IS DRESSING FOR SUCCESS AN INSULT TO BLACK PEOPLE?

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Is the Black community hopelessly divided? Has the community fallen so far from a general idea of progress that there is a permanent barrier against anything resembling success that most people will embrace? Have class lines ensured that there is a “ring-pass-me-not” that will keep Black people moving in circles, never to grab the ring of success? Have notions of white supremacy made it so distasteful to adopt values formerly embraced by Black Americans that people are now left to adopt ridiculous stances?

The questions above have been generated by something that occurred recently as fallout from a public school principal’s decision to enact a dress code for parents visiting her school. Carlotta Brown, a new principal at James Madison High School in Houston, TX, has vowed to turn away parents if they show up at the school wearing bonnets, pajamas, hair rollers or leggings, among other clothing items. According to an online article entitled “HISD principal sets dress code – for parents,” by R.A. Schuetz and Jacob Carpenter, a memo, written by Principal Brown detailing the dress code states: “Parents, we do value you as a partner in your child’s education.” Brown, herself a graduate of Madison High School, further says “However, please know we have to have standards, most of all we must have high standards.”

Apparently, this action was instituted after a parent was turned away from the school when she attempted to enroll her daughter based on how she was dressed. According to reports, the woman was dressed in a t-shirt dress and headscarf. People who saw photos of the woman said that she appeared to be dressed in what could have been sleepwear; a long tee-shirt without leggings and a scarf that was not stylishly done, but appeared to be one that she had slept in.

As a result of the incident, Black people all across the country have expressed divergent views. Most notably, people who are siding with the woman are saying that it is unfair for the school to enact a dress code for parents; that it has nothing to do with the quality of students’ education. They are calling it elitist and are even attributing the act to the principal’s alleged embrace of white supremacist values. In other words, to require that parents dress in a more dignified manner when doing business with the school is discriminatory and disrespectful.

Those who support the principal’s position have expressed the opinion that it is okay to demand that people coming to do business with the school, which is what enrolling your child is doing, should at least be dressed in such a way that they do not look like they are just rolling out of bed. Actually, parents who might show up to school like this are expressing another kind of disrespect; they are sending a message to students that school is not important enough to dress appropriately. Critics also point out that those same parents would not dare go to a nightclub or to church dressed in such a manner.

Since when is it elitist to expect people to dress for success? Would the parent have gone to a job interview in hair rollers and a tee shirt? Are Black people now so far out of touch with American society that they should not be expected to dress appropriately for the occasion? School is about more than just academics; collateral learning is important. Presentation, an element of this collateral learning, plays an important part in the rules of success.

To insist that parents doing business with schools not be allowed to wear night clothes and other inappropriate attire, is sending a message that appearance counts, which it does. Students need to understand this. Since all education actually starts at home, parents bear the responsibility of preparing their children for success in the world. It is important, therefore, that they set the standards for achievement, and respecting school as a place of business is one of the best places to start. In the event that parents don’t understand this important point, it’s perfectly alright that schools take the initiative to set the example for them. A Luta Continua.

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