Tuesday, April 21, 2009

'Cause we are living in a material world...

There was a time in my younger days when I would talk to some of my white friends and they would say some variation of this statement: "I don't judge people on their skin color, I judge them by the way they dress." Let me share how attitudes like this affected me for much of my life.

I rarely wore t-shirts or hoodies. The only time you'd see me in sweatpants or tennis shoes was when I was on my way to engage in some strenuous physical activity. I was always very conscious of what I wore, lest I represent my fellow black and brown people in an unflattering light. There was a black girl that I went to college with, who always dressed like she was going to church: dress, stockings, jewlery--the whole nine. I never talked to her about this, but I often wondered if she was working from the same place that I was: needing to represent herself and the other members of her race in a positive way.

I remember another time in college when I was in a Sociology class and we were talking about ways that we could all reduce our consumption/ impact on the environment. Two of the suggestions were "take public transportation" and "wear secondhand clothes." I remember raising my hand and saying something like, "These wouldn't work for me because what are white people going to think if they see a black woman on the bus wearing secondhand clothes?" I think I added having two little kids with me on said bus, because I was already thinking about the future (:

black woman + old clothes + bus well meaning hippie trying to do her part to save the world.

It was like my skin was already an indicator to many people of these things that were not positive, and if I wanted to have a chance at being treated with respect, I better make a conscious effort to show why I was worthy of receiving it. This is an example of internalized racism.

It wasn't until several years later that I realized I was worthy of receiving respect because I was a human being. And that people who judged me (or anyone else for that matter,) on how they dressed were shallow and insecure. So these days, I wear the occasional hoodie. I wear my sneaks even if I'm not headed to the gym. Hell, sometimes I don't even comb my hair. Because I have learned that if someone reacts negatively to me because of these choices, the problem lies with them--not me.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite-ist movie clips of all time. And I want to ask you the question: How do you let people's potential negative assumptions about you inhibit your self-expression?


  1. Love that scene (I didn't even have to click on it to know what it is)! And as far as what people assume about me from the way I dress - I don't give a rat's ass. I wear Crocs or the occassional pair of flip flops, and jeans and a t-shirt most days, and if I have makeup on, watch out! If people are going to make snap decisions on what I must be like because of something as silly as what I choose to wear, than so be it - I don't need people in my life like that anyway!

  2. Anonymous8:54 PM

    sorry but this is just one thing that is not about race at all. i am white and i don't dress in sweats or sneaks when i go out of the house b/c i don't like to look dumpy. i like to present myself in a certain way. am i a shallow white person b/c of that? i grew up poorer than dirt to a single mom in an all white ghetto. i have made a very good life for myself and presenting my person a certain way is about pride. i'm not saying i look down on people in hoodies and sneaks because i don't but really? because i make an effort to never dress that way myself i send some kind of bad message? i really enjoy your blog but this whole post smacks of "i have nothing else to write about today."

    oh, and i wear second hand clothes all the time. hell, some of the 2nd hand stuff i have is nicer than a lot of what i buy new b/c i can buy better brands used. another false/weird perception on your part this time around, i feel.

  3. You are an awesome blogger. I love your outlook on life and your sense of reality.

    I have always wondered why alot of black women like to dress to the hilt with hats and jewels and the whole attire just to go to the grocery store. It is nice to see but it draws attention . Is that what the black women want? I think a person black or not should dress however they feel. Who cares what people think. As long as you are clean and aren't smelling up the bus.

    I agree with the person that said she has some second hand clothes that are even better than the new ones. I do too.

    I have had many black friends and the are just as sophisticated in jeans, sneakers and sweatshirt as they are in a satin suit with a big hat. It is all in the way a person carries themselves.

    I enjoyed reading your post and the comments. I will be back.

  4. I saw a black lady at church today all decked out in a hat with gold ribbon and thought of this post. Then again, I also know a white woman who regularly wears hats to church.

  5. Anonymous3:46 PM

    I really don't have an answer for this -- and I've been thinking about it all day. I know that I left people's potential negative assumptions about me inhibit my self expression - and not in just how I dress... but also in how I write etc ... You've got me thinking!