I saw a graphic today of a biker - tats on both arms, long, ZZ Top beard, shades, do rag, you know, the classic American biker. The graphic had text that read something along the lines of, “I may look strange to you, but I cried when my daughter broke her foot and my mom is proud of me…” and so on. The thrust of the piece was, I guess, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. A noble sentiment, but I have to ask…
Hi, I’m America… have we met?
If you have a long beard, are covered with tattoos and look like you will eat souls given half the chance, people are going to think a variety of things about you… and not all of them will be pleasant. Is that right? Is that the way it should be? No. Of course not. But, is it true?
(See? I used a curse word. Doesn’t that conjure up a preconception about me?)
The way we look, the way we dress and the way we interact with others shapes the way they look at us, feel about us and interact with us. That’s the truth, whether you think it should be that way or not. It just is.
I walk into a supermarket, wearing shorts, an old t-shirt and sandals. I step up to the customer service counter and ask where I might find a jar of pickles. I’m polite. I smile.
The lady behind the counter is also polite. She smiles, albeit hurriedly, and says, “Aisle 4”.
Now, I walk into the same supermarket, step up to the same counter, but this time, I’m in a suit and I have a knotted brow, (it makes me look busy). I’m still polite when I ask, “Where might I find the pickles?” The lady behind the counter may tell me they are in aisle four, or she may ask what variety I was looking for, and send someone to bring the pickles to me. When they hand them to me, that person will inevitably call me, “Sir”.
I’m still the same me. The only thing that has changed is the perception of me from those around me. And my clothes fit a bit more snuggly, (I haven’t bought a new suit in a while).
Here’s the thing. It is wrong for people to judge you based on your appearance. We all know it, and we all still do it. Yes, you do… shut up. So, if you want to look like Edward Scissorhands, or a young Ice T or Dusty Hill’s stunt double, great. More power to you. You wear that style like you invented it. But, when the straight-laced mom pulls her child closer, telling them, “No, this way, Honey - we don’t talk to strangers”, she means you. Stranger. As in, stranger than her. That’s part of the gig. You chose to adopt that look, that uniform, (and, let’s face it, we all wear a uniform of some sort), you get the American judgement that comes with it.