Wed | Jan 17, 2018

Resisting being judged on appearances

Published:Sunday | April 10, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Tanya Stephens

The way a person chooses to present themself physically, in clothing and grooming, is often an outward manifestation of a personal philosophy or lifestyle. And when those who are opposed to what they believe the particular appearance represents encounter someone over whom they believe they have power - even that of opinion - it is problematic.

Three songs, Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, Sizzla's Love is Always There and Tanya Stephens' What a Day, are among those which have a line or two about the reaction to this passing of judgement based on appearances.

What's Going On, is the title track of Marvin Gaye's 1971 album, recorded when the USA was pressing ahead with its futile effort to crush Vietnam - the Vietnamese suffered heavily in casualties, and many American soldiers killed. The album was released four years before the USA finally abandoned the war, but already there were protests inside the country against the war. Those wanting peace, irked citizens committed to patriotic war fervour and Gaye summed this up in What's Going On, contrasting the strait-laced citizenry with those of the 'peace and love' movement typified by the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in New York in 1969.

Gaye never mentions Vietnam - or the civil rights movement in the U.S., directly, as he sings of death and protest:

"Brother, brother, brother

There's far too many of you dying

You know we've got to find a way

To bring some loving here today

Father, father

We don't need to escalate

You see, war is not the answer

For only love can conquer hate

You know we've got to find a way

To bring some loving here today

Picket lines and picket signs

Don't punish me with brutality..."

Then he goes on the other parent as he talks about being assessed based on appearances:

"Mother, mother, everybody thinks we're wrong

Oh, but who are they to judge us

Simply because our hair is long"

Hair is also the marker of personal presentation which Tanya Stephens focuses in a line from What a Day, the penultimate track on her 2005 album, Gangsta Blues. Stephens names a number of social ills she is tired of, beginning with "the hunger I see on people's faces" and "the animosity between the races." She soon moves from the large-scale to the personal issues, including hairstyle:

"Tired of being judged for the style in my hair

And the music that I listen and the clothes that I wear."

Sizzla, a Rastafarian, does not specify dreadlocks in the chorus of Love is Always There, which is on the 2008 Reggae Max album. However, it must be a factor for a man who deejays:

"Love is always there

No matter how we dress and we ragga ragga hair

We no care"

And he modifies the aphorism, "don't judge a book by its cover" in stating a general principle about perception and personality, deejaying:

"Now you judge the book

I got to tell you that you wrong

And how I look

Cannot determine who I am."