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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."

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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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Jul 26, 2013
I have often thought of the similarities that brand and market positioning have with juvenile identity seeking, and it actually influenced where I sent my kids to school.

In my marketing classes we would analyze industry sectors and map out where the current companies were positioned, and see if there were any holes in the market. Typically the existing players would fill all of the obvious spaces like "low price" provider, "high quality", "fastest service", etc.

For kids, I think there are a limited number of brands and market positions that they can assume. The "jock" space is filled pretty early by the athletes. Next come the "smart kids" and then in junior high, you see a few new niches like "drama/band" kids. For kids that can't fill those slots, there aren't a lot of good choices remaining, but many are not content to just be generic "nobodies". Unfortunately, that often leads to kids to gravitate toward the "stoner" space, or the "bad kid / troublemaker" space. Let's just say that in the lilly-white suburban town I grew up in, I may have filled the vacuum in the "troublemaker" space from time to time.

As a result, among a dozen factors that led to my decision to send my kids to a diverse public city school, one was my belief that the "bad kid" space would be taken by kids with some pretty big problems, and thus my kids would see no "glory" in attempting to fill that role.

Who knows if this strategy made a difference, but I do hear a fair amount of horror stories of what some of the WASPy kids are doing in the high-end private schools in the area.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 26, 2013
Are stereotypes "right" or "wrong"? Doesn't matter. Are they correct? Sometimes... But, right or wrong, never be "dead right."
 
 
Jul 26, 2013
Scott - Thank you for drawing attention to this comment. I found it useful and it will serve as a useful example in constructing/framing a point of view to my team at work.

Have a good weekend.
 
 
Jul 26, 2013
I'm rather torn. As has been said, the central message of "if you dress and act a certain way, you are more likely to be treated a certain way" is undeniably true. The question is, does dressing and acting a certain way (while within the law) <b>justify</b> someone else treating you differently?

For me the answer is no. Mainly, because I see no way of being able to justify only one of the two statements "he dressed like a gangsta so deserved to get shot" and "she dressed provocatively so deserved to get assaulted". And Happy's statement seems to be saying the first, but I'm sure he would never want to say the second.

That's my problem. I can't stick a piece of paper between those two statements. Delighted if anyone could help me see the difference,
 
 
+28 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 26, 2013
I don't remember where I heard it from, but I think it was a quote from an Oprah Winfrey show. There was a womans rights advocate stating the argument that women should be able to wear what they want, when they want, without the fear of being sexually assaulted. One of the other guests agreed completely with her, then asked if she would rather be right, or raped. I try to tell my daughter that and hope that she understands the image that she and some of her friends can project.
 
 
+27 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 26, 2013
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I owned a fine jewelry store located in a large shopping center in a nice suburb. In 1992 I was robbed at gunpoint by Trayvon Martin branded lookalikes.

After that experience I took a course and began carrying a gun.

One day I stopped at a store in the plaza to purchase some odds and ends. Out of the door and onto the sidewalk I was followed and summarily confronted by the store security guard. He accused me of knowing the cashier and receiving an unauthorized discount. Was I angry? Yes. Did I beat his face into the ground? No.

After explaining I own the jewelry store in the plaza and had no idea what he was talking about he insisted I follow him. He took me into a dimly lit back office and proceeded to interrogate me. Turns out I did get some money off on the shampoo and other items I purchased but I honestly never noticed it. He wasn't buying it though and proceeded to radio his supervisor who basically told him to apologize to me and let me go.

The whole ordeal irritated me to no end, I wasn't happy but I kept my cool and did not exacerbate the incident with violence which I suppose I could have justified during the heat of the moment. This kid was so stupid that he didn't realize he was hassling a guy with a 9mm semi automatic pistol in his pocket.

Had I been a psychopath it could have ended very badly for both of us, but mostly for him.

I should point out that while I believe in the branding principle spoken of by Happy, I am clean-cut, white, and my pursuer in this situation was white. I had on a full length black leather coat, white shirt, tie and trousers. He was a spikey haired 20-something jeans wearing kid with an obvious testosterone problem.

Still, Trayvon's situation wasn't all that different from mine. He had a choice. He chose poorly. His entire life was riddled with poor choices. Yet there are people that refuse to identify his character flaws and vehemently defend his lifestyle as though he really was that sweet looking nine-year old boy they erroneously and somewhat hilariously portray. They are, in my opinion, ignoramuses and endemic to an American subculture gone off the deep end. Those that defend it just keep the problem going in perpetuity.

 
 
Jul 26, 2013
[Managing risk is not even close to the concept of blaming victims. -- Scott]

Agreed, that "managing risk" is important. Don't dress like a gang banger (tats, "sagging pants", blue/red bandannas, etc.) and you won't be treated as such.

But at some point, it's fair to expect a minimum threshold of intelligence and conduct from your fellow man. Candy-buying teens shouldn't have to dress like ballroom dancers to avoid being confronted and questioned by armed civilians.
 
 
-10 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 26, 2013
Wow - didn't know that was a word that could censored. So the censored word in my previous word rhymes with but and you need to replace the b with an sl, i.e. s l u t.
 
 
-17 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 26, 2013
"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 !$%* brand.

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

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

If you want to be treated like a nerd, dress like a nerd. You want to be treated like a !$%*, knock yourself out, and dress and act like a !$%*.

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 rape you because you look like you want it? Hell no - of course not.

But on the other hand - if you dress like a good girl, the chance of getting not raped is certainly going to be higher.

So why bother acting like a !$%*?

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 !$%* image. Don't do it - and don't let your family do it. The world will be a better place for it."

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

[Managing risk is not even close to the concept of blaming victims. -- Scott]
 
 
Jul 26, 2013
[Do you think there would have been the same result if Martin been wearing a sweater vest and a bow tie? -- Scott]

No.

However, I also don't think it would have been the same result if Mark Zuckerberg had been buying Skittles instead of Trayvon Martin.
 
 
+39 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 25, 2013
Is it weird that since the financial collapse, whenever I see someone in a Really nice suit, I start thinking I should probably kill them to prevent their sociopathic behavior from destroying the world's economy?
 
 
Jul 25, 2013
I get this argument, and even like it, but it is incomplete. Specifically, the "brand" argument is the equal opposite of the "race" argument. Where the "race" argument essentially claims that the only issue in play is that of predetermined response to the unalterable fact of a persons skin color, this argument claims essentially claims that the only issue in play is that of predetermined response to the completely alterable fact of a persons manner of dress.

Both are grossly oversimplified, and, therefore, unhelpful. The reality of relating cross-culturally is far more nuanced, and those relationships cannot be attempted well until that fact is accepted.

For the equal opposite of Happy's post, I would encourage everyone to listen to a podcast that I (midwestern white guy) was fascinated by-- it is two ESPN television personalities (both black) discussing the aftermath of the Zimmerman trial honestly and eloquently. It opened my eyes to see the situation a little more broadly. http://espn.go.com/espnradio/play?id=9480820

[You're the one who simplified it to "only issue in play." Happy makes a lucid argument about the odds of things until you dumb it down. -- Scott]
 
 
Jul 25, 2013
I agree with the spirit of Happy's post. And I agree that it's well written and there is a lot of wisdom in it.

But does it apply to the matter at hand (Trayvon Martin case)?

Does simply wearing a hoodie now count as a gang "brand"? Is Mark Zuckerberg going for a thug brand?

[Do you think there would have been the same result if Martin been wearing a sweater vest and a bow tie? -- Scott]
 
 
Jul 25, 2013
There's an important difference between clever writing and meaningful writing just as there's an important difference between a brand and a stereotype.
 
 
Jul 25, 2013
So wait - I would think that nerds should be able to dress as they want and not be "asking" to be beat up. Certainly women should be able to dress as they want and not be "asking" for, well, anything. But don't put on a hoodie unless you want to risk asking for trouble? I'm not following this....
 
 
+27 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 25, 2013
I noticed that when it was posted. And I happen to agree with the message. But Happy is also careful not to make the case hinge on this, but merely to suggest that we can/should project a brand that will help avoid such tragedies.

I'll go a step further and say that another way to prevent being shot is to avoid attacking someone. Once violence commences, you can't control the outcome.

A personal story:
A couple of months ago as I was leaving a sports bar with a date after a game, another man who had watched the first half with us assaulted us outside (I had no idea that they had had an affair - he had a family). Words were exchanged, but I was still unprepared for him to !$%*!$%*! me upside the head. I asked what the "heck" that was, and got clocked again. Fortunately, he was smaller, drunk, and didn't know how to punch. In the split-second that I considered pummeling him (he pretty much deserved it at that point), I thankfully was mature/sober enough to realize that nothing good would come of that. So I ducked back inside the bar and told the proprietor of the situation.
Now, had I had more to drink, or even time to get my dander up (rather than being bewildered at his actions), things could have gone differently. I suspect I would have inflicted some damage on him, which may have had its own consequences. But who's to say he didn't have a knife or gun, too? The difference is, I didn't engage. Note: I don't mean to sound superior here, merely to point out that we make choices, and at this moment, luckily, I was thinking especially clearly.

In the Martin case, there's no indication that Zimmerman started a fight, and given his stature, it seems unlikely. So when Martin began pounding his head into the pavement, he differentiated himself from the nonviolent. He didn't deserve to die; that's a tragedy. But when folks try to finger Zimmerman as someone who shot down a defenseless kid, they're really twisting the facts to make it fit their racist preconceived story.

For reference, see "Duke lacrosse team."
 
 
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 25, 2013
I read that originally, and thought that Scott may comment on it
this is even better
 
 
+20 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 25, 2013
Great post. But it assumes that brand perception is constant and universal. It isn't.

I really like the Coke brand, and I don't like the Pepsi brand. There are people who feel the reverse, and there are people who are indifferent to either.

Some people respond positively to the gangster brand. Just like wearing a business suit (the "business professional" brand) may help you if you work in a bank, the gangster brand may help you in your circle of friends.

Only the truly sociopathic associate themselves with a brand to antagonize others. Usually it's done in an attempt to foster connections with people, which most people desire.

I have a responsibility to myself and others to consider other people's views and brand perceptions. But I cannot control everyone's perceptions at all times. It is impossible. It is a fight that can never be won.

The fight that can be won, and should be fought, is for to people to control their actions in response to others' brand preferences.

It's the only logical choice.
 
 
Jul 25, 2013
Reminds me of a Dave Chapelle bit...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7QNw1LRJv4
 
 
Jul 25, 2013
but yes, that's a really great trick he pulled there in his argument.

sorry about posting twice, my keyboard got away from me there
 
 
 
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