More on Dress Codes, Mean Girls, and Morehouse Men.

I’ve a piece in The Root about the Morehouse dress code and Aliya S. King’s Vibe article. As I’ve indicated before, I’m squarely in the camp of people who believe that expressions of gender identity are far more fluid than what one wears or how one behaves. But I dug a little deeper and talked about some other problems with the dress code, as well:

…the dress code also bans baseball caps and hoods indoors, do-rags other than in residence halls and sagging pants. These bans may seem innocuous enough. After all, with all of the issues that young black men face today, why permit Morehouse men to wear items associated with criminal behavior?

The problem is this: By declaring popular styles to be inappropriate and focusing on a narrow version of respectability, Morehouse and those who support this kind of ban are merely reinforcing the idea that there’s something inherently wrong with young men who wear baggy jeans. But as Colorlines discovered, innocent young black men in the New York City neighborhood of Brownsville, Brooklyn, get stopped and frisked constantly because they “fit the profile” of someone who committed a crime.

That “profile” often relies on two things — skin color and attire — and has almost no basis in actual criminal activity. Working to legitimize current fashion and self-expression within black communities and institutions could go a long way toward making these things more acceptable within society at large. Perhaps, instead of reacting to what others think, we should embrace street style and nontraditional gender expression as just more of the many facets of black folks.

You can read the rest here. And today on Twitter, this video of Morehouse men having a conversation about the Vibe article popped up. It’s definitely worth a watch.

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  • Darth Paul

    “Morehouse and those who support this kind of ban are merely reinforcing the idea that there’s something inherently wrong with young men who wear baggy jeans.”

    I doubt that it’s merely that, but I can understand and appreciate where that opinion is coming from. There’s something to be said for corporate dress codes, and no doubt many Morehouse graduates aspire to work in the corporate world. Baggy jeans and endless self-expression by dress are not part of that world, like it or not.

    HOWEVER, college is the time to get all that adolescent expression out of your system in preparation for the professional world. So I do support the freedom of college students to do their thing where wardrobe goes…at public institutions.

  • MH8D

    what exactly is the limit of things that society must accept from each and every individual? at what point should an individual rise above his base instinct for personal gratification and make a compromise for the greater good?
    A system can’t work with each and every part of the system doing its own thing, that is chaos. Rules serve a purpose.
    Count me among the people who believe that general societal order is more important that individual liberties.

    • “Count me among the people who believe that general societal order is more important that individual liberties.”

      if i can go broad with this: why should an individuals invest or participate in a society that doesn’t protect their individual liberties?

      • MH8D

        they shouldn’t. I believe in a balance, not elimination of individual liberties.
        my point is: how valuable or satisfying would unlimited individual rights be if there were no boundaries to the next man’s rights, which would inevitably conflict with yours at some point? I just think that people these days are very selfishly and narrowly focused on their own agenda and their ‘rights’ to the point of critical disruption to the system, because nobody values it. People treat the government like some constant external antagonizing force, when that same government provides the stable environment in which they live and thrive.
        For example, everybody hates the parking authority when they get a ticket, but the agency’s existence enforces a general order so that people don’t chaotically park anywhere they feel like, blocking sidewalks, intersections, handicap ramps and such. The streets are ultimately a better place because of them.
        There are places in the world where the water is not fit to drink, violent militias roam the land, and the government changes hands in violent coups.
        America is not perfect, but it offers a very high standard of living to most of its citizens. This stable, peaceful, conveniently livable environment is based on a very high level of organization.
        A complex system like this only functions properly when its various components behave within predictable parameters. So we agree to certain individual compromises in order to maintain the system that provides the quality of life that we desire. You don’t really have any usable rights if there are no agreed upon boundaries of civility and acceptable behavior for everyone.
        In the specific case of Morehouse vs. the cross-dressers, I think they are trying to overstep the boundary of individual rights and force their own version of morality on the institution. Those men have a right to exist and dress and behave however they like. But Morehouse also has a right to say that they don’t agree with that lifestyle as an appropriate image for the Morehouse man, and don’t want their name associated with that. If America makes a place for one, then they must make (or preserve) the place for the other.

        • R.A.B.

          You can assert the utility of unblocked handicap ramps; I’m not sure you can parellel said utility to a world free of cross-dressing; in fact, I’m sure that utility has nothing at all to do with cross-dressing or other such culture “antagonism,” and I suppose that is his/my/our/a lot of people’s point here.

        • R.A.B.

          I guess that, more neatly put, I’m just pointing out that the contexts you’re comparing aren’t really comparable. I can apply Kant and Hume and Rawls to your e.g. about parking tickets in a way that doesn’t have anything to do with figuring how I could or couldn’t justify stifling non-violent, relatively unimpressive cultural expression because of some illusory insecurity about image or tradition.

  • Thank you for posting this. That video is great.

  • Xara

    I think the first disgrace is the fact that this is what Morehouse is getting major media attention for. Morehouse has such a rich history. Some of the most successful and intelligent men I know attended Morehouse, and this is what they have been relegated to? These men are the future leaders of business, medicine, science, academia, etc. I think something else is behind this dress code media frenzy.

    • April

      I really don’t get this reaction, which I’ve seen frequently (mostly among Morehouse alumni). VIBE is not the Morehouse campus newsletter. Its job is not to puff up the university’s reputation. And, frankly, that a university has educated lawyers and doctors is not newsworthy; that is its job. Given the attention to topics such as the recent suicides among gay students, and the past (unwarranted) scapegoating of black CA voters for Prop 8’s passage, it’s not surprising that this story has gotten vast coverage. I think something else is behind…the protestations, especially by Morehouse students and alumni, that this attention is tarnishing the university’s image. If Morehouse is such a world-class institution, then this shouldn’t be a threat.

  • cocolamala

    it doesn’t seem like a minority of students (maybe, a handful?) can ruin the reputation of a historic university.

    don’t other universities have students who cross dress? do employers refuse to take Oberlin College graduates seriously because they don’t have dress code rules? what about Antioch students? schools’ reputations aren’t overshadowed by whether or not a few students dress in drag. it is not as though lgbt folk are or ever will be the majority of students to the point where they redefine the school’s identity.

    my other point is… how can Morehouse be mad when they admitted these kids to their school in the first place? why not just refuse to admit students who seem out of step with Morehouse Masculinity standards. Seriously, why not just get petty and keep lgbt kids out of higher ed. altogether?

    It seems like people are worried about the boundaries of masculinity because Morehouse is an all men’s school and all male orgs need to be careful lest their homo-social behavior be interpreted as homo-sexual. Because, patriarchy says, all-male groups are about power — but only power, not pleasure…women are for pleasure…

  • cocolamala

    The corporate excuse doesn’t wash for me because not all Morehouse students are going to enter corporate environments. Just off the top of my head; the film students, dance majors, journalists, and design students are probably not going to be wearing a suit and tie to work everyday.

    And, a major difference between a university dress code and a workplace dress code is the residential nature of a university. After work, you can go home and do what you want in the privacy of your own abode. After classes though, a student may go back to school housing, where he probably lives with another student [can you imagine having with a co-worker randomly assigned to live in your apt, by your job?], and then eat in a campus dining hall. I mean, University policies have potential to reach much further into your personal life than workplace regulations do.

  • Naima

    nice post…we definitely need to cease being so reactionary to the narrowly defined ways society tends to view people of color. It’s that whole “White people are watching us” mentality…I know we all do it to a certain extent–shit I still do it sadly when I change up the way I speak to certain people AROUND certain parties (you know exactly what I am talking about) *sigh*

    But, I do know there is absolutely no way, no how we will we gain parity by acting “right,” donning oxfords and gingham sweaters, removing all slang from our speech, or walking with a less stylized gait …we will not be rewarded by our good behavior because power is not given it is taken.

    “Your respectability will not save you” MHL…

    • I would argue that respectability is necessary but not sufficient to gain “parity” by almost any definition—economic, cultural, social, political, etc. There are very few people in this world who can move forward in any meaningful way without making significant concessions to the society in which they live (Mark Zuckerberg springs to mind). On the other hand, I do agree that cultural and social accommodation alone aren’t gonna get us where we need to go.

  • Naima

    And that vid is TIGHT…
    especially at 2:32

    Reminds me of the heated discussions that would pop up at HU, miss those much.

  • First I think the quality of Morehouse is demonstrated by the intellectual, honest conversation these students had in the video. They listened, didn’t disrespect each other, and expressed how they truly felt.

    With the recent rash of young gays who’ve taken their own lives, I think the Morehouse administration needs to get past worrying about their image of masculinity taking a hit. Their worry needs to be about their “humanity” taking a hit.

  • Ray Butlers

    It is always inappropriate to show your underpants in public. And it is always inappropriate to emulate criminals and expect some sort of cultural respect in return. If boys who fit the profile want to avoid getting pulled over, they should quit dressing like crooks. It’s really a simple matter.

    • brandi

      How do you dress like a criminal?

  • R.A.B.

    The comments section on Shani’s piece over at The Root is a hot mess. I’m just saying: if your arguments in this sphere would have made you a compelling defense attorney for private, white colleges in the 1950s, you’re probably doin’ it wrong.