attention for cultural cues likely to denote whether or not someone is a problem/threat/what-have-you, sometimes appropriately and sometimes inappropriately but never without a reason. This is an issue that has been made about race when it is an issue far wider than race, an issue about ‘otherness’ and the general fear people have of difference. Making this about race, on any side, only touches the smallest part of this issue affecting our society and is very irresponsible.

    For the sake of argument, let’s presume that I still have my long hair. (And I’m growing it back!) When I present to people wearing black jeans and a band t-shirt I’m treated differently than when I present to people wearing slacks, a long-sleeved dress shirt and a tie. This is their initial impression and based upon a whole host of cultural and experiential factors I will be treated, again, initially, in a certain way. Should the individuals I present to hear me open my mouth and begin a conversation that impression will likely change in the first scenario and I’ll be treated more in line with the second scenario, all because experience has demonstrated that this particular individual (me) presenting in this particular instance should be treated atypically.

    (This country talks a lot about being proud of diversity but, truth be told, it doesn’t do much at all to act on it and has historically demonstrated the opposite. If there’s one good thing about my generation -most lump me in with the Millenials because I’ll be thirty-one in the Summer- it’s that we generally act on this behaviour, viz. we demonstrate more than any other generation that diversity is a good thing.)

    We have negative prejudices for a reason, irrespective of whether or not many of them are helpful at this stage of the game, because it was a fear of ‘otherness’ that has kept societies whole and people arguably safer than not. It’s of the utmost importance that we not treat these things as overly-simple issues of racial tension and bigotry if we want to actually better our society, be better as people.

    • A Voice May 27, 2014 at 8:51 pm #


      “…but to simply describe a “black kid in a hoodie” provides no description at all.”

      The inelegant description he was trying to give, but failed to give for either a fear of being seen as a racist in fact rather than having a soft negative prejudice or simply not being someone who thinks critically and tries to articulate exactly what he means, is the description of the quintessential ‘thug’. He described garments but went without the particular walk, position of shoulders (i.e. aggressive thug or lumbering thug) and a host of other indicators that are more a ‘feel thing’ than anything else. To be as fair as possible, it seems to me that he was trying to give evidence to a certain uniform and presence speaking to a particular cultural identity that is looked at negatively.

      We need to stop being so quick to condemn and thereby miss the point.

      • gpicone May 29, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

        His point being that as a billionaire NBA owner, he’s afraid of bumping into thugs on a dark night?

      • A Voice May 29, 2014 at 10:30 pm #

        I’m operating with a bit of charity (or perhaps naivety?) in presuming that before he was exceedingly wealthy that there was a time he wasn’t, that he actually rubbed shoulders in some real way or encountered everyday people. Glaringly negative sub-cultures exist within that admittedly vague but, I think, understandable grouping of ‘everyday people’ to make sense of this presumption. And, following this train of thought, it’s not unreasonable to think that he didn’t revisit these beliefs when his financial status brought him out of this position.

        The point that you made toward the end of your entry about trying, no, needing to figure out why we have the fears we do is incredibly important. Inarguably, it ought not be overlooked.

        With that said, what I don’t want to see lost in all of this though is that it’s not a simply racial issue. This is about otherness and our society being too awkwardly PC to discuss the truth inherent in some of these negative prejudices existing and how the behaviours of these groups often reinforce the negative prejudices of others that they sometimes claim to be offended by.

        We need to do better in our discussions.

    • Nigtingale February 25, 2015 at 6:08 am #

      You make an excellent point. I think for the most part that people dress differently on any given day because of the image they want to present to the world. How one dresses isn’t and doesn’t have to be the same day to day or even hour to hour. And then there are those who don’t give a damn what people think about them and throw on whatever is handy.

      I have been attact by four men attempting to rape me. One was black and was not wearing a hoody but a button-down shirt, sweater and non-sagging cargo, pants, one was a Greek who was well dressed in a sports jacket, shirt and pants appropriate to the rest of his attire, one was white with long hair and hippie attire, the last was at the time the head of special projects at CBS in DC, impecably dressed and the only one I was on a date with. I’m a scrapper and got away from them all. I was dressed differently each time. How someone dresses doesn’t frighten me. Only a person’s behavior does that. I don’t ever cross the street because of their chosen attire, not even a black teen wearing a hoody or a bald man with tatoos.

  4. makagutu May 28, 2014 at 6:05 am #

    Great post mate.

  5. avwalters May 28, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

    Would the hoodie be less imposing if it carried the logo of “your” team? I have a hoodie and I’m a boring-old-lady. Does it make me fearsome? We need to stop judging on race. And, I think, we need to stop wearing clothing with logos.

  6. candidkay May 29, 2014 at 11:04 pm #

    For me, it is not the color of your skin. But, if you wear a hoodie, tat up and walk down the street towards me with your pants sagging, I’ll be very cautious. Unless you’re doing it in that harmless teenager trying-to-be-cool way. I don’t care what color you are. It’s just how you present yourself to the world . . .

  7. Michele Anderson May 30, 2014 at 11:41 pm #

    Love your last line, “Perhaps what we have most to fear is simply fear its self.” So true.

  8. TamrahJo June 1, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

    I have to admit to an irrational fear of any hooded teen-ager,

    I usually prefer teenagers to the rest of humanity – – I seem to relate better to them than the little ones and are more honest, forgiving and optimistic than most adults –
    But put one in a cloaking hoodie whle distinctively swaggering with less than perfect posture and I’m ready to cross the street – – –

    Funny things – fears and stereo types –

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