Do black tee shirts have special significance?
March 23, 2009 8:04 PM   Subscribe

Why do urban black males wear all-black when committing criminal/violent acts? Is this just a stereotype?

It would seem like when popular culture has absorbed terms like "murder-out," which is to make the tint, paint, and rims of a car all-black, and shows like The Wire show shootings by males done in all-black, then the common-sense thing to do would be to run the other way whenever you see people dressed as such on the street.
posted by the NATURAL to Society & Culture (34 answers total)
I always thought it was so criminals could camouflage more easily. Regardless of race, if someone is committing a crime at night, black clothing allows them to blend into their environment for an easier escape.
posted by Buttons at 8:09 PM on March 23, 2009

Race has zero to do with it. Criminals wear dark colors at night so they are harder to see.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:13 PM on March 23, 2009

I don't agree with the premise, so I'm not sure if I should post, the dirty south, its all about the white tees.

But yes, black is the color of night.
posted by Pacheco at 8:16 PM on March 23, 2009

Response by poster: Perhaps the question was a bit to racially specific. Sorry if I offended anyone.
posted by the NATURAL at 8:17 PM on March 23, 2009

In my urban neighborhood, that's just the style that everyone wears whether they're committing a crime or waiting for the bus. Along with the giant white tees, and that clown patterned hyphy crap.
posted by smartyboots at 8:18 PM on March 23, 2009

The premise of The Wire is that the guys from the towers wear black T-shirts and the guys from the Projects or whatever wear white t-shirts. It was a gang-identification thing. This is especially clear during the 3rd season.
posted by muddgirl at 8:20 PM on March 23, 2009

Around where I am the crooks wear sports gear. Tracksuits, football jerseys.
No, officer Krupke, I'm just on my way to play basketball! And my kitbag doesn't have any stolen goods whatsoever in it!
Short answer: criminal uniform is totally a stereotype.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:21 PM on March 23, 2009

Why do urban black males wear all-black when committing criminal/violent acts?

They don't, any more than any other criminal operating at night who would like to get lost in the shadows does.

Is this just a stereotype?

Yes. Asking this question isn't really helping that sort of thing either.

the common-sense thing to do would be to run the other way whenever you see people dressed as such on the street.

Except that you'd be running away from lots of other people as well. Darker colors are slimming, hide dirt well, go with everything and are generally a sort of standard thing to wear weather you're committing crimes, haven't been to the laundromat lately, or just don't want your manboobs or buddha belly to show. Also, running away from criminals isn't always the most effective way to make sure you do not become the victim of a crime.
posted by jessamyn at 8:26 PM on March 23, 2009 [26 favorites]

As any high school student knows, you wear black while doing less than legitimate activities so that you can blend in at night. And as any college student should know, dark blue actually blends in better with the night.
posted by niles at 8:27 PM on March 23, 2009

Looking as non-descript as possible will help avoid identification. All black, with no logos, colors, jewelery, or any other identifying markings or accessories would make someone hard to positively ID, either during a chase or in a lineup.

I'd read an article a while back about "the uniform" - baggy blue jeans, white T-Shirt, nothing else identifying. When someone commits a crime wearing "the uniform," all they need to do is flee through a crowd of similarly dressed people to lose any pursuit. I've found this article online that also mentions it, and variations.
posted by GJSchaller at 8:34 PM on March 23, 2009

My standard attire when I go out for a walk at night is a black overcoat, a black bowler, black corduroy pants, and dark red shoes. I like to think it's dapper. Granted, I'm suburban, but still. Black is a classic look for men.

Probably more to the point - when I was an angsty youth and out at night, I would wear the black tee &c., because I felt like dissolving into the shadows, hiding away.

What I'm trying to say is, people wear black.
posted by Lemurrhea at 8:51 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Why do urban black males wear all-black when committing criminal/violent acts? Is this just a stereotype?

Yes. When I watch those real world shows like the First 48, I'm seeing a lot of bad clothes and not wearing of black.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:08 PM on March 23, 2009

Grey and dark grey work much better than black. Especially 'broken up' colours instead of solids. Greys work in shadows to break up your exposed non-clothed body parts. Pure black tends to highlight skintone (of whatever colour unless you have intense melanine expression) and there's the prejudice against people wearing black.
posted by porpoise at 10:34 PM on March 23, 2009

What GJSchaller said: the aim is to look as nondescript as possible, which helps in the chase, and also in any subsequent attempts to ID. A plain baseball cap can help as well, eg in hiding hair colour & style.

Also, a bit of what porpoise said: an ambiguous colour somewhere on the blue - grey - black spectrum can help a lot, especially for discrediting (typically, written) witness statements in court:

witness A: "he was wearing blue trousers"
witness B: "he was wearing grey trousers"

This throws enough elements of doubt into the mix that the "beyond reasonable doubt" threshhold may not be reached. The attorney can suggest that the witnesses are not even talking about the same person.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:59 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

(Since the year 2000..) Misguided youth + Ninja Role Models = Terrible, Terrible Shenanigans
posted by mbobrowski at 11:04 PM on March 23, 2009

Why do urban black males wear all-black when committing criminal/violent acts?

Or when on the way to the nightclub, restaurant or gallery opening.

posted by rokusan at 11:25 PM on March 23, 2009

Were you raised in a box? This is a rampant stereotype that should be obvious to any rational human...and an offensive question to boot.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:51 PM on March 23, 2009 [8 favorites]

Why do urban black males wear all-black when committing criminal/violent acts?

There's also the fact that the costume department of a TV series can then buy a lot of one kind of t-shirt/pants, knowing that they don't need to worry so much if someone's costume is not available others can be easily substituted. I mention this because you seem to be drawing your assumption from television/ pop culture.

If you go out into the world a little, broaden your range of experience, you'll find criminals come in and dress in all shapes sizes and colors.

Have a great day!
posted by From Bklyn at 2:05 AM on March 24, 2009

As an added explanation related to an aside in this conversation: the white t-shirt is an anti-uniform. There are no gangs that wear white, so especially in more dangerous neighborhoods, wearing white is a good way to avoid accidentally appearing to have the wrong allegiance. I've heard it told that "gang colors" are on the downswing because of police attention, but wearing white also avoids that unnecessary police attention.
posted by explosion at 4:31 AM on March 24, 2009

As an added explanation of my answer - not living in the US & not watching any kind of American cultural product that might include stereotypes of "criminally-minded African-Americans", my response was purely in the sense of why would *anybody* wear black when committing a crime.

A number of other people in this thread also concentrated on the choice of clothing, and apparently completely ignored the racial slur in the question as irrelevant to the clothing issue.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:56 AM on March 24, 2009

Yeah, and why is it that them black folks are so good at sports? I hear it's because they've got extra muscles in their legs.

Seriously, this is pretty offensive, and even putting the distasteful racism aside, betrays your naive confusion of TV with reality. A television show wardrobe department's idea of "criminal" is just that, the wardrobe department's idea. You may as well have asked "why do gang members always wear color-coordinated name-themed outfits with big patches displaying the gang's name and logo on the back?" because that's how they were portrayed in The Warriors and Hill Street Blues.
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:39 AM on March 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

Besides the things other people have said, how do you know urban black males wear black when committing criminal or violent acts in real life? Have you ever witnessed it? And if so, how many times? And have you witnessed urban white males committing criminal or violent acts? What were they wearing? And have you witnessed enough acts by urban men of various ethnicities to be sure you have a representative sample?
posted by orange swan at 5:42 AM on March 24, 2009

There are no gangs that wear white,

Don't tell that to the corner boys down the street from me, who wear baggy white Ts. (And pants, of course. Pants are usually dark, denim, and baggy.)
posted by rtha at 5:48 AM on March 24, 2009

This question has been called out on MetaTalk.
posted by Kattullus at 6:13 AM on March 24, 2009

then the common-sense thing to do would be to run the other way whenever you see people dressed as such on the street.

You know, if you live in any area that is slightly urban or has teenagers, you're going to be Forrest Gump, pal. But let's break it up a bit and try to remove your racial stereotypes.

Dark colors are conducive to criminal activity, especially at night, because it conceals you in the darkness. This isn't new or specific to a race.

I don't know if what people are doing to their vehicles for a trend at the moment is indicative of anything. Consider the vehicle trends of the last 4 decades and the styles and trends that eventually pass. This is no different.

This is the single most offensive post I have seen on Metafilter since I joined.

To be fair, you just got here. You ain't seen nothing yet.
posted by jerseygirl at 6:17 AM on March 24, 2009

I promised myself that I would only bloviate about this if it were still around when I woke up. I wouldn't say that the concept of wearing dark garb for your felony ensemble was pulled from thin air. It's certainly practical (watch any old movie featuring cat burglars) for both night-time concealment and obscuring any blood which might get on you. And now, kids, it's time to name! that! song!

I got my black shirt on,
I got my black gloves on,
I got my ski mask on,
This shit's been too long.

I got my twelve gauge sawed off,
I got my headlights turned off,
I'm 'bout to bust some shots off.

Applied to "urban males," is it a stereotype? Yes.

Is it a stereotype with a non-zero buy-in from the very people it harms? Sounds like also yes.

That, if anything, is probably the most damaging part of a stereotype: that some of those it caricatures can come to believe in it, in some small way, and, as a by-blow, provide ammunition for those who wish to unfairly discriminate.

I suppose the only way to prove this true or false (rather than just to say it is one thing or another based on personal preferences as to how the world "ought" to work) would be to compare clothing worn by people not committing crimes versus what is worn during said crimes. Then, if you wanted to bring in the race thing, you'd have to do some kind of differential based on race, controlled for things like location and family income. Of course, you'd want to restrict it to certain kinds of crime: voter fraud, graft, Enron, and so forth would not count.

Prior to that, it's really anybody's guess. Good luck finding funding for this study!
posted by adipocere at 6:59 AM on March 24, 2009

Yes, urban black criminals are fond of black. As are urban white criminals. Or urban club goers, store clerks, off duty cops and my dentist. Then there are those darn priests and funeral directors.

I'm not sure where you are from, but as someone who lives and works in the heart of the 'hood, I'm pretty sure "murder-out" is only in the vernacular of television writers and alarmist newspaper reporters.
posted by cedar at 7:08 AM on March 24, 2009

Why do any human beings choose the clothes that they do for any activity?

A) Practicality.
B) Fashion.

Surely the practicality of a miscreant wearing dark clothing for nefarious shenanigans had occurred to you, even before 4,000 other MeFites had pointed it out.

And yes, fashion plays a role in it, too.

Adding my astonishment that this post is still up.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:09 AM on March 24, 2009

I see the "Crimestoppers" reports on the local TV news almost every night. They typically include either security video footage and/or descriptions of the persons who commit "violent/criminal acts." There is no uniform for these persons; they wear all sorts of things, although it's typically casual. (It's very rare for someone to hold up a liquor store wearing a suit...) These people are also of all races and ethnicities.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:19 AM on March 24, 2009

Mod note: few comments removed - please stop with the lulz and/or metaobservations about the topic - the metatalk thread is a perfectly okay place for both of those things.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:23 AM on March 24, 2009

There are no gangs that wear white,

Don't tell that to the corner boys down the street from me, who wear baggy white Ts. (And pants, of course. Pants are usually dark, denim, and baggy.)

I think explosion meant that white is not an official gang color, but yeah, misleadingly phrased. White t-shirts certainly are not only worn by the innocent non-gang dudes to avoid mistaken identity. Conformity is useful.
posted by desuetude at 7:37 AM on March 24, 2009

Yes, I was specifically talking about "gang colors." Wearing red or blue in the wrong neighborhood can get you in a lot of trouble. White is a neutral color, and there is probably no gang in the world in which "wears white shirts" identifies them from non-gang-members in the way "gang colors" differentiate members.
posted by explosion at 11:07 AM on March 24, 2009

True, explosion. I think the kids down the street from me wear white Ts in part to keep from getting hassled by the cops.
posted by rtha at 11:37 AM on March 24, 2009

Response by poster: ZOMFG i'm a troll?

anyway, to finally add closure to what started 1/2 of a shitstorm and 1/2 of a sixcolors hatefest, i've learned my lesson. to those of you who think/thought i was trolling, i legitimately did not know.

... and now, i do. please accept my apology.
posted by the NATURAL at 3:57 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

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