Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy or opinion. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.


I can remember an innocent time, long ago, when the public only got angry at people they disagreed with. Those were simpler times. Today we get mad at people we agree with.

Consider Geraldo Rivera's recent experience. Geraldo inadvertently created a controversy by stating the obvious: Our choice of clothes can influence how people treat us. That's a view that every living human agrees upon. Most of us act upon that belief once or twice a day. When I get dressed, the first two questions I ask myself are 1) "Who is going to see me?" and 2) "What do I want them to think of me?" You probably do the same thing. If not, there's something deeply wrong with you, or possibly you're an engineer.

When I was twenty, I was escorted out of an office building because of my choice of clothes. It happened at one of the top accounting firms in the country, and I was there for an interview during my last semester of college. I was so naïve that I didn't realize anyone would have a problem with me showing up with my long hair and casual clothes, college style. After all, it was no secret I was in college. It said so right on my resume. My interviewer sat down at the conference table, looked at me, and said, "Apparently you don't know why you're here. Let me show you the door." And he did.

Did the interviewer make a mistake in judging me by my appearance? Arguably, he did. Apart from my wardrobe misstep, I was smart, qualified, motivated, and low maintenance. In those days, all I wanted was a chance to work hard for my employer, under the mistaken belief that doing so would benefit me in the long run. The accounting firm would have gotten a good ten years out of me before I realized my plan wasn't working. And I clean up well, so my appearance was easily fixable.

Was I partly responsible for what I believe was the interviewer's mistake when he judged me by my temporary appearance? Yes. I brought it on myself.

Years later, when I was working for Crocker Bank in San Francisco, in an entry level position, a Senior Vice President called me into his office to tell me my shoes were ugly. My one-and-only pair of dress shoes was scuffed and hideous. I listened to his advice and bought new shoes the next day. The Senior Vice President was a colorful character himself, and didn't make the mistake of judging me by my appearance. But he was smart enough to know that others would. I went on to do good work for him. Clothes aren't destiny, but they clearly have an influence on outcomes. Does anyone think Trayvon Martin would have been shot if he had been wearing a Rick Santorum sweater vest that tragic day?

We're left to wonder if Trayvon's choice of clothing contributed a trivial 1% to the tragedy, or something closer 20%. There's no way to know. But if you're being objective, you can't rule out the possibility that the hoody contributed to the shooter's confirmation bias.

The public fight starts when the word "responsible" enters the conversation. Responsibility isn't a natural element of the universe. It's a useful but artificial concept, like fairness, that society uses to control its members. If I want to exert power over you, and nudge you to do something that benefits me, I would argue that you're responsible for doing it. When you accept responsibility without extra power to offset it, you lose. In the Trayvon Martin situation, I understand why so many people consider it repugnant to transfer a fraction of responsibility - and with it the blame, from a surviving adult to a deceased minor. It feels very wrong. But that feeling doesn't make Geraldo inaccurate when he says clothing can influence behavior. Even the people who signed a petition to demand an apology from Geraldo agree with his point.

As a professional humorist, I think the Geraldo hoodie controversy is partly fueled by the fact that the words Geraldo and hoodie are naturally funny, and that Geraldo's eighties-porn mustache makes him less credible on the topic of appearance. But none of that makes him wrong. In fact, the way he's being treated probably supports his thesis.
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +186
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
Apr 17, 2012
"When you accept responsibility without extra power to offset it, you lose"

...and this is why project managers are usually so prickly...

(OT, but would love to see you write a blog about it)
Apr 3, 2012
Profoundly rational. Interesting that your take is similar to Thomas Sowell. Is it something about getting a degree in economics? I've remarked on that here:
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 2, 2012
@Scott I was trying to say that appearance does influence how you are treated. That was my point with explaining why I wear a hoodie when I walk through bad neighborhoods. My point is that I don't think wearing a hoodie increases the risk of being shot. I don't think people were upset by the statement that appearance influences how you are treated, I think people were upset by the fact that he thought the hoodie increased his chance of getting shot. Sure it might have made the man who shot him a little more trigger happy but I feel as though the risk of being hurt by a neighborhood watch person for wearing a hoodie is probably much lower than being hurt by someone looking to rob you while wearing grandma's hand knitted sweater in a bad area. I don't claim to know a lot about the situation where this man was shot, but in the grand scheme of things I don't think too many people in the US are being shot because they didn't plan out their wardrobes to keep neighborhood watch groups at ease.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 1, 2012

The YouTube link of Geraldo Rivera's clip has gone viral here in the ME. I got them on my junk mail in the office.

I think Geraldo has made a serious error by canvassing pacifism, specially when one of his notional kind is suspected of a hate crime. That is not funny. It creates the perception of an injury and smears it with insults by trivialising it. It provokes a negative resistence to say the least.

I wonder why you thought it worth discussing. There are so many things about American humor that I don't understand.

Apr 1, 2012
While we are being accurate, let me point out the following:

Zimmerman was 28 years old and Treyvon was 17. A grown up man's muscles are more developed than a boy's. Given the fact that both of them weighed about the same, it is reasonable to suppose that Zimmerman was physically stronger than Treyvon.

Also, Zimmerman was certainly more experienced in physical combat than Treyvon.

Also, Zimmerman as the elder person in the encounter and having the ultimate 'equaliser' in his pocket, should have needed a lot more instigation before he started shooting.

We have only his word saying that he was attacked and his nose broken by Treyvan. Videos taken soon after the incident clearly show he was not injured in any manner. A broken nose is an injury that bleeds a lot. A boxer or a doctor will tell you that it is an injury which looks much more serious than it is because of the disproportionate amount of bleeding. If Zimmerman's nose was broken, his shirt would have significant amount of blood visible on it.
Apr 1, 2012
"Nobody, including Geraldo, suggested that hoodies "cause" murder." (Scott quote in response to comment)

I think the mob is more angry due to the fact that the "hoodie defense" paves over the possibility that perhaps Trayvon may have been singled out because he was Black.

It also paves over the fact that someone with a history of violence against both women and cops with a concealed weapon confronted a 140 lb teenager who apparently had done nothing wrong (other than being Black and wearing a hoodie).

[It would be more accurate to note that the shooter was 5'9" and the victim was 6'3", not that it excuses anything. -- Scott]

It paves over the fact that someone with a history of violence against women and cops has not been arrested...and oh yeah, his dad happens to be a retired judge.

There's a lot wrong here and to focus on the hoodie seems silly. It's what engineers call bike shedding or Parkinson's Law of Triviality (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson's_Law_of_Triviality). Basically when a complicated issue gets brought up (i.e. designing a nuclear reactor) , people in a group will focus on the simplest thing (i.e. the color of the bike shed at the nuclear reactor).

Talking about Trayvon's hoodie is equivalent to talking about the color of the bike shed when building designing a nuclear reactor.

Apr 1, 2012
I heard a line in a movie the other day, "Never keep a gun in your pocket. You might be tempted to use it."

I find it most weird that an unstable person with a violent history like Zimmerman's was allowed to roam around the neighbourhood with a gun in his pocket, clothed in some kind of quasi law enforcing role. "Self-appointed Captain" was the term used, if I recall correctly.

Looks to me like somebody was itching for a fight.

When I first read this post, I was unaware of the incident behind it, which is why I commented that people should expect to be judged by their dress. Now I have read a little about this story on the net.

A 17 year old kid was killed in cold blood. Wearing a hoodie does not entitle anybody to kill you, regardless of how much someone may judge you by your dress - or what misunderstandings such dress may lead to. The response to a threat must be proportional to the perceived threat. Did Zimmerman, with prior experience of being in violent situations, believe that the 17 year old boy was going to kill him with his bare hands and that he had no option but to shoot?

The hoodie is the most immaterial thing in the whole episode.
Apr 1, 2012
[Nobody, including Geraldo, suggested that hoodies "cause" murder. The victim's attire was simply one of many necessary conditions for the misunderstanding, unless you believe the murder would have happened just the same had the victim had been wearing a Catholic school uniform. Comparing this situation to rape displays an astonishingly bad understanding of analogies. -- Scott]

I’m not trying to compare this incident to rape, but rather the arguments used to “explain” both. Check out Lerner’s classic work on “The Just World Hypothesis” where observers tend to blame the victims of all sorts of situations, from rape- “a woman shouldn’t walk alone” to domestic violence- “she obviously provoked him,” to natural disasters- “what idiot builds a house near a fault in California?” Apparently, we have a desire to see a rational order to things. If we believe we can prevent murder by wearing ‘catholic school uniforms’, then we feel better about our world.

Anyway, that was my point- that the argument Geraldo used creates a storm because it moves towards the "she was asking for it" argument. When you support Geraldo and say the hoodie "contributed" 1% to 20% to the killing, it sounds a lot like you are saying the hoodie "caused" (to some percentage) the killing.

Oh, I really admire your work, and I always thought I was pretty good at analogies, so your saying I have an astonishingly bad understanding of them stings a bit. I have to say, I think my analogy about the victim blaming is no more astonishing than comparing a sensational killing to a pair of scuffed shoes.
Mar 31, 2012
I have been on both sides of the interview table and can say that when I'm on the job seeking side I dress a lot nicer than on the hiring side. Because people make judgements about you based on appearances I wear nice clothing as the interviewee and dress casual as the interviewer to help the person I am interviewing feel a little more relaxed. I hire engineers and the last thing they need is any more social stress than they already have.

So, I totally agree that how you dress effects how you are treated. When I go shopping for cars or motorcycles I dress down considerably to give off the feel of "works hard for his money" to help them understand why I'm offering 20% less than they are asking. In this case Treyvon wore a hoodie and had the appearance of a hooligan of some sort. Does that give someone the right to shoot them? Absolutely not!

The thing learned though is that just because someone doesn't have the right to do something doesn't mean that they perceive things the way you do. This guy saw hoodie and thought "threat" and responded in what appears to be an idiotic manner (I wasn't there and haven't read everything and I quit caring when it became political fodder).

So, is it safer to dress "tough" to prevent the true hoodlums from coming after you while risking appearing as a threat to neighborhood watch types, police, etc or to dress in a respectable outfit and chance getting mugged, beaten, etc? I don't know, so I'm going to keep dressing as a beach bum whenever I go to LA. They don't have money, and they've already smoked all their pot. The only thing a beach bum is likely to have is crabs.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 31, 2012
"what was your reaction when you saw Zimmerman's picture for the first time?

I saw a serial killer in waiting... So, I think Zimmerman would've shot him no matter what"

Wow, you really do put a lot of weight on first impressions.
Mar 31, 2012
the issue is not whether you think it is "smart" to wear a hoodie. The outrage is that this is the "she was asking for it argument" only with a hoodie rather than a short skirt. Short skirts don't cause rapes. Hoodies dont cause murders.

[Nobody, including Geraldo, suggested that hoodies "cause" murder. The victim's attire was simply one of many necessary conditions for the misunderstanding, unless you believe the murder would have happened just the same had the victim had been wearing a Catholic school uniform. Comparing this situation to rape displays an astonishingly bad understanding of analogies. -- Scott]
Mar 30, 2012
If you have a splinter and get lemon juice on it, the juice isn't at fault for the sting you feel. The splinter is.

I'm not responsible for how other people feel or react to my choice of clothing. But I am responsible for that choice. And I have to live in the world I've created with those around me, built on reality and our perceptions of one another.

Don't want lemon in your splinter? Don't pick up lemons. Because if you do, that sting is a very real possibility.

I still wear what I wear, but I pick and choose where I take myself in it. This policy won't protect me 100% of the time, but there is such a thing as being smart about how you live your life.

Did this boy deserve to die? Doesn't look that way to me. Is it self defense if you follow your attacker and kill them? I don't think so. Is it a smart thing to be a black kid in a hoodie in questionable neighbourhood at night? Apparently not.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 30, 2012
I work in an office and when I need to make an impression I will dress up. I also live in a city and enjoy walking places I need to go. Occasionally that means walking through bad areas in the middle of the night. In those situations I intentionally wear a hoodie because I feel safer wearing one. Someone wearing a hoodie gives the impression of someone that isn't carrying a lot of money and someone that you might want to deal with. I think the idea that how you dress influences how people treat you, people don't have a problem with. I think the bigger issue is the implying that dressing in a way that makes people want to leave you alone is a somehow a bad idea. I live in a colder climate but the idea that wearing a hoodie would endanger your safety more than help it is something I find hard to believe.

[When I lived in a rough part of the Haight District in San Francisco, and walked home from the bus late at night, past the occasional muggings, street brawls, and car break-ins, I adopted an angry face and kept my hand in my coat pocket just to leave some doubt about whether I was packing. But I think that supports the point that your appearance can influence how you are treated. Context matters. -- Scott]
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 30, 2012
I don't really care about the hoodie issue. Lots of other stuff does bother me though. Is it my imagination, or is there really a sizable contingent of folks who have already decided it was an unjustified murder - but are waiting for the verdict on whether the guy said "goon" or "coon" to decide if it was a really horrific racially-motivated shooting, or just your run-of-the-mill murder?

Maybe I'm projecting my own experience on to this, but I've had conversations with law enforcement and other live-stock owners about shooting domestic dogs that threaten my animals. This is because every small-scale livestock owner knows someone who - at some point in the last 30 years - has suffered a horrific loss from unconfined domestic dogs who teamed up into a pack and massacred their animals.

There are those who believe in shooting any loose dog on sight - as a warning to neighbors to keep their dogs under control and avoid a tragedy. They point to various laws and precedents to bolster their case and discuss how to describe the incident to investigators to be sure they are safe.

I can imagine ("Imagine". Not "Know". Not even "Assume".) neighborhood watch meetings proceeding in a similar vein -with participants talking about their rights under the law, the limits of their liability, the best defense if they do shoot someone, etc. There is a group dynamic that can start blowing the sense of threat out of proportion. The whole idea of a "Stand Your Ground" law is troublesome for that reason - because it can play into the "I have a right to protect what's mine" mentality - in a manner that almost increases the sense of threat.

The hoodie might have increased the guy's sense of threat - but the better conversation is about why he felt threatened in the first place. I admit I haven't read extensively on this issue -but it does not sound like the neighborhood was exactly under siege from a hoodie-wearing criminal element.

(Just to be clear: I don't shoot dogs.)
Mar 30, 2012
Drowlord, if you believe in media templates, then no, this would not be national news unless there was no way the media could avoid talking about it. Even then, it'd be pushed to the back page and everything that could be done not to highlight it would be done. Now if the media template was the opposite then martin would have been cast as the bad guy, zimmerman the hero, and the hispanic versions of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson would be out saying the attack against zimmerman was racially motivated.

This works with both political ideologies. You tend to shut up about the things that hurt your side when you can.

Tigerh8r: "The system is working the way the system works."

This is a good point. Technically our system requires evidence if you are to be charged, arrested, and tried. The only witness didn't offer any proof that what happened was not self defense and unless something is found to show otherwise, the cops had to release zimmerman. Now while some people are unhappy about it, this is justice in our system, and with what evidence there is, justice has been done in releasing zimmerman.

We don't want a system where people are sent to jail just because it is popular. We don't want a system where the cops can say, "who cares about a lack of evidence" and either lock someone up for life or have that person executed. That's why we have a 5th amendment, trial by jury, and a burden of evidence on the prosecution and not the defense. We have these things in our Constitution because when that document was written, not all places had those rights enumerated. The king or whoever could just say off with your head and it would happen.

No evidence = no jail. That's justice. That's fair. That's right.
Mar 30, 2012
s-h-a-v-e-d is censored? Really?
Mar 30, 2012
I think the race thing should be flipped around. If you saw a 6 foot 3 inch 160 lb white guy (these are the actual measurements for Trayvon, per Police report, which seems considerably different from the junior high photograph and stats being repeated in the news) with a !$%*!$ head, ripped jeans, t-shirt and tattoos, and a black neighborhood watch captain 5 foot 9 inches tall and 170 lbs (these are the actual measurements of Zimmerman, which differ from the weight in his 2005 arrest report that the media keeps repeating) noticed him in the neighborhood and didn't recognize him, and the black guy called 911 and followed the intruder, and the black neighborhood watch guy was wounded and claimed to have shot the white guy after being attacked...

... Would the black guy be arrested and would this be national news?

The big difference in this scenario is that white people aren't really sympathetic to white people who look and act like criminals, but the larger black community sees it is a legally protected freedom.
+17 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 30, 2012
@ cpbrown1

Unfashionable? I wear a Kevlar vest every day! So do all of my coworkers.

Here's the truth.

This was a case with limited evidence and no good witnesses. Only one party is here to tell the story of how it happened. His version of events makes a legitimate argument for self defense. There's no way to prove or disprove his story, but it just feels wrong to do nothing. The local police investigating do not have enough evidence to charge the shooter with a crime, so, they decided to put the case before the grand jury. If the grand jury hands down an indictment then they will arrest. That is a common procedure that happens every day on all sorts of cases and race, crime, community outcry and other factors are not involved. That's the way the system works. It doesn't mean the local police were not investigating. It doesn't mean the shooter was getting away scott-free. It's just the way it's done.

The police dispatcher never gave Zimmerman a lawful order that he was not to approach Martin. They advised against it because it's a bad idea. If it really is a "bad-guy" then why would you approach him and not let one of my Kevlar-vest-wearing colleagues handle it, since they are trained, equipped, and paid to do just that? What Zimmerman did was definitely a bad idea. That doesn't make him a murderer, and, if his story is true, it was still self defense. So far, you still have the right in this country to go up to someone walking through your neighborhood and talk to them. In cases like this, it's obviously a stupid thing to do, but not illegal.

Even if Zimmerman's story is a complete lie, even if he just walked up to Martin and executed him, that doesn't mean there's some racist police involved cover-up. The system is working the way the system works. It's not perfect, but until everything you do every minute of every day is video-recorded then the police can really only go on the evidence they have available to them.

This whole thing is being blown up, in my opinion, by people who are just looking for something to make a problem over. Everybody on both sides is looking for someone to blame and to hate, nobody is trying to solve a problem or make things better.

THAT's the true tragedy here. Where are the leaders on the national news calling for calm, rationality, understanding, and healing?
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 30, 2012

I hope the hoodies get the lesson: Don't walk the Zombie street if your life is worth anything.

American soldiers have learnt that in Iraq and Afghanistan. "It doesn't matter if its wrong or right." The color doesn't matter. The race doesn't matter. Nothing matters when there is a loaded gun on the other side. "Just beat it."


It's a Friday and the weekly off in my geolocation. It would be fun if you were to write a post every Thursday. Weekends with Scott Adams...

+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 30, 2012
Fault is a tricky word. If I stop in the middle of a sidewalk in new york city, pull out my wallet, and proceed to count my cash, I will have just increased my chance of being mugged. If I am mugged, it's not my "fault", but I did take actions to increase the chances of it happening. The boy's outfit and demeanor doesn't mean that it was his "fault", but it certainly could have increased his chances of getting into trouble.
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog