Interlude - The Freedom to Dress the Way You Like to Dress

 The above video is about a lot of things. It's about racial profiling, it's about police brutality, it's about manipulation, and it's about how we present ourselves to the world. NY's "Stop and Frisk" law (unfortunately, like many other laws in the country) is a way to legally employ racial profiling, as well as to profile people based on their aesthetic choices. The premise of the law is that the police are able to stop anyone on the grounds of looking "suspicious", without any forthright evidence of a law being broken.

How, exactly, does someone look "suspicious" without visibly breaking a law? Unfortunately, looking "suspicious" in the US usually means being a young person of color with an aesthetic not readily accepted by mainstream white culture (or, as Jay-Z put it in 99 Problems, "because I'm young and I'm black and my hat's real low").

In an effort to keep this content relevant to fashion, I'm going to stick to issues of chosen aesthetic indicators here. Very obviously, racial profiling is a big part of this issue, but I do not feel adequately qualified to speak in regards to racial profiling beyond my initial "I HATE THE WORLD, WTF" response, since as a white person, I have had the privilege of not being racially targeted or profiled, and honestly, there are a lot of people far more qualified than I am to speak to that issue. Since this is a blog about fashion and aesthetics, I will instead speak to the role clothing choices play in these issues. Trayvon Martin was murdered in part because he wore baggie jeans and a hoodie. Alvin Melathe was threatened and brutalized by police officers in part because he was wearing a hoodie and carrying an empty backpack. As a twenty-something white woman, it would be easy for me to look at these young men and this law and think, "That doesn't apply to me, because I don't look like them and I don't dress that way." However, the truth of the matter is that their stories apply to anyone who wants the freedom to dress and look as they please without unsolicited abusive contact from others in society. When police officers and city officials promote these thinly-veiled attacks on people of color, people of lower economic standing, or people relating to hip-hop culture (which they, in their ignorance, cannot separate from "gang" culture -- in Los Angeles, 83% of police officers on duty live in suburban areas outside of the city with limited exposure to sub- and counter-culture groups, meaning they lack a comprehensive understanding of the diverse cultural experiences more commonly found in metropolitan areas and are under-educated in regards to what our aesthetic choices convey), they tell communities to be fearful of these groups. They reinforce a cycle of irrational fear that encourages people to vote in favor of laws violating our civil rights, or in favor of people who have little regard for our civil rights, under the guise of creating a safer environment. In reality, however, we are creating a more hostile environment, in which innocent citizens are made to be fearful of the police.

Today, it is most common for white and/or middle-to-upper class people in any position of relative power to misinterpret hip-hop culture as being inherently aggressive, so people outside of that cultural target group might not have a personal reason to care about these profiling practices. If you find yourself outside of this cultural group, or in a position of relative "safety" from the effects of these practices, please do not let that sense of comfort render you disinterested. The comfort is false, for as citizens, we are only as free as our most oppressed. If morality and human compassion aren't enough to make you outraged by these practices, this is my plea to you: please take notice that rationally, anyone who appreciates employing freedom of expression in their clothing choices should care about these profiling tactics for selfish reasons, at the very least.

Tomorrow, it could be your personal aesthetic identity that is misunderstood by mainstream society and you could be targeted for the clothing you choose to wear.

These practices are supported by people who are frightened of things they do not understand. Do your part to recognize that while aesthetic choices are a tool through which we can nonverbally communicate with the world, no person's intentions or motives can be deduced based on their appearance alone. There is no such thing as a "suspicious" appearance without evidence of a crime. Very obviously, criminal activity can happen regardless of race, regardless of cultural experience, regardless of income level, and regardless of apparel choices. Work to stop the biases in your judicial system by refusing to buy into irrational fear mongering and by refusing to vote (whenever possible) in favor of people who seek to violate the rights of their citizens.