The Clothes Make The Man: Can you wear a target for Racism or Sexism?

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”  ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

My ex has two girls, I had been with them for 7 years, meeting them at the ages of 4 and 6 years old. I had the joy and honour of being a part of many exciting loud and quiet moments. I was the tooth fairy for many a tooth.


Translation: ‘To Miss Fairy, I am Kahlie, I will always believe in you.
Take good care of my tooth. Love Kahlie. P.S. You are cool!
Oh and be very careful! And please write back.”

One day, Kahlie lost another tooth. She got excited and informed her mother and I (many, many times) that she was going to place her tooth under her pillow that night. The next morning I sat her down when she wondered why the Tooth Fairy didn’t come. I asked her to put her hand out and placed a dollar coin inside. I thought of that moment when children realize stories like Santa Claus were a wonderful lie. Stories told by caring people, stories that are all a fabrication. Stories that are woven into a fabric that makes up an outfit which our childhood’s spirit wears.

I think of all those other wonderful tales, stories and sayings made of good intentions that we tell children. There is one saying many parents tell their children, one the loved ones of Trayvon Martin may have told him this as well:

“Never judge a book by its cover.”

This is a saying we hand down to our children like a cherished gift, a promise we drape over their shoulders like a cloak of protection. “Embrace others for who they really are, and they will do the same with you”. Growing up is, in part, learning to swim through a sea of life’s contradictions. We teach them to base their value of a person on their actions, on their deeds. Unfortunately, most people do judge people like a book: by their cover, weight, height, make-up, shoes, hair, clothing and their appearance.

What was George Zimmerman wearing the day he shot and killed Trayvon? Did his attire speak to the quality of his character, whether he was a threat? Was his hate and prejudice, heightened due to a stretch of fabric that Trayvon later pulled over his head, a cloth that didn’t cover the colour of his skin?

Now if I said ‘White person wearing a hoodie’ you may think of this

…or maybe this

for the most part, a young white man in a hood can end up coming across more like this.

Whenever I or any person of colour wears a hood however, do folks only think this

…or can they also see this?

Whenever a person of colour wears, or considers pulling it over their head, we might subconsciously and consciously also consider other things. Where am I going. What am I doing. What do I want people to think and not think when they see me. Many of us will stop and remind ourselves that whatever we wear, it doesn’t matter. “I cannot control what people take or think” we will repeat to ourselves, “I can only be myself. I am who I am.” Times when I leave the house wearing a hoodie, I am self-conscious and cannot help but struggle with being hyper-conscious of my actions and behaviour, fully knowing certain people’s interactions with me will be defined by my skin colour REGARDLESS of my clothing.

What do you see?

Do the clothes make a man?
Do the clothes make a man attack or assault someone?
Do the clothes make a man hate?
Do the clothes make a man devalue a life?

Aren’t we as a society still simply ignoring the real roots causes here? ABC News reports that Zimmerman “violated major parts of the Neighborhood Watch Manual, which states “It should be emphasized to members that they do not possess police powers… [Zimmerman] was not part of a registered group” according to Chris Tutko, the director of the National Neighborhood Watch program.

Think of the self-adorned suit of armour some men put on: what makes a man assume power over another person? Who feels threatened and needs to assert or re-assert power is a much needed conversation. We still live in a world where a collective focus is never on addressing the core issue or cause, but finding a quick fix explanation and solution.

And then I think of what it is like to be a woman or a girl today. I think of conversations we are having with young women and girls about choices regarding clothing, and not enough on the power and brilliance that defines who they are. Being a target for sexual harassment or sexual assault is not because of what a woman is wearing. What I am wearing is MY statement, it is not an invitation for you to exact your own statement on me.

Then think specifically of women and girls of colour, they are left behind in many conversations of resistance by men of colour and white women every day all day. Men of Colour need to remember their sisters who have been fighting for people of all genders. What someone is wearing or not wearing is NOT the problem. This is not about comparing racism with sexism or transphobia or Islamophobia, this is about everyone addressing the deeper core issues around these unique (and overlapping) issues.

Heather Jarvis, co-founder of the SlutWalk movement shared this with me: “I think it’s a really important discussion to have around how people simplify acts of violence – murder backed by racism or sexual assault backed by sexism and misogyny – onto what these people were wearing, as if focusing on their clothing as the cause of the violence alleviates them of acknowledging the underlying oppression inherent in *who* was wearing those items. These crimes happen at the rates they do because they are significantly supported by societal ideas of who’s *bodies* are seen as inferior and somehow a provocation to those in power. Racism is not sexism and the murder of Trayvon Marin is not the same as the rape of women in skirts but what does it mean that in both cases clothing is used to obscure who’s really responsible?”

My racial background, religion or creed, gender identity or sexual orientation can make me a target for hatred and violence based on the devaluation of those aspects of who I am …no matter how I dress up, dress down, overdress or ‘under dress’.

The sad reality is we have people of all backgrounds conscious of what they wear in order to determine how they will be treated, even though their self-value, right to co-exist in everyday spaces, and the right to exist, is not based on what they are wearing.

The sad reality is we have another family having to decide what to wear to a funeral.

.

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2 comments

  1. I’m an avid hoody wearer and it caused me trouble when I was younger. An oversized black hoody combined with my goth attire led to me being stopped a few times by cops (who thought I was up to trouble), by caring adults (who thought I was going to kill myself), or by peers (who enjoyed making fun of me).

    I hate that our clothes say things about us because the messages people believe hoodies and skirts are giving off is WRONG! I’m used to the wearing the skirt thing but the hoody comment threw me for a loop. This is just getting disgusting!

    Thx for blogging about this!

    -Kristen

  2. There are those who confine race and gender and seize their potential with the intent of turning that potential against itself. Senseless self-awareness is almost always gained through minimizing someone else.

    Some men can’t feel strong enough unless women are portrayed as weak, just as some people can’t feel innocent enough unless someone else is the “instigator”, the source of terror, the reason for danger. It’s this cycle or blaming someone for the sake of evading self-blame.

    When people fail at being themselves, they try to heal the pain by feeling/being “better than” – they hide their failures and flaws under the cloaks of someone else’s weakness. Sometimes under their hoods and at other times, under their skirts.

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