Black Men Shouldn’t Have to Dress Formally as a Survival Tactic

Young men dressed casually
Young men dressed casually

Next week my son returns to school as an 11th-grader, and for the past several days we’ve been knee-deep in back-to-school shopping. In his words, he “has to keep his gear tight.” Whatever in the world that means. Jeans, hoodies, button-downs, sneakers and polos are my son’s usual choices in clothes. My son isn’t dressing to impress anyone, and he isn’t dressing as a survival tactic, unlike a couple of black men profiled in a recent Mashable article.


When Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman, Trayvon’s hoodie became part of the discussion. A young black teen wearing a hoodie at night seemed to bring terror to Zimmerman and, apparently, other people across the U.S. I’m sure some parents went out of their way to trash their sons’ hoodies. But that didn’t happen in my home. We purchased more. 

Clothes aren’t going to keep you alive.

A three-piece suit isn’t going to deter a cop from shooting you in the face. Sure, it’s nice that people have been putting extra effort into their attire, but how about cops putting extra effort into not gunning down black men?

And let’s take a look at the history of black men and their outfits, because we can’t act as though black men dressing up is something new.

Black men have been fashionable since the zoot suits of the ’30s, all the way through to the well-tailored looks of men in the Nation of Islam as they sling bean pies and the Final Call on the streets. I totally understand the objective of Mashable’s article, but it’s a sad commentary that black men feel that a $200 pair of hard-bottom shoes and some tight-fitting dress pants will keep them alive. But I understand. 

If my 16-year-old wants to wear a hoodie, or his jeans a little looser than normal, that’s his right. He also has the right not to get harassed, shot or killed by a cop just because the cop assumes he’s up to no good, based on his clothing.

It’s not black men who need to change their clothing. We need to change who’s wearing police uniforms and the mentality of the people behind the badges.