Let me tell you a little something about the way you dress, and about your tattoos and your piercings.
People judge you on it. It may not be fair, it may not be accurate—but we all do it. It says something about you, whether you like it or not.
I was driving home from my girlfriend’s house tonight. I had to stop for fuel. I actually go to this station all the time because it’s right near my work, so I know a bunch of the employees. Arabs. Nice guys. Always greet you when you come in (“Hello my friend!”), always thank you when you leave. So, I pull in to fill up, park my car, and head inside to pay for the fuel and get myself a bottle of water.
Outside on the curb were four girls loitering by the entrance. By the look of them, they couldn’t have been any older than 25. One was dressed in a club dress that left very little to the imagination, and a pair of heels that could probably double as a stabbing weapon. Thin, pretty. One was in short shorts and a t-shirt, her thong sticking out from the back of her pants, also leaving little to the imagination, yapping on her cell phone. She could have been really attractive if not for the disgusting technicolor monstrosity running from her clavicle to her elbow. One was somewhat hefty. Fat, by my standards—but not like, disgustingly obese. She was covered in ink and had a bunch of piercings—nose, eyebrow, one sticking out of her chin (somehow), and another that ran along the side of her face next to her eyes (somehow). She was dressed in clothes clearly not designed for her body type. The fourth I didn’t really get a good look at, but I’m going to assume it was along the same lines.
So, my first thought was, “Prostitutes.” Hey, sue me—they looked like hookers. Dress like a whore, and that’s what people are going to think about you. Again, may not be accurate, may not be fair—but that’s life. And, really—why dress like that if that’s NOT what you want people to think about you?
Anyway, I’m walking in and I’m like, “Please don’t talk to me, please don’t talk to me, please don’t talk to me,” and, sure enough, Fatty McFatty jumps up to block my path and says, “Hey, we have a flat tire and we’re stranded, can we get a ride?”
The first thing that went through my head was, “There’s a spare in your trunk. You don’t know how to change a tire?” Probably not. Young people lack those kinds of basic, practical skills these days. Or, maybe, they just didn’t want to get their whore clothes dirty and break their fake nails. Who knows.
The second thing that went through my head was, “You’ve all clearly got cell phones—call a cab, or a tow.” I mean, in this day and age, why would four girls, dressed like that, be sitting at a gas station in Vegas, at one in the morning, trying to bum a ride?
The third thing that went through my head was, “I do NOT want these skanks skanking up my brand new car.” (Yeah, I bought a new car about a month ago. Loving it.)
So, I looked at her and said, “Mm, let me think about that.”
I go inside the convenience store and I’m looking at the manager. I don’t KNOW the guy, but I know him just out of familiarity. So I cock an eyebrow at him with a questioning look on my face and point a thumb at the entrance. He gives me this sarcastic, “Fuck if I know” look. I go grab a bottle of water and slide a couple twenties across the counter to fill up. He says, “They’ve been there for about half an hour.” I reply, “What, are they prostitutes?” He says, “Nah, but they keep coming in to use the restroom.” “Think they’re doing meth?” I say. “I don’t know, probably,” he says, “I’m about 10 minutes away from calling the cops just to get them off my curb.” I give him a nod of understanding and wish him a good night.
So I head back outside. Now there’s six black guys there with these girls. You know, real Trayvon Martin types—dressed like thugs that look like they’re up to no good. (Oh ho! Do you take issue with that? Good. Because that’s the point of this whole story.) Four have singled out one of the girls apiece, and two are hanging out by their car. I smell the stench of marijuana in the air as I walk past them.
I go to my car, fill the fuel tank, and hop in. Fatty McFatty starts wandering toward me and says, “How about that ride?” I give her a dismissive wave with my hand, start the engine, and drive home.
So I’m thinking about this as I’m making the drive. A bunch of “What if’s” and “Maybe I should have’s” start going through my head. Maybe I should have offered to help them with their alleged flat. Maybe I should have given them twenty bucks to call a cab. What if those guys try some stuff with the girls. What if I pick up the newspaper tomorrow and see a story about four young women being raped. Maybe I should have given them a ride. What if those guys really were up to no good. The decent human being in me cried out for a minute in a song of regret for not helping them out. The more dominant cynical voice in me reassured me that I was probably better off just getting in my car and leaving.
Here’s why I did: it just looked wrong. It looked treacherous to me on all fronts. Putting myself in between the guys and the whore-dressed girls felt like a recipe for trouble. Letting the girls into my car felt like a recipe for trouble as well. That “red alert” siren was going off in my brain, so I just took care of my business and got out of there.
What does this have to do with character judgments? Well, it was my snap, instinctive judgments about this cast of characters that that led me to my decision. Fatty McFatty with her metalface just seemed like trouble. Her friends seemed like trouble. The black guys, dressed like thugs, stinking of marijuana, seemed like trouble. They seemed like trouble for no reason other than the way they appeared. The tattoos, the piercings, the slutty clothes, the thug outfits—these all said something very clear about these people: that they’re trouble. Is that fair? Nope. Is that accurate? Who knows. But my point is this: when you dress like that, when you mar your body like that, you are unintentionally (or hell, maybe intentionally) communicating something about yourself to everyone else. And that thing you’re communicating? It’s not good.
So why do it? KNOWING that others are going to judge you negatively because of it, why do it? I mean, it’s your freedom, it’s your right—I’m sure as heck not going to stop you from doing it—but why? What exactly is the rationale there? Why would someone want to communicate that image of themselves to others? This is speculation, but I’m pretty sure I know what was going on in the minds of those guys as they approached those girls. I have to wonder: is that really what these girls want to say about themselves just by their dress and their tattoos? Is that really what they want to attract? And if so, why? Do they not realize that their whorish attire, their tattoos, their weird piercings are saying something about them? I know all the arguments regarding the notion of a chick dressing “like she’s asking for it”—and, fundamentally, they’re bogus—but at the same time, that character judgment IS there. We KNOW it’s there. So, why do it?
It’s 1am on a Friday night on the streets of Vegas. You’re tatted up and dressed like a whore. Exactly what do you want people to think? I mean, really.
The same goes with the guys. In my profession, I know plenty of smart, eduated, well-to-do black people. They’re well dressed and well mannered. They’re good people. These guys dressed like thugs—what exactly are they trying to communicate? Is that really the image they want for themselves? And if so, why? And do they know that average guys like myself look at them and immediately think “trouble” just by the look of them? Do they care?
I always say that appearance is a lot more important than people realize. It says a lot about you, whether you want it to or not. I’m a polo shirt and blue jeans kind of guy. That’s my “casual” attire. Strangely enough, my Izod shirt and my Perry Ellis jeans are probably cheaper than the gear they’re wearing to intentionally scream “whore” or “thug”—so that dispenses with the class-based argument. So what is it? Why go out of your way to create that image for yourself knowing you’re going to be judged on it?
I don’t get that.
In case you’re wondering: ultimately, I split the middle. I dialed 311. I figured it was the best I could do to help without actively involving myself. I described the situation to the non-emergency police dispatcher, gave her my name and phone number, and she told me that an officer in the area would go check it out. I informed her that this was probably about half an hour ago, so there might not be anything to check out—but, she followed her procedures and I left it at that.