Race, Appearance, and Perception

Recently I read an article about a man who conducted a personal experiment to test if the way he dressed affected how he was treated.  The man, named Pedro Fequiere, is a 24-year-old black male living in Los Angeles.  In this experiment, he dressed up and down for a week and recorded his observations.  During the experiment he followed several self-imposed rules: he must perform the same activities in the two outfits, his tattoos must be covered, and he must not try to change his behavior.  On the “dressed up” days, he wore outfits with ties, blazers, button-down shirts, and nice shoes.  On “dressed down” days, he wore clothes that a typical college student wears, such as sweatpants and sweatshirts.

As expected, Pedro was treated differently on the days that he dressed up.  By wearing suits, ties, or blazers, Pedro was treated with more respect and people assumed he held some sort of powerful job.  He was referred to as “boss,” and was asked if he was heading to an interview.  At higher end stores, he was treated respectfully by the sales associates.  In comparison when Pedro wore his “dressed down” clothing, he was treated like a criminal.  At stores, he was not treated as a customer should be.  On the bus, people noticeably tried to stay away from him, insinuating that he was a thief.

One quote that stood out to me was, “I’m conscious of where I’m going and the colors I wear, because I can be mistaken for a gang member.”  Pedro explained that he wore the color red when he knew he would be driving to work, so he wouldn’t appear to be a gang member.  Based on his skin tone and the color shirt he wore, Pedro could be classified as a criminal.  This quote links back to the idea of racism discussed in class.  Racism is the discrimination directed towards someone based on their perceived race.  The stereotypes associated with Pedro’s skin color caused him to be treated poorly.

Although this was an informal social experiment, it demonstrates the presence of racism and prejudice in our current society.  This validates the idea that race is a socially constructed concept, as discussed in class.  Pedro’s skin tone caused people to stereotype him.  When dressed like a typical college student in sweatpants, Pedro experienced prejudice as he was stereotyped as a criminal.

Pedro’s story reminded me of the podcast we listened to in class where the father was treated differently when his family was not around.  Both stories illustrate the prejudice in this country.  I wonder what the results would be if the same experiment was performed by a white male.  Comparing the two experiments would show if the prejudice was purely due to race or if the outfits were the biggest factor.

The inequality felt by Pedro resulted directly from the way he was perceived by society.  He was judged based on the stereotypes associated with his skin color and his clothing.  Although we learned in class that race has no biological validity, racism is demonstrated in everyday society.  Clearly racism is still a problem in our country.

Reference: http://www.buzzfeed.com/pedrofequiere/i-dressed-up-and-dressed-down-for-a-week-and-this-is-what-ha#.rjkzNpl2M

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