Written by an anonymous MAC-UK Youth Consultant

Growing up as a youth in 2018 from Islington, whenever I go to the City of London borough, it seems like a new city to me. This is because everyone there wears suits, and a suit is just another uniform. Where I grew up only police or a doctor wore a uniform. I used to believe that everybody in a suit was either a policeman or a doctor and against me. Now, that was me judging a book by its cover. 

This caused a barrier between myself and anyone who wore a uniform, and it was enforced through my situations with the police. Also, growing up, suits were seen as successful. Why? Because it was a normal expectation whenever I was around my Nigerian family. They would always say that I must become a doctor or lawyer, who both wears suits, or else I’m useless. This set a superior idea with anyone who wore suits. Today’s society believes suits are a way to show your wealth and power: they are formal and are the only way you can present yourself in a respected manner. 

Youths like me, growing up in London, may never have good encounters with people in uniforms or suits. For example, from the minute they attend secondary school, they see school teachers wearing suits and we all know every student hates at least one teacher. Then they get arrested, and from that point onwards they would not like the police, who wear uniforms. On top of that, their charge goes to court, they see a judge in uniform who sends them to jail, who also wears a suit styled uniform. Now the young person is in an HM Prison on remand, hates where they are, and the people giving the orders are in uniform. Therefore this can make youths hate their dress code and distant themselves from any sort of people who wear a uniform.

My father wore suits to work and this created a barrier between me and him, as I thought he discredited me because I wore tracksuits. I used to think “he’s old, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about ”. This caused major breakage in our relationship as father and son. However, as I got older, I stopped purely seeing things superficially and started respecting him, and our relationship has progressed. This almost filled a gap of not having a father around from my young age, when I was quick at judging a book by its cover. At 18 years old, I have come to the conclusion that you won’t be able to move forward with people if you judge them by their dress code. 

I wear tracksuits. What is it about tracksuits that makes them bad? Nothing. But some people will still say a tracksuit is bad. Why? This is because of the stereotypes about people who wear tracksuits: the media depicts tracksuits to be worn by street-level criminals; that all people who wear tracksuits are involved in crime. This is as prejudiced as the one I had when I thought that uniforms equaled police. Others may say it’s bad because its only for a sporting environment and if you turn up to an interview in one, you should have applied for the gym. This is because they can feel you haven’t taken them seriously because you’ve been wearing track-suit that depicts a picture of a street-level criminal. 

I think personally the last time I saw a criminal on TV who didn’t wear suits were “Hatton Garden Robbers”. This is a problem because anyone who watches TV is going to recognise this pattern and stick it into their brain. Some people may think that tracksuits are for personal wear only. They do have a point because tracksuits were made for warmth and comfort but this doesn’t mean you have to wear something just because it was made for that. For example, polo shirts were made to play polo, now how many polo tops do you have? And how many times have you played polo wearing those tops?

In January 2018 I met a psychologist, Dr. Grove, who was wearing funny socks and had a completely different dress code to myself and my friends. I thought he was an undercover police trying to infiltrate when he approached us for a chat. Then I discovered me and him share a similar story of getting troubled by elder school students on the back of the buses. Now, I used to think that people in suits went to private schooling and had a luxury life. That was me judging a book by its cover. 

Speaking to Dr.Grove, who went to a state school in south London and had a similar story to me and others, I realised how someone’s looks or clothes have nothing to do with their character. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here writing this blog, I wouldn’t have completed my NVQ Level 2, and I would probably have been up to no good. He’s helped many people in different ways but the biggest lesson I learned, was one that I had to learn for myself: that I was judging a book by its cover

As youths growing up in our area, all of us judged a book by its cover. You see a “boss” who has everything from power all the way to the prettiest girls in the area, that will show you no attention. But the boss would get it. Then you’ll see them in the best cars flying through the area, with expensive clothes and some expensive jewelry. How can a teenage boy who has none of the above, not want at least one of those things while at that moment, he does not even have a tenner? So what’s he going to do? The norm of the youths, which is selling drugs until they get what they want. Or until they are carried by six or judged by 12.

And so did I. I saw a “boss” with drip (expensive Clothes and Jewellery), and I, like many youths, thought he was rich. What did he do? Road (criminal activity). So now I  want to do road as well because I want the drip. That was me, again, judging a book by it’s cover. But this time, judging made me risk my freedom and family relations. And I later found out he was actually poor. What a joke that is. I was making loads of money, but when I said to my mum “I wanna buy a house”, she laughed and said you can’t, you can only do it with legit money. 

Then I got arrested for about three serious crimes within about 6 weeks and slept through the day, not at home, to avoid the police. This played with my brain and my mother’s, and she’s a single mum raising just me. I’m her only son, so if I go who’s going to be there? This made me realise I wasn’t going to really benefit from this kind of lifestyle, so was it really worth it? Of course, there are some “negatives” to earning legit money, there’s no more fast money. Patience is what I’ve had to master. But trust me, there are ways to get rich apart from the streets.

So, if you are a youth, don’t be fooled by appearances: doing road isn’t what it seems to be, and so many people have lost their lives over wanting to have the drip. Don’t judge a book by its cover.