Dangers of a hoodie

This ‘thug’ could save your life

By Anwar Osborne

Here is a guy walking down the street in Atlanta. He’s black and wearing what some might call a “thug” uniform: a zip-hooded sweatshirt, jeans, a baseball cap on backwards, and Michael Jordan basketball shoes.

But that man is me, and I’m on my way to work, a physician in an urban hospital emergency department. I’m a doctor, and I dress like a “thug.”

Michael Dunn, a white Floridian, said he hated “thug music” before shooting Jordan Davis, a black teenager. Seattle Seahawk Richard Sherman had the word “thug” uttered about him many times before the Super Bowl, and Jonathan Ferrell got shot instead of getting help after a car crash.

These cases are striking to me because I live in a 6-foot 1-inch, 210-pound black body, but also because I spend the majority of my waking hours trying to keep people alive. Sometimes it’s by delivering patient care, signing charts in my office, attending a lecture or fleshing out research in a small group.

Studies show patients prefer their doctor to wear a white coat and more formal attire (and to a lesser extent, scrubs). Hence, I wear a white coat with scrubs or sometimes slacks and a shirt when seeing patients in the emergency department.

However, outside of the 25 or so hours weekly that I see patients, there are 55 hours in which I perform one of my many other non-clinical responsibilities, such as managing quality improvement projects and reviewing charts. In their non-clinical hours, my white colleagues sometimes opt for wearing corduroys, jeans or even hoodies like me. But I prefer some sort of head cover over my bare head — and, of course, Jordans.

My colleagues sometimes react to my non-clinical work attire with awkward comments and half jokes: “Wow! I thought you were a patient,” or, “I was about to call security.” Or they’ll tell me I’m the only person who wears hoodies to work, which is untrue.

Wherever we work, African-Americans constantly wrestle with these sartorial decisions because clothes can often amplify preconceived notions about the wearer. Dartmouth College cognitive scientist Jonathan Freeman demonstrated that high-status attire can cause people to initially assume the wearer is white. Sometimes, these assumptions can have deadly consequences.

Geraldo Rivera insisted that Trayvon Martin would be alive today if he had not worn “thug wear.” But that didn’t help Renisha McBride and Jonathan Ferrell, two young black people who sought help after traffic accidents and were instead shot dead.

Author Brent Staples famously suggested in 1986 that black males may have to operate by different rules in public spaces. But we all have to do our part to challenge these stereotypes. Those of us trying to advance our careers must recognize that dressing like a “thug” is less about hoodies and Jordans and more about a racial double standard in public spaces. No amount of degrees or bow ties can protect us from this prejudice. It’s not about the clothes or music, but about who we assume black men are.

Ironically, though, there is a strong likelihood that this guy walking behind you in “thug wear” could save your life.

Anwar Osborne, M.D., is an emergency medicine physician in Atlanta and a public voices fellow with the OpEd Project at Emory University.

7 comments Add your comment


February 23rd, 2014
1:13 pm

I myself don’t dress as what your people ignorance claim to be thug attire .Jeans, tee-shirt, sweat shirts, tennis shoes, boots is my choice because to me that’s more comfortable, but when I put on lets say a button shirt nice slacks and a tie and dress shoes people that I know see me dressed like the latter always say I look different. Now why would they say that? Is it because they think that the nice dressed me is going to change from the relaxed dressed me? I see white males dressed the same ways that I dress and they are never judged the way that I am judged. I have never wore my pants sagging but I see white men and boys sagging, caps turned backwards shoes untied, listing to rap music. Can you tell me why have they have never been shot dead for the way they dress or the music they listen to? Your crime stats are for your comfort and fears not ours because you can manipulate numbers to fit your needs to create fear and lies to fool the masses, it’s people like you and the ones that buy into it judge others for the way they dress, walk, talk , the music they listen to. Politics have nothing to do with the judging of a people it’s your mind set that makes you say things like that. Whites account for 99% of mass and serial murders but when I go out in public I don’t fear that one of you are going to pull a automatic rifle and start shooting everybody in sight. So why do you fear that just because someone of color having on a hooded jacket is going to rob or kill you? Most of your fears are from your past not our present, if your ancestors had not been so brutal and crooked in the way they treated our ancestors you wouldn’t have to be afraid and cry all the time about something that only exist in your mind. Judging the cover of a book before you read it not only makes you uninformed it also make you ignorant. Just Monday I was going to my mail box in the condos that I live in and this woman of middle east decent saw a group of young brown skin boys coming from school minding their own business because of false state that your people always post she came running to me for protection as if though I was a white man my skin was just as brown as theirs so it seems to me the writer of the article was right on point about the people that you don’t trust is the one that can save your life not this dribble that’s coming out you mouth. Pretty soon you are going to be afraid of people that wear a coat with a hood on it. Is that thug attire as well in your mind? Stop making up lies that make you feel good about yourself.


February 23rd, 2014
10:10 am

Crime stats right..Meth epidemic herion epidemic pill epidemic drugged white people from the suburbs buy 75% of illegal drugs in the inner cities.


February 23rd, 2014
10:06 am

In the suburbs where all the meth herion and pill popper are. Stop lying if it wasn’t for the white drugs use in this country this would be no crime problem in the inner cites. Start keeping your cheating doped up kids in the suburbs.


February 22nd, 2014
8:15 pm

Dude, if I have a medical emergency and wake up on a table in the ER and a dark face in a hoodie is the first thing I see, the consequences could be quite serious!


February 22nd, 2014
7:24 pm

Are you two (Chip and Gerald) serious? First of all, just because you are scared of someone, it does not give you a right to kill them. Second, are you really so superficial that you would judge a person by their clothing? You probably also think that women deserve to be attacked if they are dressed a certain way! Why don’t you worry about your own style and leave others alone. As a white woman I have been in many situations that would be unsafe, or at least uncomfortable, for me, were I a black man. I don’t think twice about ringing someone’s doorbell if I am lost, walking into to a store late at night, etc. I don’t think it is fair.


February 22nd, 2014
11:10 am

Perception is everything. If you want people to take you seriously, maintain an appropriate image.

The issue here is not superficial materialism; how one dresses and carries one’s self is a chosen statement, because like it nor not, humans are social animals. Apparently the good doctor is choosing the attitude of saying, “I’m going to dress any way I want, knowing that it makes me look like a potentially violent thug, and EVERYONE ELSE SHOULD CHANGE IN ORDER TO CATER TO ME!”

How can one disregard general societal norms, then complain when society reacts in a negative way? Sadly, such an attitude is not at all surprising in a dysfunctional pop culture polluted with the sickness of supreme narccissism. And by the way, why do people have such a negative reaction to black men dressed in such a manner? Is it because (a) far too many black men dress like thugs and CHOOSE TO BEHAVE like thugs, or (b) because everyone is RAAAAYYY-SISST!?

I humbly submit that (b) is a dodge, to avoid the painful reality of the destruction wrought on one particular segment of our society by a half-century of insane liberal activism and excuse-making that has supplanted past instruction in civilized behavior by families, churches, and schools.

For the record, I am an educated professional white male… and when I see people like myself dress in ghetto thug attire and try to speak in ghetto slang, I immediately assume they are complete idiots with no self-respect. It seems logical to me that most educated black people like me, who work hard to better themselves and improve their lives, might not think well of other black people who represent themselves so poorly.


February 21st, 2014
8:21 pm

Look at crime statistics OK? I mean seriously. Liberals use the lack of money spent on social programs as an excuse to not talk about black crime, but come on, get real. Also, how can it be racism if black people are scared of black criminals too? Why else do you think that educated, high income blacks (and married blacks) are moving to the suburbs? Everyone talks about “white flight” but if the middle and upper class blacks who now live in Cobb, Gwinnett, Henry, Douglas, Fayette etc. were living in Atlanta, its population would be over 1.5 million!

Stop denying the truth people.