Tuesday, May 22, 2012

You CAN Judge a Book by it's Cover...(Sometimes)

Wait...what?  Hear me out, friends...

We've been told for years "You can't judge a book by it's cover."  Unfortunately, this takes away one of mankind's best resources for judging reality...discernment.  Some might even call it "discrimination," and accurately if you're using the proper definition of this word. (When going to cross the street, you do discriminate whether or not it is best to cross at that moment given the amount of cars coming or lack thereof.)  So let's talk about when it is okay to judge a book by it's cover, shall we?

For the record, it is not okay to judge a person by their biological features. The most prominent example is skin tone.  It is wrong to make a judgement call about a person based on race. (Or hair color, or eye color, or any other biological trait.) Where it is perfectly reasonable to judge a person is their own choices. In other words, it's perfectly acceptable to judge a book by it's cover IF the book chose it's own cover!

Many people assume that if they are uncomfortable around a black person who is dressed like a thug, it must be some inherent racial bias in themselves.  They then proceed to feel guilty about it. (I admit I had that issue too at one point.) Then I realized something...when I saw a person who looked like this:

Source: http://menzclub.blogspot.com/2009/01/alfani-three-button-black-pinstripe.html

I felt absolutely no fear or discomfort. Shortly after, I also saw a man who looked like this:

Source: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2009/11/white-supremacist-gang-member-sentenced-to-death-.html

My ingrained warning signals fired to at least be aware that there might be a problem. I was concerned, and thought that I at least might need to be afraid.

It turned out it wasn't the race of a person that caused me to be afraid...otherwise I'd be uncomfortable around the man in the top picture and perfectly comfortable around the man in the bottom picture. That wasn't the case.  The man on the top was biologically born with very high quantities of melanin in his skin (for those of you in Palm Beach County, FL, that means he is a black man). The man on the bottom was born with very low quantities of melanin in his skin (for those of you in Palm Beach County, FL, that means he is a white man).

These traits were not choices. It would be wrong to judge them by that "cover."  Yet there are other "covers" that are valid to judge a person by on each man...covers that were choices.

The man in the top picture made a choice: he chose to be clean cut, free of gang symbol tattoos etc, and wear a suit and a tie. He is also wearing a smile...a warm smile at that...which suggests he is a friendly person. In my experience, men who are clean cut with no gang symbol tattoos and a suit and tie are rarely to be feared. Actually, these "covers" are a sign of an upstanding citizen, irregardless of their skin color.

The man in the bottom picture also made a choice: he chose to have a tattoo on his neck bearing the symbol of the Schutzstaffel, aka the NAZI SS. He further chose to cut his hair in a mohawk style* (specifically at the age of I would guess 45 years old) and have a menacing look on his face.  All of these traits, at least in conjunction with the each other, suggests a person who an upstanding citizen like myself should be wary around.

Each of these two men made choices with their appearance. They are communicating something about themselves nonverbally...in the case of the man in the top picture it is a communication of "fine, upstanding citizen" and in the case of the man in the bottom picture it is, for lack of a better term, "criminal." Both men made a choice to do this, whether it was in the clothes they put on in the morning or the tattoos they choose to have put on their body. Granted, I have chosen extreme examples. However, the same rule applies to me when I see these four men:



The two men on the left do not concern me. (Granted the man in the top left's choice of clothing does tell me this guy might be a hipster, but then again, I've never been concerned about being attacked by a hipster.) The two men on the right do. Their skin tone doesn't bother me in the slightest. It's their choice of covers.

Once again, the issue here is choices of clothing. People do make a choice of how they present themselves. It can have positive or negative consequences. When I was a manager of a restaurant, one aspect of my job was interviewing prospective employees.  The way an interviewee chose to present themselves made a big difference.  If you showed up to your job interview in a baseball cap with pants around your knees and a t-shirt and a huge gold necklace, guess what, you didn't have a snowball's chance in July of being hired. You know why? Because you CHOSE not to present yourself professionally. Your choice presented yourself as someone I do not want to hire. Keep in mind, however, I did not judge someone who wore a collared shirt that was shabby over one that was new differently...I assumed that was the best shirt that individual could afford.

So before you start believing tropes like "you can't judge a book by it's cover" ask yourself this: Is the cover the result of a choice or the result of biology? If the cover is a result of biology and you judge a person by it, then shame on you. However, if your judgement of a "book by it's cover" is based on a choice a person made, then guess what...you have chosen to present yourself that way. That's your choice. And I'm justified in judging someone by that choice.  After all, you put on that cover.

*Specifically, I am concerned when a 45-50 year old man is wearing a mohawk.  When a teenager wears that haircut or someone in a rock band it is not a sign to be wary in my opinion.

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