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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?

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Comments

Whew, you hit home with something I know about: attire that gets judged. (for the record, I wore my bathrobe to my classes, and the bar last night--the only verbal comments I got were positive, lord knows the comments that went unsaid)

I think the problem with the confederate flag wearing students is that, by and large, they are wearing the *BATTLE FLAG* of the confederacy, they are not wearing the political flag of the attempted-country. Most people I know, when they think of the confederate flag, only think of the battle flag, since it is the one most often trodded out. If one really wants to remember the heritage of the confederacy (something I don't understand, but if someone wanted to) then they should wear the political flag, the Stars and Bars, not the battle flag.

As for wearing a BOTA hat, I don't see it as racist at all. I would not agree however, that pride in one's heritage is always good. German's should not go around with Swastika's on their arms cause it's part of their national heritage--after all, humanity is a seriously flawed species, and we should only be proud of the good, noble parts of our history. BOTA seems to be a good, noble part of society, an institution which is meant to educate people who have, historically, been deprived of the chance for an education. If someone wore a hat with BOTA circled and crossed through, like a non-smoking sign, but for BOTA, that, I think, would be racist.

Attire worn in jest, I think, is different. Halloween costumes of KKK members seems to be in awful bad taste, as does a Nazi uniform, but I would give them a lot more slack if it was Halloween, then if they wore those any other day of the year!

When I pick out my luscious fro on some mornings and place my “fuerza de negro/a” fisted comb in my motherland reminder, I don’t think about the fact that there may be a white person viewing my attire and getting offended. How is my dress a statement? Further, how/why is my cultural background acceptable to reflect through dress, while the cultural background of whites in the deep south is taboo?

There is no right or wrong answer, just an argument. So here it goes: my cultural background represents one of being oppressed, in some cases specifically by those who argue in favor of wearing a confederate flag as a shirt. On the other hand, the confederate flag wearers are oppressed-they lost the war and live in a country that reminds them of this every day. From their point of view, I am oppressing them by flaunting my freedom, something they may/may not think I have a right to.

Life is complex in its simplicity while being simple in its complexity. Glad to know someone else feels the same 

I completely agree, thats pretty much what I was just telling my partner!

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