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In reaction to my prior post about Trayvon Martin, a reader here named Happy left a comment that is so well-worded I'm going to reproduce it below. The central brilliance of Happy's writing is that he substituted an unloaded word for a loaded word and it transformed the argument. I even like his choices for line spacing and pacing. And check out the word economy; nothing wasted.

I'm not endorsing Happy's opinion. I'm just impressed by the persuasiveness of his writing. In Happy's words...

"When I buy a can of Coke, I see the label, and I know what to expect.

Stereotypes are wrong of course. But brands are good.

So if there are a bunch of people that dress a certain way, and act a certain way, they are creating a brand for themselves.

There's a nerd brand. There's a metro-sexual brand. There's a jock brand, a cheerleader brand, a gothic brand... I can go on but of course you know what I mean.

Then there is a gangster brand.

This may be shocking, but if you dress like a gangster - talk like a gangster - and ride around in a car like a gangster, people are bound to pick up on the brand you're showcasing.

I suppose it could be related to race - but I don't think so. I can have the above stereotypes in any race - no problem.

If you want to be treated like a nerd, dress like a nerd. You want to be treated like a gangster, knock yourself out, and dress and act like a bad-ass.

But when you do, don't get upset when people react to the brand you're pushing.

Does that make it right for someone to beat you up because you're a nerd, or shoot you in cold blood because you look like a gangster? Hell no - of course not.

But on the other hand - if you dress like a respectable member of society, the chance of getting treated better is certainly going to be higher.

So why bother acting like a bad-ass?

I don't get it.

I'm not going to get into the specifics of this case - that's not the point. The important thing to remember for us and our families is that it's important to portray the right, positive brand. It won't hurt to make the world a better place, now will it?

So put away the gangster image. Don't do it - and don't let your family do it. The world will be a better place for it."


Someone famous once said, "You're not a writer until a writer tells you you're a writer." You're a writer, Happy. But I suspect you already do that for a living.

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Aug 9, 2013
So where does one draw the line?

If I see a guy wearing a ski mask in August, I can be reasonably certain that either he has mental health issues or he has some sort of illegal activity in mind. If I see him going into the soup kitchen, I'll assume the former. But if I see him going into a bank, I'll be calling the police.

If it's January, however, I wouldn't think anything of it.

It's all about context.

-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 2, 2013
Although I appreciate the argument being made, and the fundamental truth of that argument (e.g., people treat other people in certain ways based on how they present themselves to the world), that truth doesn't make it right. In fact, it simply points out the underlying problem: that despite countless aphorisms that say "Don't judge a book by it's color," we all continue to do so.

In fact, we have made it ILLEGAL to treat people in certain ways based on the way they look or act. You cannot be denied housing or a job because of your skin color, or because of your religion. You can be denied these things because you dress "poorly" or unstylishly, though in my profession (the software industry) that practice has gone by the wayside as well. And there is a powerful social movement pushing for equal treatment of people whose appearances don't conform with their birth gender - whether they describe themselves as transgendered, "butch", "femme", "andro", or something else, they are part of the LGBT equality movement.

And as Treyvon's choice of "gangster" style to present to the world, it's my opinion that the people who decry this choice of style are the same people who complained about the long-haired hippies in the 60s and 70s - it's just a bunch of out-of-touch oldsters who are really bemoaning their inability to decypher current cultural queues. The wearing of a hoodie and high top basketball sneakers is no more of an indicator that one is a criminal thug than a long hairstyle and bellbottoms indicated that someone was a pot-smoking hippie in the 70s, or any more than an expensive watch and slicked-back hair indicated that one was a slimy stockbroker in the 80s. It's FASHION, for god's sake. The fact that it is the common fashion of teenage men of color is what has created the irrational (and incorrect) connection between this style and criminality.
Jul 29, 2013
@BobNL, the word "brand" is loosely replacing the word "stereotype."
Jul 29, 2013
Translation: Freedom of expression is only allowed if the guy with the gun approves of what you're expressing; and if he doesn't, then he has the right to stalk you and murder you if he feels like it.

Yeah, that's what America is all about. wow, "Happy"... you're right up there with the Founding Fathers.
Jul 29, 2013
oOOOo's comment isn't relevant to the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case.

But, I will say it's a bit odd that the fit of clothing now defines a person as a gangster. If a majority of the people who dress like a gangster aren't really criminals...maybe we should work our definition of the gangster brand.
+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 28, 2013
It's not just the hoodie.

My favorite attire in the world is a dark gray hoodie, jeans and sneakers - often unlaced. Has been for years and years. Yet I don't fear, expect or get the gangsta treatment.

Why? Because the details don't say gangsta. The jeans and everything else are recently washed, not torn, see-through or baggy due to long unlaundered wear. You can't see 10 inches of my underwear because I wear jeans that fit - with a belt. And the sometimes unlaced sneaks are moderately priced running shoes in muted colors, not $200 leather basketball icons in gleaming white and something garish. The understated icon on the hoodie is a modest regional amusement park rather than FUBU (anything more racist than that?) some rapper thing or FREE MUMIA. I am reasonable neatly but not excessively groomed, though sometimes sport a beard. No gold, silver or stainless steel teeth. When I wear a ball cap, it's brim forward. I don't wander about after dark looking for something to steal in order to fund a drug habit. I walk respectfully, yielding to others when appropriate: I don't radiate menace.

Yes, I am melanin-challenged, a person of pallor. Not that the haters will look beyond that for supposed freedom to dress comfortably.

But item A#1: I don't assault people. Or look as though I very much want to.
-17 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 28, 2013
This writer is preaching and has not added anything to the discussion. Is he implying that Martin was shot in cold blood? Also he ignores free will and the freedom to decide for yourself how you should dress. I would have focused on the consequences of one's decisions.
-7 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 28, 2013
You are not endorsing this opinion? Maybe you don't want to, but the effect is the same, sure as h e l l. And by the life of me I can't believe that you don't realize that.

It is a very persuasive argument, and that's why it is so dangerous.

btw I'm European and I don't get which word was substituted by which. Do you mean to say that he substituted "black" for "gangster"? It seems unlikely, because he/she explicitly mentions that the argument goes for all races.
Jul 28, 2013
The fundamental premise of the response is that minorities should change in order to fit into the majority group. Isn't that the definition of discrimination?
Jul 28, 2013
Part of the issue this country faces is that not everyone is in control of their brand. As Scott mentioned, the 1% of the protesters are getting the media's attention and stereotypes are being reinforced, not the 99% trying to positively represent their brand.

Specifically to this case, Trayvon Martin was a boy who was watching a basketball game with his father, went to the store during halftime, and probably threw on the first sweatshirt he saw. Not much different then Bill Belecheck, Trayvon was wearing a black hoodie. A style based on comfort that is probably no different then most of the children in his school. In another neighborhood this would not have represented a brand any more then the shape of a can represents what's inside. He made the unfortunate mistake of not thinking about how he looked through the eyes of people who are a threat to him and who can't distinguish a can of sprite from a can of 7up because they only see the shape and color of a can.

The wrong wasn't that he put on a criminal's uniform, the wrong was that criminality was wrongly assumed based on not knowing the difference between a criminal's uniform and what an innocent 17 year old african-american wears.
+16 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 27, 2013
An incident this morning:
While finishing my run, I glanced over to see a man pulling his arm back as if to hit his dog. The dog hunkered as if he was accustomed to being beaten. Fortunately, this one was only a warning. What was the man wearing? A white, tank-style undershirt, aka "wifebeater."

Building his brand (sadly).
Jul 26, 2013
So... nudist brand clothing for attractive people and mummy brand clothing for ugly people?

On a more serious issue, what would happen if we took famous people, put them in different clothing than they normally wore and made them speak off the cuff. IE put the duck dynasty people in business clothing or dress up Obama as a hippy. I wonder how many people would recognize them or how many people would react different seeing that person in a different outfit representing a different brand.
-35 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 26, 2013
I get the brand thing. Young women that dress provocatively, young men that dress with jeans that hang low. But the thing is, that doesn't matter. Happy's entire argument is specious and irrelevant. If someone chooses to adopt a particular "appearance brand", that simply doesn't mean anything. It's indefensible to do or think anything regarding a person based on their "appearance brand", with the possible exception of some business situations (say, a sales job requires wearing a nice suit). Martin didn't come across as a gangster (if a hoodie is enough to get gangster, 98% of us are gangsters), nor would it have mattered if he did. And Zimmerman had no defensible reason for targeting Martin based on what I know. Happy makes himself sound close-minded and elitist when he says that one's appearance brand matters in the least. And if your response to this is that I'm not being realistic, my response to your response is that human nature is faulty, and laws are there to protect people from other stupid people.
Jul 26, 2013
SCOTT! Please have your tech people increase the timeout for the logins here.

I have, more than once, lost what I wrote because your site timed out while I was writing. LAME! Please to fix? Thanks.
Jul 26, 2013
There are social expectations and there is reality. People get these confused.

Social expectations are the agreed upon outcomes that are kept in your head...
How things SHOULD be.

Reality outcomes are external and beyond our control...
How things REALLY are.

For example, "she dressed provocatively so deserved to get assaulted"
Social: This act SHOULD not increase her odds of getting assaulted because people SHOULD not do those things.
Reality: This act WILL increase her odds of being assaulted as she can not control external factors, such as a man that does not play be the rules.

Another example, "he dressed like a gangsta so deserved to get shot"
Social: Everyone SHOULD be treated equal with no feeling of ill nature no matter how they look, dress or act.
Reality: This act WILL increase your odds of being shot, hassled by the police ect. as that is the impression of this "brand".

Take a minute to think about what WILL happen and not what SHOULD happen.
As for this case... it's very clear cut once you strip the fluff...

Zimmerman could not retreat, life was being threatened... that's a solid defense in most states. Not sure why people are harping on the stand your ground, as the difference between stand your ground or not wasn't even present in this case.
+13 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 26, 2013
I get the "brand" argument - but there are important differences between commercial brands and personal brand. For one, a great deal of thought and study goes into crafting commercial brands. Personal brands tend to develop more organically as kids navigate the transition to adulthood in a world they did not create or choose. They are all simply trying to figure out how to survive and thrive. They face far different pressures than a brand manager does on a daily basis.

Yesterday, I drug my 17-year-old son to Costco with me. As we were walking out to car, he marveled at how nice everyone treated me. He said it must be because I'm a non-threatening, middle-aged woman. Apparently, that is not his experience most of the time.

The thing is, my son does not dress like a thug. His brand is pretty much "jock". He is white, but spends so much time outside - on the water in racing kayaks that his skin has tanned dark brown. He keeps his hair very short so he doesn't have to mess with it. He tends to wear muscle shirts and walks with a bit of a swagger.

He is intelligent and thoughtful - but you wouldn't necessarily know it on first glance. He has one older brother at West Point and one at Stanford - and his options appear to be as strong as theirs. He applies this fall, so we'll see what happens. Yet, according to him, he is often treated by adults as though he is on the verge of committing a crime. That sort of thing tends to push kids to rely even more on their judgement-challenged friends.

Scott made the point earlier that young males are threatening just because they are young males.

I'm reading a lot of sympathy for George Zimmerman's point of view - and I understand the argument. However, this is not a case of the good guy vs. the bad guy - with the roles reversing depending on who is telling the story.

Travon Martin did not wake up and decide to thumb his nose at polite society by dressing as a thug. He was negotiating life in the world in which he was born and raised. He was a kid. The same age as my kid.

I know for a fact, my kid would not have attacked a man for following him - even if he felt insulted or threatened. I know this because I've watched him defuse plenty of conflicts with people who've tried to challenge him in one way or another. A few months ago an adult coach (in Central Europe) suggested he resolve a problem by beating the crap out of another kid - and my son managed to find another, non-violent solution. But my kid grew up in a different world. He was homeschooled through jr. high - which, I believed, helped him develop more self-reliance and self-confidence than kids who are pushed through the peer-crucible in early puberty.

If that peer-crucible happens to be populated by kids who dress and act thuggishly -in order to survive and gain acceptance - how to you expect them to behave? Is it fair to ask a 17-year-old to figure out how to rise above something he barely understands himself?

Jul 26, 2013

[Congratulations on blaming the victim. You have officially joined the list of morons. Please enjoy your lifetime membership.]

You have officially joined me in the list of folks with poor reading comprehension. You missed Scotts second paragraph, 'I'm not endorsing Happy's opinion. I'm just impressed by the persuasiveness of his writing. In Happy's words...'. Please enjoy your lifetime membership.
+33 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 26, 2013
Let's take the personal "branding" concept to a slightly more extreme case: I once had to take a co-worker to an impound lot to get her car. One of the guys working there had a large tattoo of a black widow on his face. That 20-something guy made a career choice when he got that tattoo: Impound yard, drug dealer (...maybe a rock star, but unlikely).

He will NEVER be a doctor, lawyer, engineer or professional in a legitimate company.

BTW - There's another "brand" that just about everyone in this country would condemn without reservation. No one would jump to their defense, or say that you shouldn't judge someone and treat them differently by the way they dress. They even wear hoods, too. They are the KKK. I certainly wouldn't defend them and I condemn everything they stand for. But they definitely have strong brand recognition.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 26, 2013
I agree that Happy's comment was both well written and well argued. However, I don't argree with the principle of the comment because, in my view, it is implicitly anglocentric. Perception of "brand" will differ based on your situation. As a middle/upper class white (I assume), you want everyone to dress and act like they are middle/upper class whites. That you can't differentiate between a gangmember and a kid coming home from playing basketball at the park, doesn't mean that the kid, or someone with a similar socio-economic background, couldn't distinguish between those two "brands". The kid coming home from basketball (wearing a hoody) does not necessarily think of himself as "gangster". It is your own bias (and fear) that leads you to that conclusion. Happy's system of "brands as perceived by middle/upper class whites" is basically arguing that if you want to live safely in "our" country you had better learn to dress and act like "us".
+45 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 26, 2013
As a former goth, I appreciate the branding argument as much as anybody. One day when I was particularly frustrated about the poor quality of woman I had available to me -- a guy with a STEM education, a high-paying job, a house, two cars, and impressive savings -- I decided to cave in to the advice of people who basically told me to change my brand.

I threw away almost every piece of clothing I owned and dropped $5k in new clothes, cut my hair and stopped coloring it, sold the van and bought a Jaguar, and... Well, everything changed. Career changed, lots of girls were suddenly interested in me, got business friends with boats and vacation homes, and overall the world started treating me like someone it wanted around. Instead of sorta tolerating me because I was good with computers.
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