Prejudice-based racial profiling, or just common sense?

Tottenham MP David Lammy has joined in a project aimed at trying to dispel distrust of young African men who wear hooded tops, writes Christopher Goff.

In a recent article for The Guardian, the Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, wrote of his support for a new and somewhat bizarre project set up with the aim of trying to dispel the apparent widespread distrust of young African men who choose to wear hooded tops. The author, who is of course African himself, even tells of an occasion when he was stopped and searched by the police while out wearing a hooded top during his student days, and says he knows "that distrust of black men in hoodies is endemic in the UK" seemingly as if he were talking about the most pressing social disease of our times.

Mr Lammy explains how the 56 Black Men Project, as it is known, sets out to try and "liberate black men from invisibility". The Labour MP goes on to say how the wearing of hooded tops by young African men is something which he thinks should be seen as part of a process of 'coding', and which he explains in terms of African men feeling under pressure "to wear something 'whiter' when we want to feel comfortable in our own clothes, and in our own skin, on our own terms".

Personally, I am astonished that a group of African men want to get so worked up about what is fundamentally a personal choice for each and every one of them, the choice that is of what items of clothing to wear each day. I am as equally astonished that a group of African men want to read so much into the psychology behind the wearing of hooded tops, and in particular their apparent willingness to factor in the issue of race; this when hooded tops have become widely adopted choices of casual clothing for lots of young people these days, whatever their race. You cannot have helped but notice hooded tops being worn by young men from African, European and Asian backgrounds.

The apparent desire of David Lammy and the other participants in the 56 Black Men Project to racialize the hooded top phenomenon is puzzling. In fact, I must confess to feeling a little sorry for any unfortunate soul who finds himself so conflicted over his relationship with his hooded top. Mr Lammy continues in his article, saying: "in the context of rising knife crime – which is widely framed as black men killing one another – both the hoodie and the black male wearing it have come to be seen as emblems of violence", after which he says that "It is true that black men are disproportionately affected by knife crime".

Hooded tops have indeed become danger symbols, and this because some of the people who wear them know of their usefulness when trying to hide their identity, including from CCTV cameras. Lots of law abiding members of the public are also aware of this usefulness of hooded tops and so have become switched on to the possibility of the young men who wear them being involved in wrongdoing because they have beforehand made the decision to wear something which offers them the chance of concealing their identity.

On the highly contentious issue of disproportionality, Mr Lammy reminds us – as if we needed reminding – that "no black boy was born with a knife in his hand", and says "Dismissing violence as a 'black problem' is not only lazy but deeply harmful". Most people would agree with these points, but in so doing they might also ignore an important reality, and it is a reality that too few people have been willing to confront because we live in a world where one person's racial reality can so easily be racist heresy to another. So, while it is certainly the case that no child entering into this world does so carrying a knife, some young men at the time of their entering into adulthood can, for example, have a lot more testosterone in their bloodstream than others. Ignoring realities gets us nowhere.

The use of extremely high levels of violence to secure minor criminal objectives or to settle trivial disagreements has become commonplace in our biggest towns and cities. The wider public see and hear about violent crime via the media, as they might also sometimes witness violent incidents occurring. Accordingly, most people are nowadays acutely aware of the dangers that can lurk in public spaces and do not need me to tell them what type of young person they should steer clear of the most. What type of young person they should avoid eye contact with. And most of all, what type of young person they should never attempt to put in their place over some or other kind of minor indiscretion because to do so might put them in grave danger. These ways of thinking and behaving are not borne of prejudice; they are instead evidence-based, common sense decisions made in order to help keep oneself safe and which no-one has the right to be denying. To suggest otherwise is to sow the seeds of bitterness. Suggesting otherwise smacks of reverse racism and runs the risk of fomenting in the minds of the young men who pace around our towns and cities in hooded tops each day feelings of alienation and resentment towards wider society.

Should any young African man at this very moment be trying to think of a way of liberating himself from what he believes are the prejudices of Europeans, well the answer is quite simple: don't go out with a hooded top on. In fact, throw your hooded tops away because they are no good for you, they are "emblems of violence" exactly as David Lammy points out. And lastly, might I suggest to Mr Lammy and the other participants in the 56 Black Men Project that their time and effort might be better spent trying to think of ways of reducing the rate at which their co-racials seem to be sticking knives in one another, because therein does lie the most pressing, tragedy-filled social disease of our time: violent crime.

Copyright © Christopher Goff
Tag: Race
Uploaded: 25 February, 2019.