The Crossroads of Assimilation and Elitism: The Implementing of the new Morehouse Dress Code

Morehouse attire policyFirst stated, what school doesn’t have a dress code somewhere on the books.  I know my high school had one, that no one really enforced.  My college, Dillard University, had one that they tried to enforce.  They were having an issue, more so with young ladies who would come to the cafeteria on the weekends, when class wasn’t in session mind you, wearing flannel pajamas and of course something thin and revealing often times and their heads wrapped up in various states of being done and not–and sometimes the big stupidt Tweety Bird slippers ten times the size of their feet.  Of course on the hotter days of late summer and early spring, young men would come in with slide on shower shoes, basketball shorts and for the more physically fit, tank top t-shirts or cut off t-shirts.

This in no way affected our education.

For the most part and I do mean more than 99% of the student populace would put on clothes and go to class Monday through Friday.  Actually, for many HBCUs, it’s such a damn fashion show, the pajamas thing is really a weekend thing.  It’s the weekend, we live on campus–you’re eating where you live!  Generally on Saturday mornings, people don’t get dressed just to go downstairs, eat breakfast just to either a) go back to sleep or b) go the living room of your house and watch TV.  This is what brings me to the post topic.

Just this past week Morehouse College of Atlanta, Georgia implemented a dress code, that as I said, probably isn’t much different than most other colleges and high schools in America, but following the heels of Morehouse College president Robert Michael Franklin’s much circulated “Renaissance man” speech this past spring that was highly circulated in the black blogosphere and black talk radio.  I did a post where I uploaded the vast majority of the speech and you can check it out here with this link.  And then I did a follow up where I parsed the speech at the points where I had some contention and you can check it out with this link.

More or less it’s the same argument I have with the recent implementation.  I think what college administrations fail to do is actually begin the process of dialoguing with the students.  Students receive way too many mixed messages from older generations.  On one hand they hear, you’re grown, but then on the other hand they get told what to do because “it’s for their own good.”  Children get told to express themselves, but then when they do if it upsets the sensibilities of the adults, then you stifle creativity.  And I think this is some of what is at issue with this dress code.

sagginDoo-rags, baggy jeans and shirts and the sagging of jeans are cultural signifiers.  They may not carry the political weight of the afros and dashikis of the 1960s and 1970s but both outward styles of dress are clear cultural signifiers that help to identify to one another a certain shared assumption of what is uniquely black. That’s why parodies of Barack Obama and his blackness always show him wearing a doo-rag.  This has nothing to do with the largely undefined notion of being “ghetto” (and for those interested make sure to check out Cora Daniel’s Ghettonation) as most of the older generation seem to think.  It transcends just the musical aspects of hip-hop to the cultural aspects of what it means to be hip-hop or as M.K. Asante, Jr. says, to be a part of the post-hip hop generation.

Sadly, supporters of this dresscode seem to believe that it must be this way so that these young men can get a job afterwards.

That puzzles me because I wasn’t aware that the point of going to an HBCU, and Morehouse of all places was just so that I could “get a job” working in a white corporate setting.  What I heard mostly from supporters of this dress code who were on The Rev. Al Sharpton Show this afternoon were using this idea of getting a job as a paradigm for dressing a certain way on campus.  As I said in my earlier post, perhaps if the dress code were to be implemented for some altruistic reason of bettering the community around us or even being an exemplar for those who didn’t have the opportunity to get into Morehouse, then perhaps I’d buy into it, but just for the sake of working for the proverbial “the Man” is bollocks in my opinion.

It reeks of assimilation actually.  Especially because while Morehouse is a private owned institution and can do what it wants with regards to policies, when Franklin was quoted as saying “If you cannot follow the guidelines of a moral community, then leave.  Change your behavior or separate from this college,” then it is quite clear that he is trying to institute an HBCU collegiate culture with European ideals.

Yes, I said it before and I just said it again.

Fonzworth BentleyAll this talk about making a good look for recruiters during job fairs and what not is all good talk and important talk, but I’m disappointed and somewhat shocked at the lack of revolutionary rhetoric that we all so readily associate with the premier HBCUs.  Perhaps its a misnomer though.  Seriously, as of recent, what serious movers and shakers with regards to civil rights have we heard from HBCUs.  Yes, we have a plethora of successful individuals who graduate from HBCUs and do well for themselves who contribute to the black middle class (that’s a whole other post in and of itself), but it astonishes me that in some segments of the black community we’ll be all “black and proud” and then in others it’s much more “go along to get along.”

Above all, attacking cultural signifiers such as the doorag, fitted baseball caps and baggy jeans and the sagging of pants primarily attacks the culture of the future generations.  It’s part and parcel of the banking method of education where a synthesis of the facts and knowledge isn’t encouraged and ultimately the older generations are wanting to make clones of themselves or even of their parents.  What the older generations fail to do is recognize the sign of the times–they are a’ changing.  I’m convinced that my generation combined of hip hop and post-hip hop have never wanted to completely throw out tradition and throw out old ideals, but they certainly have wanted the ability to be themselves.

What I hear when older adults say “take off your cap inside” or “pull your pants up” or still the weird looks young men get who have tattoos all over their arms and possibly necks is that not only are we upsetting their sensibilities, but we’re keyed into wondering how do white Americans see it.  Are we really worried about how upset we are with it, or how much we’re upsetting the delicate sensibilities of white Americans.

recession gapElitism, to me, is borderline assimilation into European ideals and values.  It’s all about how much will you buy into a certain type of culture and anything counter-culture is not tolerated because you’re not “our kind of people.”  DuBois famously said the the premier issue of the 20th century would be the color line; I’m quite sure that now he would redress that statement and add that the premier problem we’re facing now is a class issue both inside and outside our own community.  Blacks as a whole are already way off the mark with regards to whites in this country and income disparities, but still within our own community, we do a VERY good job of separating the people from Harlem Heights versus those from Bed-Stuy; from those that live in Lithonia to those that live in the West End; from those that live in Baldwin Hills to those that still come from Compton and Crenshaw Blvd.; from those that live in Chatham and Beverly from those that live in Englewood and Roseland; from those that grew up in Prince Georges County, MD to those that grew up in Southeast DC–we do it naturally and we don’t care to give it a second thought.

This us versus them, this house Negro versus field Negro dichotomy is ripping us apart day by day and we still feed into it failing to think critically about deeper issues.  Seriously, what difference does a doo-rag on in class make to me learning–or wearing a fitted cap inside a building?  If I never thought about it or gave it a second thought and I’m the one wearing it, why should someone else?  Why do we let issues such as clothes get in the way of greater communal issues; we’re worried about individual seats on the ship, but the whole ship is slowly sinking into the abyss of ignorance and anti-intellectualism.  The issues that plague our community are bigger than doo-rags, bigger than my fitted caps, bigger than my tattoos, bigger than my pants sagging, but that’s what instead we choose to focus on.  Perhaps we should have dealt with the other part of the dress code that felt the need to ban purses and other feminine associated attire and deal with the psychology (and possible pathology) behind why the school felt the need address it as such–a male college that has students that want to dress like women in a growingly liberal society where merely sweeping these issues under the rug leads to a big pile of dust under a rug that will cause someone eventually to trip.

Taking the road of assimilation and elitism is not the direction that we need to be moving.  To the black community: GET IT TOGETHER!

First, who actually read this whole post?  Why is it so hard for us as blacks to deal with deeper and different issues in our community?  Why do we take the easy route and deal with stuff on the surface when already know that scratching the surface doensn’t change anything?  What is your response to this post–in favor or against?  What would you add to the conversation concerning this discussion?

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL


18 thoughts on “The Crossroads of Assimilation and Elitism: The Implementing of the new Morehouse Dress Code

  1. While I agree that elitism and assimilation should not be the direction in which HBCUs move, I, too, am discouraged and disgruntled about the various modes of dress I see on AUC campuses – including ITC. Your rights end where mine begin and I HAVE A RIGHT NOT TO BE SUBJECTED TO SEEING YOUR UNDERWEAR AND/OR YOUR BARE BODY PARTS. Further, what we wear often is a direct reflection on how we see ourselves, intellectually, academically, and communally. Who are we imitating in our dress? What message is being communicated in our dress about what (and whom) we value? (And let us not naively argue that persons who wear sagging pants or other fashion statements have not been influenced by cultural trends.) Moreover, I would surmise that it takes time and effort to put together some of the outfits I have seen modeled in the AUC, including sagging pants (have you ever watched someone walk with sagging pants? Even with a belt, it takes Herculean efforts to keep their pants from falling down). That tells me that the person spent much of her/his morning preparation time focusing on how they looked. How much of that time and effort could be spent reading, writing, studying, having intellectual discourse around relevant topics? And please don’t misunderstand me: I am certainly not advocating everyone wear designer or corporate attire. Indeed, I have seen sisters and brothers wear the least trendy and least corporate attire and make the most profound contributions on these campuses. That makes the person neither an elitist nor an assimilationist.

    1. @ Dr. Allen

      I’m not fully against a dress code being a shared assumption that exists in the swamps of the culture of the institution, but I think going so far as to make it a formal policies causes me serious pause. The culture if it’s strong enough, will create the vacuums where those who dress outside of it’s norms will receive chastisement from fellow peers. Similar to various frats and sororities–your front and your back are responsible for each other and self correct each other. That’s not what I’m arguing against, I think given the public nature of Morehouse, this institution of the policy sends the wrong message to too many in my generation as I’ve outlined in the original post.

  2. You articulated your point quite well; however, as a product of a different and equally prestigious HBCU, Johnson C. Smith University, I would have to disagree with you. The fact that I don’t feel that is appropriate to walk around the campus of a college, university, seminary, or any other institution of higher learning with your doo-rag or head-scarf on or with your pants obviously and blatantly below your waist does not make me elitist or a sell-out to my community, it makes me a person who does not want to see that. As a culture, we have created and brought into norms that govern our society, and part of being a part of society is governing yourself by the norms thereof. As much as we try to pass ourselves off as “originals” and “anti-establishment,” let us be real – we copied most of our fashion, clothing ideas from someone else. The question becomes who are you modeling? My grandmother always told me that “you need to look like where you are going.” Well, if my dream is to one day be a neuro-surgeon (which it is not), then why would I tailor my wordrobe to look like Plies or Lil’ Wayne? If I want to one day be a college professor, then I sure as heck won’t go out and buy all doo-rags to match all my shirts. I think part of the role of the HBCU is to help cultivate the minds of our young people. So many who go to HBCU, even today, are first generation college students who come from backgrounds where they weren’t taught how to tie a tie from their fathers, or young ladies weren’t taught how to dress from their mothers so it becomes the job of the HBCU to teach them how to not only be proud of their “Black-ness” but also how to operate in the larger society. That’s why the whole ethos of an HBCU campus is so much different than a PWI, because HBCUs have to pick up where many parents have left off in order to help cultivate the minds and spirits of the next generation. Is Franklin wrong for instituting this dress code? No. Is he wrong for expecting our young black boys to dress in a way the is reflective of the proud heritage of our people and the legacy that is Morehouse? No. I knew of professors at JCSU who would put you out of class and not allow you back in until you were dressed appropriately. Like Dr. Allen, I don’t think that one has to don designers duds or corporate attire all the time; however, while you are on the campus of a university, as my grandmother would say, you need to “look like somebody.” And Franklin is right, if you can’t uphold the ideals of Morehouse, then you need to leave, there are plenty of other schools who will be glad to allow you to dress yourself like Bozo the Clown and give you a degree. We have to learn to strike a healthy balance between nurturing our individual selves and operating in community with others. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not all about you.

    1. @ St. Marcus

      As a professor once said, “Actually it is about you–and God.” I would extend that to the fact that it actually is about you and the rest of the community–“I am, because we are.”

      That being said, I can’t agree with you more. What I’m taking to issue is the implementing of this as institutional policy. I’m not convinced that all of what you said needs to be a policy mandate on behalf of administration. As I’ve said across twitter and Facebook, I’m more than convinced that the culture of Morehouse is able to provide self-discipline. I went to the Christmas concert last year and of course I had on my fitted and one of the young men who was an usher politely told me to remove my cap. As much as I wanted to go off and at minimum inform him I didn’t go there, I couldn’t really get mad at the brother because he clearly did out of the brotherhood that is Morehouse.

      There’s no need for the policy of a dress code enough brothers do it themselves. The problem as I see it is that majority of students are going to adhere, but Franklin and other elitist Negroes are attempting to address a fringe group of homosexuals and “thugs” who don’t conform to what Morehouse deems proper attire.

      And at issue for me is assimilation. I hear your argument about larger society, but at what point are we as a community going to allow for our unique forms of cultural expression. I mean blacks have had to deal with this “double consciousness” thing for entirely too long, and I think too often we forego too much of our authentic culture. I mean, in Jewish communities, where their kids go to Jewish-day schools, or Mormons aren’t having this same debate–they actually don’t have too. Only “us folk.” I’m not against for Freshman Seminar classes requiring students to wear business attire once a week, or most certainly like at Howard University’s School of B, where once a week, full business attire is required. That makes sense, but to make a school wide policy then makes me ask, how is it going to be enforced–are we going to deny entrance to a class room because I have on baggy jeans? Grillz? a fitted cap?

      Even at a school like Morehouse that has the money, I’m quite sure they have other much more pressing issues to deal with.

  3. Thank you for this extended commentary on this issue.

    There is a certain double standard that exists on college campuses. I have worked at or attended majority White campuses for most of my adult life. In general, White students can dress any way they like, and wear any hair style they like, and such appearance is seen as appropriate “trying on” of identities. Black students on White campuses, however, do not have the same leisure to dress in tattered clothing, for example, lest the campus police mistake them for not belonging on campus.

    I can’t make similar assessments for HBIs–except for the time I visited a friend at Howard and thought it must be a campus job fair day, the kids were so well dressed. (It was just a regular day.) But I do understand administrators’ attempts to make a statement in creating such a code. I did not hear administrators’ rationale on the Sharpton Show–but it sounds from your description more like defensive justification than explanation. They probably would have been better off admitting that they are making an attempt to set themselves apart from other HBIs, from community colleges, etc.

    Yes, class issues are important in Black communities. But they always have been. “Class” was important in many African societies where many of us descended from. But I am not clear how having Black students wear sagging pants in a premiere college is going to make them *less* assimilationist. Particularly since this style of dress has been widely adopted by White youth culture and can be seen on any majority White campus. My sense is that it would just be a marker, *playing* at Being Down with The Community or something. By choosing college over some other options, one is already “assimilating.”

    I guess I am still confused about the angst surrounding this.

    1. @ pprscribe

      Well, the way this story about Morehouse has circulated would make you believe that everyone is running around with white tees, and rocawear jeans with grills and chains and more or less looking like a throwback Source Awards show and that the well-dressed are in the minority.

      I’ll have you know, since I’m at school down here in the AUC and I’ve walked around Morehouse and got a lil brother up there now, it’s really the opposite. Generally speaking everyone is well dressed, well groomed, doing their best to get in, get out, graduate and move on. But, of course you have fringe elements–and that’s where the class divisions I see, come through.

      And actually, you went where I was hoping no one noticed because it’s such a complex issue–but yeah, these cultural signifiers go at the heart of yet another complex issue that only blacks in America have to deal with–addressing issues of true blackness. Wearing your pants slightly below your waistline identifies you as black (or trying to be black for whites); wearing a fitted cap to match an outift and shoes–black; wearing a doo-rag–black; grillz–black–and if I could push it even farther, there are issues of masculinity that are wrapped up in the cultural signifiers.

      And your right, you’re already breathing rarefied air just going to college and yes I could see the argument for assimilation. However, I would counter that by saying that assimilation for some greater good, such as “the spook who sat by the door” makes sense to me, assimilation just for the sake of looking the part and being culturally acceptable to whites of America doesn’t sit well with me.

      1. it’s really the opposite. Generally speaking everyone is well dressed, well groomed

        Well, now that puts a different spin on things. So are you suggesting that who the administrators are really speaking to are those who are not yet students instead of current students? Kind of telling some group of somebodies (who are presumed to dress this way) that “they” are not welcome here?

        Interesting thought. (If true, not too smart in light of financial difficulties most campuses are facing, but interesting.)

      2. @ pprscribe

        That’s my impression. It’s Morehouse, they got a real bond with a lot of each other, they really do the “I am my brother’s keeper” as a general mentality. I mean of course the typical college BS happens, but Morehouse people look out for each other. Moreover, Morehouse is not having financial difficulties–why, because they’re Morehouse.

        And yes, well dressed and well groomed, however, seems to be quite relative.

  4. Nice debate… I’d like to frame it like this. Traffic signals, stop signs, Double yellow lines all the traffic rules that everybody is expected to obey, they are simple rules. Now and then some one runs a light or stop sign or maybe crosses the double yellow line and we all know the consequences when any of these things happen. Those written Laws make us assimilate to be safe drivers. I’m thinking that Morehouse has decided to institute a few “Road rules” to guide those who may not understand what is acceptable in their eyes. I think someone at Morehouse is trying to avoid the accidents that happen when the “Stop Signs” “Light Signals” and “Double yellow lines” are not being followed …. Let alone them not being in existence…. Being a private institution they can set the rules of the road…. Drive safely…..

    1. @ Jeff Allen

      Great analogy.

      But teaching the rules of the road are great, but I think it negates the revolutionary and radical sprits of those who want to take “the road less traveled” or for those who have an “off-roading” spirit. I think the “rules of the road” can be safely taught, just not with some grand implementing of policy. I mean in my freshman seminar classes at Dillard, we were required to dress up on Tuesdays for chapel in business attire. Most HBCUs still in freshman orientations require for young men to bring suits at least for that first week. They teach students how to comport themselves on interviews and what not. I just get the impression that this was making a mountain out of a molehill and missing the forest for the trees. And if nothing else, they are merely redressing (no pun intended) an issue that has much deeper roots beyond dress.

    2. @ Jeff Allen

      And now that I think about it, how are they going to enforce it? Give out tickets? Who’s going to be the police? Are they going to have people checking to see just how much crack and underwear are showing before they issue a ticket, a warning, expulsion, denial of entry into classrooms?

  5. When we leave home and go out into the world we are not all equally yoked. We do not have the same upbringing and family values bestowed upon us. Therefore we are all going to bring something different to the table… I see it as Morehouse just insisting everyone wash their hands and be properly dressed be for sitting down at the table…

    1. @ JA

      There could be a freshman colloquium class that could address this issue, which I really don’t think is as big an issue as perceived–this after first experience of walking around. The way some are portraying this, everyone on that campus is walking around with grillz, white tees and pants down to their knees or some type of transsexual with purses and heels strutting about campus. No, those are fringe groups. Other colleges, HBCUs included have done well with addressing the issue of dress without implementing such a severe and culturally insensitive dress code that garners such national attention.

      Again, how is this going to be implemented.

      And what is the end result of this? Franklin’s plan addresses a wide range of issues, I think the administration has much more important issues at stake.

  6. First of all, CONGRATS! Your the first added to my blogroll lol. I went to Clark Atlanta University, and personally I think Morehouse is FULL OF SHIT. The fact is, the majority of Morehouse and Spelman students do not consistently dress to go to class, but those who do look damn good. Those who don’t dress are simply choosing to wear lounge clothes. To my knowledge, no school in the AUC has a dress code. The closest they get is the B-School at CAU that requires students to dress business casual/professional or wear the B-School polo.

    If Morehouse admin really had a problem, they should have voiced their concerns a decade or so ago. This is truly over some of the gay students wanting to wear skirts and heels to class. I say, work it honey!

    A large presence of Black Gay Students attending Morehouse is a fact that almost everyone knows, yet Morehouse will not admit. It’s right up there with Black folks not admitting that OJ did it or that “Red” is not actually a flavor of Kool-Aid. They simply ignore it. They turned a blind eye in times when hate crimes took place on campus against these men, resulting in them banning together to form a student organization promoting the safety of gay Morehouse students. This group of students, led by their fearless leader MJ Brewer (love you boo!), are fighting for what they feel are their rights. They are ultimately tired of Morehouse doing things just for “traditional appearances.”

    Hell, I didn’t even go there and I’m tired of it too.

    Just as the ladies of Spelman banned Mr. Tip Drill himself, yet seemingly forgot about their distaste for disrespectful hip hop as that got crunk in the ATL clubs….I feel that Morehouse is trying to institute this purely for show. It is the noble thing to do. We shall call it: “A Movement to Protect the Image of the Uppity Negro.” God forbid White America learn that a Man of Morehouse was spotted attending an 8am class in a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt. That surely would be the demise of Black Folk. It undermines years of hard work, overshadows our Black President, means MLK died in vain, yada yada ya…. As I said: MOREHOUSE IS FULL OF SHIT.

    I love my AUC family along with my HBCU family. The fact is, WE DRESS. HBCU students are the flyyest, flashiest, and coolest kids on the block. We love to look good, and that’s all she wrote.

    Besides, a dress code in college? C’mon…These men are grown and are paying an ungodly amount of $$$ to receive their education. As desperate as HBCU’s are for money they shouldn’t care if these men show up in a Wonder Woman costume…as long as that check clears.


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