A principal of a high school in Texas sparked controversy after signing off on a dress code for parents and guests who visit the school.
A letter, explaining the dress code, bans the following attire:
- “Jeans that are torn from your buttocks (behind) to all the way down showing lots of skin
- “Leggings that are showing your bottom and where your body is not covered from the front or back ”
- “Sagging pants, shorts, jeans”
- “Dresses that are up to your behind”
- “Hair rollers”
Other clothing such as satin caps or bonnets, shower caps, daisy dukes, and pajamas will not be permitted on this Houston high school’s campus.
This recent policy has upset a number of parents. It has drawn criticism for possibly being racist and classist. Critics have called this policy anti-Black, attacking aspects of Black culture.
Before proceeding further with this post, where I explore this controversy, let us pause for a moment of silence for the self-destruction of Black dignity with the help of faux liberal White allies.
I’m serious. *waits 60 seconds*
White people appropriating different aspects of urban Black behavioral patterns or hip-hop subcultural forms does not make any of it the most beneficial across all settings.
Why is presenting ourselves decently at a school a bad thing? The school is not asking parents to purchase designer clothing.
Some of us are quick to identify an issue as racist and classist without contextualizing it.
I am anti-racist and pro-diversity.
I am against crafting laws and policies to target people along the lines of race and class in order to further subjugate them.
For example, the certain racist drug laws have been written to more severely target Black and Brown populations as compared to White counterparts.
Likewise, there are racist practices and policies that serve to police Black women’s bodies and hairstyles within different organizations.
Wearing braids and our natural hair is not-absolutely not the same as wearing a shower cap and hair rollers to work.
I agree that wearing pajamas in public is not the cause or reason behind contemporary racism. I am not arguing that oppression exists because of how working-poor people across race adorn themselves.
I contend that it helps, not hurts, our mindset when we reflect on why we do what we do.
Fighting for Black people to equate lower standards with Blackness is not what I call racial uplift.
Reasons for the Parent Dress Code
From the letter sent to parents and guardians, part of the reason for dress code is “to prepare our children and let them know daily, the appropriate attire they are supposed to wear when entering a building, going somewhere, applying for a job, or visiting someone outside of the home setting.”
From what I have gathered so far, the policy arose from a concern for the children’s future. I doubt the policy is intended to be a substitute for excellent teaching, as some critics assume.
The James Madison High School letter closes with:
We have to have standards, most of all we must have high standards. We are preparing your child for a prosperous future. We want them to know what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for any setting they may be in. This is a professional educational environment where we are teaching our children what is right and what is correct or not correct.
My point of critique is the vague language of “entering a building, going somewhere.” If you are going to a night club, which is a building, then revealing tops and very short dresses would work.
If I am going on a date with my husband or with my girl friends, I might not dress like I am showing up for a parent-teacher conference.
Similarly, wearing short shorts, when visiting their friends or going to hang out, which falls under “visiting someone outside of the home setting,” is not the same kind of context as applying and interviewing for a job in person.
I think the letter could have used a bit more attention because it seems to muddle the principal’s personal preferences in casual settings with the intent of the dress code, which seems to be setting an example for children to learn to navigate both professional and casual contexts.
I am unaware of any prior attempts to communicate with parents about this matter prior to rolling out this policy. There would probably be push-back, as with any change.
Moving forward, I hope that the school considers families with emergencies when enforcing the policy. If they have not already done so, I hope they join families in a conversation to co-create different school policies.
Nevertheless, I get the sense that most parents are not having daily emergencies that warrant rushing their children to school in hair rollers and sagging pants.
If some of these same people won a special trip by their favorite celebrity to go to some “all white” party, most like no one would not raise an issue with the dress code.
They would not argue about wearing a different color. Pictures would flood social media, as they showed off their outfits and hair without a shower cap, bragging about their experience.
Unless it was a sleepover, I can almost guarantee the individuals who are complaining would do their best to look more presentable than showing up in pajamas and house slippers… Like any of us.
They would not make it into a non-existent power struggle or infringement on their rights.
Over-Reaching and Binary Games
Is the school over-reaching?
Perhaps. However, many of us ignore how the public and society have over-reached with schools.
We put a lot of pressure and expectations on teachers and administrators, especially in urban schools with large working-poor populations.
We ignore the impact of racism and classism on generations of people within communities.
Often, those of us who express concern about these issues in order to deal with them and not deflect from racism, liberal activists, academics, and White allies accuse us of blaming the victim.
They seem to ignore how we decry racism.
Much of the United States seem to expect teachers and administrators, particularly in urban and rural contexts, to take on the role of parent, therapist, detective, social worker, lawyer, pastor, priest, rabbi, Reiki-practitioner, coach, accountant, hair stylist, baby-sitter, and dare anyone to expect a challenge to parents and their children.
And when it comes to Black and Latinx working-poor people, liberals tend to focus on the former systemic issues, and conservatives like to focus on the latter indivdual ones.
I think the typical liberal conversation that ignores personal responsibility devastates Black communities.
Likewise, the typical conservative ignoring the systemic disparities adversely affecting individual and Black people as a collective serve to maintain these oppressive structures.
It is as if dismantling institutional racism and encouraging healthy behavior among Black people cannot exist in the same world.
Political leaders and those who make careers off of keeping Black people subjugated in the name of progress, play these kinds of decontextualized games, which keeps us divided along race-class lines.
The only people who benefit from ignoring this binary game are those who are most aligned with maintaining White dominance at all levels of society. That is, White supremacy in the form of faux racial progress.
I doubt these people dress like this in professional settings, but the they have no problem telling working-poor People of Color to do it.
They definitely are not encouraging their own children to conduct themselves in this way.
These leaders, “activists,” writers, and allies seem to do nothing more than build a platform and tell certain Black people what we want to hear.
Sometimes, what I want to hear is not good for me.
I no longer have ears to hear the nonsense.
If these individuals do not dare challenge Black people to change our mindsets from the ways we live out the internalized racism, let the dress code remain in effect.
What Does it Mean to be Black?
Before I found out about this news story, I had been reflecting on Shirley Chisolm, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Anna Julia Cooper.
I look to women like them for what it means to be a Black woman.
I do not look to mainstream corporate-driven capitalist hip hop culture, for example, for these definitions. I hold these subcultural forms loosely—they are not the standard.
I strive to keep learning about my roots (not the colonized kind we often get from formal education and mainstream media), and I speak from this place.
Speaking of beginnings, as a child, the first home I lived in did not have indoor plumbing. I thought this was normal until I realized that people had toilets, washers and dryers in their homes, and bathrooms.
Heck, at that time, we were living poorer than Mississippi poor in our small town.
My sisters and I shared one bed and our parents’ bed were on the other side of the same room of the house that we resided in with our grandfather. It was a wooden house built by the hands of my grandfather and father.
I remember taking a bath outdoors in a large metal bin. It was the same one that my mom used when washing clothes by hand with a wash board. A trip to the laundromat was a big deal. In my child eyes, it was fun to get out.
When my parents bought a home with indoor plumbing and other standard contemporary amenities, the clothes dryer was used on rainy days. I dried clothes outside on a clothesline until I left for college in the ’90s.
We did not have the latest fashionable clothes, but my mom made sure we were groomed. She did the same whenever she came to the school.
I know that as a Black woman, I can present myself in the best way possible with clothing and have the entire alphabet after my name and that alone is not enough to shield me from a racist society in any institution.
This is a fact.
I am not having a pull ourselves by the bootstrap conversation. That is a myth-a lie.
Racism is very real and systematic.
Our society needs different remedies to support those who were not born into wealth and do not have ease of blending into White affluency with the acquisition of cultural norms and connections.
I came from a lot of drama in my home—a lot of pain. I have drawn lessons that were worth keeping.
One of the lessons: I can hold my head up high with dignity and care. Dignity and care are not attached to the possessions I own.
Being Black is not about fancy clothes beyond my means because the only successful Black people that are promoted in the media are celebrities and athletes.
Being Black is raising the bar in my mind and world.
Black is resilience, love, creativity, spirituality, innovation, and mystery.
I have been to hell and back and then again, like so many Black people.
We keep going.
That’s a reason to pull our pants up and hold our heads up, too.
Indeed, I am not looking down on my brothers and sisters. I am looking up.
Closing: Respectability Politics or Self-Respect
Just like when White people get offended when they are called on racially questionable behavior, Black people do the same thing when we are called on how we let internalized racism live out a broken caricature of Black culture.
All this principal seemed to be standing for like Aretha Franklin is a little respect-self respect. What do our children have to lose from it?
The only things hurting are adult egos.
Respectability politics is real.
From time to time, I unapologetically use African American Vernacular English and the Language of Wider communication in my writing.
Self-respect is not respectability politics, it is simply self-respect.
Our clothing is not the source of oppression. I am very much aware of this fact.
A mentality that identifies Black culture with wearing dresses up to our behinds and wearing pajamas and hair rollers to a school does not help society and us.
Is you crazy?
The people supporting this mentality get to appear anti-racist, cheering Black people on, as we create more ways to lower our standards.
Fighting to lower the standard for myself and Black people in the name of Black culture is not for me.
Fighting to wear sagging pants and hair rollers is not the hill I am going to die on for racial progress.
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