ⓘ Badge of shame

Badge of shame

ⓘ Badge of shame

A badge of shame, also a symbol of shame, mark of shame or stigma, is typically a distinctive symbol required to be worn by a specific group or an individual for the purpose of public humiliation, ostracism or persecution.

The term is also used metaphorically, especially in a pejorative sense, to characterize something associated with a person or group as shameful.

In England, under the Poor Act 1697, paupers in receipt of parish relief were required to wear a badge of blue or red cloth on the shoulder of the right sleeve in an open and visible manner, in order to discourage people from collecting relief unless they were desperate, as while many would be willing to collect relief, few would be willing to do so if required to wear the "shameful" mark of the poor in public.

The yellow badge that Jews were required to wear in parts of Europe during the Middle Ages, and later in Nazi Germany and German-occupied Europe, was effectively a badge of shame, as well as identification. Other identifying marks may include making shamed people go barefoot.

The biblical "Mark of Cain" can be interpreted as synonymous with a badge of shame.


1.1. History Depilation

Punitive depilation of men, especially burning off pubic hair, was intended as a mark of shame in ancient Mediterranean cultures where male body hair was valued. Women who committed adultery have also been forced to wear specific icons or marks, or had their hair shorn, as a badge of shame. Many women who fraternized with the occupiers in German-occupied Europe had their heads shaved by angry mobs of their peers after liberation by the Allies of World War II.

During World War II, the Nazis also used head shaving as a mark of shame to punish Germans like the youthful non-conformists known as the Edelweiss Pirates.


1.2. History Clothing

In Ancient Rome, both men and women originally wore the toga, but over time matrons adopted the stola as the preferred form of dress, while prostitutes retained the toga. Later, under the Lex Julia, women convicted of prostitution were forced to wear a toga muliebris, as the prostitutes badge of shame.

At the beginning of the 13th century, Pope Innocent III prohibited Christians from causing Jews bodily harm, but supported their segregation in society. On at least one occasion he likened this to the fate of Cain described in the Book of Genesis, writing to the Count of Nevers:

The Lord made Cain a wanderer and a fugitive over the earth, but set a mark upon him. as wanderers must remain upon the earth, until their countenance be filled with shame.

After Innocent III later presided over the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215, the council adopted canon 68, requiring Jews and Muslims to dress distinctively to prevent interfaith relations.

This canon was largely ignored by the secular governments of Europe until 1269 when King Louis IX of France, later Saint Louis, was persuaded to decree that French Jews must wear a round yellow badge on their breast and back. After the Albigensian Crusade ended in 1229, the subsequent Papal inquisition of Pope Gregory IX imposed the ecclesiastical penance of the Cathar yellow cross as a badge of shame to be worn by the remaining repentant Cathars convicted of heresy.

In colonial New England during the 17th and 18th centuries, courts required people convicted of sexual immorality to wear the letter "A" or letters "AD" for adultery and the letter "I" for incest on their clothing.

Striped prison uniforms were commonly used in the 19th century, as a way to instantly mark an escaping convict. Modern orange prison uniforms serve the same purpose, only with a highly visible bright color to make it difficult to hide. Stripes were adopted as simple one-color uniforms could easily be dyed to another color; dying a striped uniform cannot hide the stripes. They were temporarily abolished in the United States early in the 20th century because their use as a badge of shame was considered undesirable as they were causing constant embarrassment and exasperation to the prisoners. They came back to usage as the public viewpoint changed. In many of todays jails and prisons in the United States the inmates are forced to wear striped prison uniforms. A prominent example is Maricopa County Jail under the administration of Joe Arpaio, where black and white stripes are used. Another predominantly used color scheme consists of orange and white stripes. A person wearing this kind of clothing is distinctly marked and can unmistakably be identified as a prison inmate from a far distance, which allows citizens to instantly identify escapees and notify the authorities.


1.3. History Skin

Societies have marked people directly in the practice generally known as being "branded a criminal". Criminals and slaves have been marked with tattoos. Sexual immorality in colonial New England was also punished by human branding with a hot iron, by having the marks burned into the skin of the face or forehead for all to see.

The practice of human branding with visible marks on the face had been firmly established by King Edward VI of England under the 1547 Statute of Vagabonds, which specified the burning of the letter "S" on the cheek or forehead of an escaped slave, and the letter "F" for "fraymaker" on the cheek of a church brawler.

James Nayler, an English Quaker convicted of blasphemy in 1656, was famously branded with a "B" on his forehead. The practice of human branding was abolished in England by 1829. It continued in the United States until at least 1864, during the American Civil War, when the faces of some deserters from the Union Army were branded with the letter "D" as a mark of shame that was intended to discourage others from deserting. Runaway slaves could be branded with an "R" for "runaway", which had the effect of ensuring he or she was watched closely and often prejudiced against by any subsequent owners and overseers.


1.4. History Headwear

In old-fashioned French schoolrooms, misbehaving students were sent to sit in a corner of the room wearing a sign that said "Ane", meaning donkey, and were forced to wear a jesters cap with donkeys ears, sometimes conical in shape, known as a "bonnet dane", meaning "donkeys cap". In traditional British and American schoolrooms, the tall conical "dunce cap", often marked with the letter "D", was used as the badge of shame for disfavored students. The dunce cap is no longer used in modern education. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, individuals accused of being counter-revolutionaries were publicly humiliated by being forced to wear dunce caps with their "crimes" written on them.


1.5. History Barefoot

In former times prisoners were routinely divested of large parts of their clothing and hereby left with usually covered body parts exposed. This was primarily done to visually earmark the captive individuals so onlookers could distinguish their status upon first sight. It also had a symbolistic connotation in those divesting prisoners of their clothes meant divesting them of their rights and social status. Notably taking away the footwear of an unfree person and thereby forcing him or her to remain in bare feet has been used for visibly marking captives, prisoners and slaves in almost every culture. This customary practice is still commonplace in prisons of many countries.

As shoes in their various appearances have been worn throughout all social classes since earliest human history, forcibly presenting a person to the public in bare feet is a common method to showcase a persons loss of status or absence of rights. As bare feet are a highly noticeable visual attribute in almost every social situation, this particular form of appearance often incidentally raises suspicion or disdain among bystanders.

It also serves to dishearten prisoners and frustrate attempts of escape. The ability to walk or run quickly is hereby often drastically reduced. As the feet are the only body part with near permanent contact to the environment, their lack of protection can have a victimizing effect and make the person feel physically defeated, helpless or vulnerable which adds to the shaming effect.

Wearing shoes is a low-level and natural manifestation of civil rights and liberties, which cannot be revoked from free citizens of any culture under normal circumstances. Even when suffering neediness in ancient history, simple forms of footwear were handmade from available materials, while today simple shoes are sufficiently inexpensive to be purchased in practically every part of the world. Forcing a subdued person to go barefoot is therefore used to showcase his or her deprivation of the most basic rights and natural liberties. It hereby displays the subjugation of the person under individuals with sufficient authority to impose and enforce certain living conditions. By abiding it also establishes that the person does not have the self-determination, means or power to resist. Forcing individuals to remain barefoot against their will is, therefore, a common method to display and exercise authority and showcase the flagrant disproportion of power usually found in situations of imprisonment. Exploiting the effects it is often used to intimidate captives or prisoners and cut their self-confidence.


1.6. History Restraints

Presenting a prisoner to the public in restraints has always served as a method of shaming the person as well. In addition to their practical use of preventing movement and escape, they are usually uncomfortable to wear and often lock the body in unnatural positions. Especially restraining the hands of a captive behind his or her back is perceived as particularly shameful, as it renders the person practically defenceless and showcases his or her physical defeat to onlookers. The effect is often multiplied by combining means of marking people such as the use of prison uniforms or similar clothing like penitential garbs and the exposure of bare feet.


2. Other meanings

Nazi concentration camp badges of shame were triangular and color-coded to classify prisoners by reason for detention, and Jews wore two triangles in the shape of the six-pointed Star of David. These symbols, intended by the Nazis to be marks of shame, had opposite meanings after World War II: the triangle symbols were used on memorials to those killed in the concentration camps, the pink triangle that homosexual prisoners were required to wear became a symbol of gay pride, and the Zionists Star of David, also co-opted for the Nazi version of the yellow badge, was subsequently featured prominently on the flag of Israel.

Conversely, symbols intended to have positive connotations can have unintended consequences. After World War I, the U.S. War Department awarded gold chevrons to soldiers serving in the combat zones in Europe. The silver chevrons awarded for honorable domestic service in support of the war effort were instead considered a badge of shame by many recipients.

In April 1945 the government of Czechoslovakia ordered the expropriation, denaturalisation and ensuing deportation of all Czechoslovaks of Magyar or German native language. In May 1945 Czechoslovaks of German native language had to wear white or yellow armbands with a capital N, for Nemec German, printed on. The armbands were to be worn on the outside clothes until finally, the government had deported all its citizens of German native language, by 1947.

More recently, in 2007, the Bangkok, Thailand police switched to punitive pink armbands adorned with the cute Hello Kitty cartoon character when the tartan armbands that had been intended to be worn as a badge of shame for minor infractions were instead treated as collectibles by offending officers forced to wear them, creating a perverse incentive. The revised scheme, however, was also soon abandoned.


3. Fictional works

In Nathaniel Hawthornes classic 1850 romance novel The Scarlet Letter, set in 17th century Puritan Boston, the lead character Hester Prynne is led from the town prison with the scarlet letter "A" on her breast. The scarlet letter "A" represents the act of adultery that she had committed and it is to be a symbol of her sin for all to see. Originally intended as a badge of shame, it would later take on different meanings as her fictional life progressed in the story.

The 1916 silent film The Yellow Passport, starring Clara Kimball Young, was also known as The Badge of Shame when it was reissued in 1917.

In the 2006 film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Mans Chest, Lord Cutler Beckett Tom Hollander is seen using as a fireplace poker, a branding iron with the letter "P" that he used to impart the "pirates brand" seen on the right forearm of Captain Jack Sparrow Johnny Depp. According to the backstory, Sparrow was branded a pirate by Beckett for refusing to transport slaves for the East India Trading Company.

In the film Inglourious Basterds the protagonists carve swastikas into the foreheads of surviving German soldiers, to make their malfeasance known to all in the future.

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