UNN.com Throwback Week — The Crossroads of Assimilation and Elitism: The Implementing of the new Morehouse Dress Code

Morehouse attire policy

In honor of Throwback Week, todays post comes from October 15, 2009.  Sit back and enjoy. JLL

First 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

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