Opinion

The Category Is: Respectability

For as long as we have been on this continent, Black bodies have been policed. How we look, how we talk, how we dress...

For as long as we have been on this continent, Black bodies have been policed. How we look, how we talk, how we dress. It has always been under scrutiny and discussion. Black folks have always been told that if they style themselves a certain way, they will be treated appropriately. It happened so frequently, that it slowly trickled into Black people policing and criticizing other black people. Non-Black people stopped criticizing us as much because black people did it for them. It’s a sad state of affairs, really.

A couple of weeks ago, a principal of a Houston public high school enacted a dress code…for parents. The principal, Carlotta Brown, sent home a letter to parents highlighting the new “dress code”. In her dress code, Principal Brown has banned many things, including: satin caps or bonnets, shower caps, baggy pants, jeans “torn from the buttocks”, hair rollers, “daisy dukes”, dresses “up to your behind” or low cut tops. Now, while reading this list I instantly knew the racial ratio of the students. Instantly. Now, this kind of dress code is perfectly fine for students.

For a principal to enact this dress code WITHOUT consulting parents (or even meeting with parents to gain a quorum) is quite interesting. On the reason for having the dress code, Principal Brown said that she felt there needed to be a dress code because SHE felt parents were not setting the best examples for the students. Her feelings. Not facts; feelings. I want to make that very, very clear. She stated her opinion and enforced her opinion on what is appropriate and inappropriate. When she was challenged by some parents who stated the cultural significance of black women wearing hair coverings to protect their hair, she said the following:

“It’s not a part of my culture. My family has never worn bonnets outside of the home and not even inside of the home,” Brown claimed. “The same type of aggressiveness that you’re apart of for this whole quest for the dress code, I need all parents to be like that for their child’s education.”

*rubs temples* Ok, ma’am. Alright. Sure. Again, because SHE did not do it, she does not feel it’s appropriate. Heavy. Heavy. Sigh.

Principal Brown has been interviewed about this by several outlets. She has stood her ground. I must give her snaps for continuing to walk in this. However, she isn’t seeing how this is being perceived.  As educated as she is, she is not looking at the whole picture. In her interviews, she cites three instances to back up her stance: A woman wearing a top so sheer that you could see her breasts, a woman wearing a pair of jeans that were low cut and you could see her thong underwear and a woman who had on a sleep shirt.  Those are three somewhat extreme instances. These seem to be exceptions; not rules. With this new rollout, there has already been a situation that demonstrates how problematic it is to have this kind of dress code. A mother got a phone call that her son broke his arm. In the hurry of getting to her son, she left her sleep bonnet on her head. She was told that she could not come into the school because of the new dress code. This is an emergent situation and it is abhorrent that the school would use this against her. Her son’s arm is broken. Do you honestly think if you get a phone call that your child’s arm was broken (during a time when he is in the SCHOOL’S care) that anyone would give a damn how they are dressed? If you do, I have a farm in Massachusetts to sell you.

Principal Brown said things like “this is a place of business” and that a school is a “professional setting”. No tea, no shade Principal Brown but a school is YOUR place of business; it is YOUR professional setting. For a parent who is picking up/dropping off their kids, this is not their place of employment. For you to look down your nose at parents/guardians because of their attire is classist and racist. Racist because the majority of the students who attend the school are black and brown. For a woman to be so educated, she is woefully obtuse. As coach Herm would say, she needs to look at the optics.

For the principal to put her respectability rules on other adults is laughable to someone like me. Someone…who works part time retail. I cannot even BEGIN to tell you the stories of what I have seen some people wear when they are shopping. Everyone has seen the tweets, Facebook statuses, IG pictures of how some people dress when they go to Wal-Mart. Do you know what those subjects of those photos say? It rhymes with “duck blue”.  Last time I checked, retail stores were places of business. The same folks defending the Principal’s actions (and the principal herself) would lose their proverbial lunches if these stores put up that kind of dress code. LOSE. THEIR. LUNCHES. There are many stores that have a “no shoes, no service” sign but there have still been people who don’t wear shoes standing in line to pay for their items. But, yes, let’s police parents. So all of those who are defending the principal’s action (and, frankly, condescendingly judgmental tone) need to keep that same energy when they run into stores with rollers, house shoes, wrinkled clothing, head scarves or pajama pants when they are just “running into the store real quick”. Keep. That. Same. Energy. Also, I need people to realize that if this was a majority white school, this kind of thing would not have even happened. And you know I’m right.

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