A friend of mine is a criminal defense attorney. His job is tough and dirty. He deals with Racism on both sides of the justice scales. Lives hang in the balance on his shoulders. Some of his clients are guilty. His job is to defend them anyway. Some of his clients are set up by police, or enemies, or mistaken identity. His job is to defend them anyway.
The one thing my friend always used to tell his clients when he first started out was “to look good and dress nice in court.” Many of his clients are Black and Latino and — facing unwitting stereotypes and crises of culture in the face — they would show up in court wearing lots of heavy bling, short shorts, baggy pants, do-rags and t-shirts. His clients did not fare well in court. Then one of his clients asked him for his definition of “looking good and dressing nice” and my friend said, “a suit, a tie, leather shoes, pressed shirt, combed hair for men and a dress or a business suit for women….”
“Oh!” — the client interrupted — “You want me to dress White!” My White friend, wondering if he’d been caught in a Racial stereotype or exposed in one, froze. He didn’t know what to say. His client picked up on the uneasiness. “You want me to play nice. You want I should dress like everyone else. The judge. The jury. You. You want I should fit in, right?” “Okay, yeah…” my friend stammered.
“Say that straight up! Cut to it, man. Why make me wonder? This is my life!” From then on my friend began to cut right to the “Dress White” chase when advising clients how to appear in court. My friend was surprised to learn many of his clients were not offended by his dress mandate.
They understood the name of the game was not only one of guilt or innocence — or high fashion — but of fitting in to survive the process and looking like you were a part of the conservative mainstream society sitting in judgment of you. “You will better be treated in court as a defendant if you show respect to the court by matching the taste of the court,” my friend now likes to say after winning many more of his cases with this clothing philosophy for his clients. Some of his male clients even go as far as shaving their heads bald to remove any “threatening dreds” or other hair modifications that fall outside the “mainstream taste.”
Is this “Dressing White” a way to find success in court through deception by intent or is it a natural part of an expected process? Is it Racist to have to “fit in” and “play along” by dressing up “White” in court when, the moment the defendant is back on the street, the culture of clothing returns to the mind and body modification?