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Clothes don’t make the man

MAKING A POINT: Virginia Tech university students march during Trayvon Martin protest

NEGATIVE STEREOTYPING of young black men based on their clothing and skin colour is hurting the life chances of the ‘silent majority’ who are doing positive things with their lives, a black male mentoring organisation has said.

“There definitely is a stereotype because of their colour as a whole,” said Stephen ‘Bris’ Wright, from the 100 Black Men of London (BMOL).

He added that some people often find they are stereotyped based on what they wear.

He told The Voice: “Nine times out of 10 when you ask a young person, black or white, to define what it is to be black beyond the music and the good ability in sports, you’ll find the attributes that come out their mouths are bound to be negative.

“The reason 100 Black Men exists is because of the negative stereotypes that exist in society, the view that black men have of themselves. That includes black women and the older generation. We also seek to highlight that there are hundreds and thousands of black men in London that are living positive lives that aren’t seen. They’re the silent majority.”

His views about stereotyping were echoed by some young black people who took part in a street vox pop as part of The Voice’s ‘More Than My Hoodie’ campaign.

The campaign, which calls for an end to the stereotyping of black youths, was launched after African-American teenager Trayvon Martin – dressed in a hoodie – was shot and killed by a neighbourhood watchman.

Student Tiago Branco told The Voice: “I’ve been stopped and searched many times. I wasn’t doing anything, I was just with a group of friends. But because of what? The colour. We always get stopped and searched.”

Branco, who lives in Bethnal Green, east London, added: “You’ll see a group of white boys walk past and the police wouldn't do anything but they see us, the group of black boys, in tracksuits – mostly hoodies or woolly hats – and they’ll stop us. It’s definitely to do with stereotyping. When they see us they assume we’re gang members or selling drugs. People are becoming more angry with the situation. This is causing them to do more crime.”


ON THE JOB: Does wearing a suit draw more respect?

Wright added: “When you’re walking down the street you will find that certain people will avoid you or you’ll see a change in behaviour in certain people when they see you dressed in a certain way.

“From my point of view, my job means that I quite often dress in a suit, and I find that I’m treated a lot more respectfully, a lot more seriously when dressed in that way. I find that the time when I’m dismissed and have a problem with people is when I’m dressed casually.”

POLL

A Voice Online poll asked people whether they felt stereotyped over their clothing. All respondents voted ‘yes’.

On the streets in Stratford, east London, one man told The Voice: “I grew up in east London... and most times when I’m out in public, I get funny looks from police and shop owners. They give me funny looks on what I’m wearing… mostly when I’m wearing a hoodie. They just assume I am a robber or something like that.”

Rob Berkeley, director of equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, said negative stereotyping is an issue facing many black men.

He told The Voice: ‘While some would like to believe that racism is a thing of the past, it is clear that negative stereotypes of young black men persist. We see its outcomes in criminal justice, where black men are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched, and in education where black boys are three times more likely to be excluded from school.

‘Young black men should be able to exist in our society without the fear that racist stereotypes will limit their life chances.’

On March 31, hundreds of people dressed in hoodies protested outside the US Embassy in London, calling for an end to racial profiling of black youths, which they have blamed for why neighbourhood watchman George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon on February 26.

The Florida-based teenager was killed while returning to his father’s fiancee’s house from a local 7-Eleven store. He was wearing a hoodie and carrying a packet of Skittles and bottle of iced tea.
George Zimmerman, who is of white and Hispanic heritage, claims the teenager was acting ‘suspicious’ and shot him in self-defence, but these claims have been rejected by the teenager’s family and angry protesters, who in March held rallies across Florida, in New York and then London calling for his arrest.

Last week, Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder.

Some Tory MPs want to introduce the ‘stand your ground’ law, but campaigners and parents have expressed fear that what happened to Trayvon could happen to any black male in Britain.

All respondents to a recent Voice Online poll about whether the law should be introduced voted ‘no’.

One of the main organisers of the Trayvon Martin London protest, comedian Ava Vidal, said: “I want our kids to have a fair chance and not be criminalised because of the colour of their skin.”

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