Types of Stereotypes

We missed this piece in National Review (h/t David V.), wherein Dalrymple discusses the issue of stereotypes raised by the Trayvon Martin case. While much of the column addresses the case itself, as is his usual practice Dalrymple uses it as a launching point to make points of more general interest. In particular, I found this one interesting and insightful:

…many, perhaps even most, people want to be stereotyped. Indeed, they do their best to ensure that they are…

The fashion among young males for low-slung trousers, for example, originated as a symbolic identification with prisoners, who have their belts removed from them on arrival in prison for fear that they will hang themselves with them or perhaps use them as a weapon. The results are obvious; and those who see, or rather intuit, in this fashion an insolent defiance, a deliberate rejection of what would once have been called respectability, are surely right to do so even if they do not know the origin of the fashion. The same is true, incidentally, of those who obey the fashion; they may not know its origin, but they are fully aware of the effect it is likely to have on those whom they wish to offend. Such, indeed, is its whole purpose: The fashion is a symbol of an attempted creation of a mirror-image moral universe, in which what is held to be good by one part of society (that to which we, dear reader, belong) is held in contempt by the other, and vice versa.

Now it is obviously true that not all young men who dress in, say, hoodies are thugs; but if you were walking down an inadequately lit alleyway and a young man in a hoodie came toward you, it is likely that you would experience a greater frisson of fear than if he were dressed in a tweed jacket. And that may be precisely what he wants, even if he has no intention of attacking anyone. He wants you to stereotype him.

As he later points out, these young men hold “the simultaneous desire to be stereotyped for wearing it while avoiding the negative consequences of that stereotyping.”

Another National Review contributor wrote a reply to this piece here, though I have not yet read it.

2 thoughts on “Types of Stereotypes

  1. Jaxon

    I kid thee not, although perhaps it will come as no surprise… I was overtaken whilst cycling this very morning by a errrmm kidult on a BMX with butt hanging out, this has always mystified me (and I had some deliberately odd dressing habits in my adolescence), I hate it… maybe that reaction should answer everything I need to know about it, they wont to provoke contempt “dare to judge me”.

    One day about two or three years ago I was walking down a busy street and there was a kidult with designer-bum-out ahead of myself and a fairly attractive young woman. Maybe I was a bit of a wally but I couldn’t help myself, I asked this young woman what she thought of it.

    Alas it was no good, I’m not sure there’s any successful way of approaching a stranger with that question… she was basically uncommunicative and I wasn’t about to force the issue. I suspect she was offended by could have only been my judgementalism and my complete failure to hide my own bemusement of the absurdity of it all.

  2. Pingback: Anthropological interlude: two fashions that may be of carceral origin | A dose of Theodore Dalrymple

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.