In early 2019, David Lammy MP (who I have to say is quickly becoming a bit of a legend) posted this on Twitter. The article in The Guardian refers to a campaign (@56blackmen) aimed at changing perceptions of black men in hoodies.
Man alive, I wish I hadn’t read the comments.
Of course, there’s nothing racial about being robbed by black men and then thinking all black men in hoodies are scary. What could possibly be racial about that? I mean it is literally racist, but apart from that, I don’t see anything racial about it, do you?
Look, I get it, people have bad experiences, genuinely scary experiences. I’m not taking anything away from that. But at some point between being attacked by a black person in a hoodie and concluding that all black people in hoodies are the devil, we have to be the fucking grown-ups in our internal dialogue.
Our unconscious biases are an evolutionary hangover. It serves a useful evolutionary purpose to be protective of the in-group and suspicious of the outgroup. And if we’ve been bitten by a snake, it’s useful for us to recognise that type of snake in the future so we can avoid being bitten again.
But we have houses now, and cars, and Lidl, and fucking deliveroo and Netflix n’shit, and as such, we’ve grown beyond the need for such basic biases that helped ensure our ancestors’ survival. And if we can become a little bit more aware of those biases, we can see that they’re not useful in every situation and that they’re often pretty fucking dumb.
But that’s the step where many people fall down. They’re not willing to accept that they have these unconscious biases, or that those biases are the seeds from which racism grows. Instead they’ll earnestly tell you that “I’m not racist, some of my best friends are black,” while simultaneoulsy telling you that they now fear all black people because they once (or twice even) had a bad experience.
In fairness to Adam Brooks, his follow up tweet was a definite attempt to backpedal. He said “I don’t like seeing ANY group in hoodies just to clarify. No matter of skin colour.” And again, I get it, groups of young people with their faces covered or hoods up can be intimidating. But to me at least, this sort of response just smacks of #AllLivesMatter.
“We have to be the fucking grown-ups in our internal dialogue.”
Indeed, many of the other commenters were all very keen to point out how definitely not racist they were by insisting that all people in hoodies are intimidating, not just black people in hoodies. Which is lovely of them, but entirely derails the conversation.
Lammy was highliting a particuar issue of the perception of black men waering hoodies, and that “while the negative stereotype of the hoodie is not exclusive to black men, it has greater force.” He also specifically addressed the negative associations of white kids in hoodies too, but people never actually read the goddamned articles do they?
I’ve written about Whataboutery elsewhere, and it’s something that get’s right on my fucking tits to be honest with you. No one is saying that white kids in hoodies aren’t also associated (rightly or wrongly) with crime, and no one is saying that there aren’t, perhaps, regional variations in our perceptions of who is or isn’t wearing hoodies, or, you know, just fucking whatever. It’s just not what we’re talking about right this second, that’s all.
So even though it might come from a place of good intentions, the next time you’re thinking of interrupting someone talking about a really specific issue, something important to them, by chiming in with “well what about…” maybe think again.
Oh, and never read the comments.