Dressed Up with Nowhere to Go: The Complexity of Hypocrisy, Racial Pride & Social Justice!
So, we know the different statements that are made when we are undressed. But what are we saying when we get dressed! When I put on attire that says anything like “I’m black and I’m proud,” what statement is that attire saying to others? What does it say to you?
I remember being asked to engage students at a local school a few years ago on the issue of them wearing Confederate Flag attire. Should that have been an issue at all? Many people—especially a large number of students at the school that requested my assistance—were appalled at the fact that their students would don such garments. Others said it was a symbol of pride in their heritage. The actual mantra defenders of the confederate attire used to advance their position was “heritage, not hate.” I don’t want to offend anyone’s heritage, but I hated that mantra!
Do we have a right to challenge someone’s pride in their heritage? Is it a double standard to challenge one groups’ clothing and not another’s. Why is it okay for black people to have black pride, but not whites to have white pride? Come on, you know damn well that many of you have had this thought before. Let’s talk! Drop it like its hot!
I have a hat that says “BOTA” which means “Brothers of the Academy.” Is that racist? Well, technically the word “brother” could be construed as such, since it implies, more often than not, black maleness. Native American, Latino and Asian males that hang with the home boys often receive that consideration themselves whilst amongst Blacks. Even some white males “with flava” that I have encountered in my lifetime earn those stripes as well (if you don’t know what flava is, you need to ask someone). But is having BOTA on your hat equivalent to having a confederate flag on your hat?. Does the symbol of educated black men within a spectrum of a national organization of college oriented men suggest anything racist? It shouldn’t and it should. It isn’t racist in the sense that it isn’t designed to hurt anyone, only advance a group that has been systematically constrained by governmental policy and procedures within a so-called democratic country. It is racist in that the organization BOTA is all about undermining the privileges of those (mostly white) who have systematically contributed to the internalized oppression of black folk so that they may seek advantage/privilege while appearing as if they aren’t. The representation of a confederate flag or any racial statement on a hat is most likely a symbol of heritage or some type of pride for many. But it is also is a symbol of insensitivity towards many, a symbol of a type of privilege that clearly states I don’t have to be concerned about how you interpret my messages. My only response to seeing any overt statement on someone’s hat is would they be bold enough to wear it amongst a throng of people that might have a problem with the statement. If the answer to that question is no, then they shouldn’t be wearing it, period. If I am wrong about this, please inform me. But first tell me how it differs from telling our children that if they wouldn’t say profanity in front of us, why are they saying ill-gotten words/phrases in front of their friends.
So what about the attire we don in jest? Does it excuse us somehow when we wear certain outfits as Halloween attire? I recently visited a college that had serious concerns about some of their students who did exactly that, donned KKK attire as Halloween garb. Wasn’t it Prince Harry who decided to dress as a Nazi for some costume party? Doesn’t it seem that every 3-5 years in the news we get some type of sound bite about a social insensitivity? Doesn’t it speak specifically to the fact that we aren’t educating our youth early and often enough about respect for differences?
A colleague of mine, a White woman, shared with me that she bought her partner, a White Male, a White Privilege sweat top. She said he was excited to have it, but somewhat uncomfortable wearing it, especially in this area. Perhaps while he didn’t expect to be beat down, or lynched, he knew he could just be socially outcast and on some subtle levels devalued for having too edgy of a take on racism! Both her and him understand that it was a White scholar, Peggy McIntosh, who coined the phrase while acknowledging the privileges her white skin gave her in American society. No doubt, if a black person made the same claim they would be construed as a whiner. However, with a White person saying it, though they may be telling tales out of school, it definitely wouldn’t be interpreted as whining. After all, McIntosh was only making the same claim a man could/would/should make when thinking about his privilege over women in American society. He may not access it all the time, but it is futile for men to argue their gender, their masculinity doesn’t privilege them, often, over women! The same can be said about those who have money in this capitalist system of government that we operate within. If you have money, you can buy honey! You get my point!
I remember as if it was yesterday when my wife and I went to a party years ago over her ex bosses house. He was a director of human resources. Traditionally human resources is one of the more progressive, sophisticated departments within an organization. They are the people-people. They are in the people business. So, we are leaving this guy’s house after having been there about 90 minutes. We were the only Blacks in his home and the only one’s who happened to enter his home through the front door. All the White folk had entered through the side door (my how times have changed). So, we are now leaving through the side door and look to our left and see old antiquated black faced, big lipped, figurines, historical Jim Crow artifacts that were being proudly displayed on his wall. My wife looked shocked at both what she saw, and then became overtly concerned at what I would say. You could see it in her eyes. I pulled my eyes off the wall, turned to him and said “Quite an interesting wall hanging you’ve got there! Quite a controversial piece of art. Do you know that many scholars are in discussion even today about what art like this actually says, historically, as well as what it says about the people who would actually display it in current times.” My wife looked at me, proudly, and then almost immediately transitioned into an awareness that I had just said this to her boss. It seemed as if she allowed all of her social justice instincts to override the fact that, on some level, I had actually been somewhat rude and self-righteous in my judgment on this man whom I was now treating as a perpetrator of social injustice. He was just a man who has been educated in the American school system and by the American media. His perspective is how we traditionally roll. When I fight to not call my son a sissy when he is on the verge of tears, I am really fighting not to become this man. I am fighting against my socialization. Too many of us just straight-out succumb to it without question far too often. What is that about? Before any of you get too sanctimonious about the H.R. director, people who wear insensitive attire, etc. make sure that you are not allowing people in your crew to be comfortable in front of you using dysfunctional language. If you are, then you are the complex person you are simply hastily judging. Damn, isn’t life complex in its simplicity while being simple in its complexity?