Speaking to my homie Jonzey the other night, I was trying to convince
her to go see Good Hair, she refused. I said you must go to see
Sharpton's clear disdain for and anger towards Black women
and our budgetary practices around our hair.
She mentioned that she wasn't going for precisely that reason. That she is
not interested in seeing something where Black women get trashed.
I was silent because I have been there, in fact I live there.
She is a filmmaker and she said that she is tired of other filmmakers projecting
their issues onto Black people and Black women, Tyler Perry specifically.
Here is the line that got me,
"If Tyler Perry is more comfortable walking around wearing dresses thenShe believes that White filmmakers project their issues on to Black people
he should make a movie about THAT, instead of projecting his shit onto us."
and Black male filmmakers project their issues onto Black women.
I had one of those blog synergy moments and asked her, well have you seen
what has happened at Moreouse this week with regard to their dress code?
Morehouse announced a dress code this week that was pretty much
no do rags, no sagging, then the last rule,states no pumps, no dresses,
I instantly thought of Tyler Perry and how Morehouse's reaction to
how some men dress, as evidence of why he won't make that movie.
Simply stated, Tyler Perry will not make that movie because the women who
pay to see him dress up like a Black grandmommas would not support a film
where he talks about why he feels most comfortable dressing up like a
Black Grandmomma. I then decided, after looking at the Sandra Rose
site and reading the comments that I needed to have a conversation
with Moya, because this represented a great teaching moment.
Tyler Perry's movies make Black women and White people feel comfortable,
oh, don't trip, we aren't the only ones in the movie theater. If he makes a movie
about why he feels most comfortable with in dress, this would make many
Black women and White folks incredibly uncomfortable.
Below is the interview with Moya, who runs Quirky Black Girls
and is a fellow Women Studies colleague and an incredible gender
Renina Jarmon: Why is it acceptable for a Black school to heavily
regulate the gendered nature of clothing?
Moya Bailey: I don't think its acceptable though I do believe in a dress code
(sometimes). I think for k-12 and I could even say in college, a dress code
that's designed to counteract the hypersexualization of youth and to limit the
expression of certain exclusionary class markers makes a lot of sense to me.
Dress codes don't have to be gender specific and students could be able to
wear a range of clothing across genders regardless of their perceived sex.
Unfortunately, this Morehouse dress code is being used to reinforce a very
classed and heteronormative idea of what a black man should look like.
RJ:Does this have to do with the origins of the school as a place rooted
educating and grooming Black civil society?
respectability. Black people have historically tried to model the norms
of dominate culture, hoping that this mimicry would afford equal treatment
as opposed to subjugation. "Good" black men don't wear high heels or
sagging pants. There's been a lot of talk about how heels or sagging
pants won't fly in corporate America, as if to say the ultimate goal for
Morehouse men is to become black versions of the CEO's and capitalists
that are destroying communities of color with unliveable wages, gentrification,
environmental racism, and hazardous working conditions. That said, a lot
of work has been done to ensure that folks can wear what they want to
wear in corporate America. Non-discrimination policies, while not
indicative of the work climate necessarily, provide employees rights
to dress as they see fit and if employers have a problem, provide legal
means through which employees can act.
RJ:Are the people on Sandrarose.com aware that they sound like white
folks who didn't want their children to attend integrated schools in the
1950's? [Sandra Rose's statement"A man can’t lead other men wearing a dress",
sounds like some of the birthers, denying the presidents right to BE the
I’m glad they are taking a stand. I’ve said numerous times I don’t have a problem with other people’s lifestyles but some people take it too far. If you are a gay man keyword is MAN. Act like one and the same thing with women. The saggy pants thing too. Save that for the knuckleheads on the street who aren’t going anywhere."
They should withdraw!!!! Why the hell would you go to Morehouse with that tomfoolery? These folks are out of control. Gay is one thing, but dressing like a woman…..and to the point that the school has to give guidelines. Damn, if you going to Morehouse you obviously want to get a degree and work in the public sector. You can’t dress like that in the public sector. Only hairsylist can do that.
MB: "A man can't lead another man wearing a dress." this quote is so deep and so
problematic to me. I'll break it down.
1. What constitutes appropriate dress for men and women is always shifting.
What's masculine one day can be feminine the next. Don't folks know the
history of high heels?
2. Read Bailey's Cafe by Gloria Naylor. Tell me then if a man can't lead
another man wearing a dress.
3. There's an assumption that for a man to be taking seriously he needs
to be marked as such. There's something silly about a man in women's
clothing. Why? Is it because men don't take women seriously? If we
change the phrase to " A woman can't lead another woman wearing pants,"
the statement very obviously breaks down.
What is it about masculinity that is so fragile that it becomes
questionable when cloaked in a dress?
RJ: Why do we assume that just because Black men weren't visibly gay
on Morehouse's campus that they, haven't been there historically?
MB: Girl, I don't know! And this is the thing about all black institutions, the
church, school, family, community, etc. There is an understanding that
there are queer black folks in these spaces but traditionally folks have
tried to argue via politics of respectability, "Hide yourself." Black queer
people can be present just not visibly so or at least not so visible as to
call attention to themselves. We have this false notion that hiding queerness
will some how make us more respectable more deserving of being
treated like human beings if we don't deviate from the norms that mainstream
(read: white) society created for us.
RJ: Is the subtext in the conversation that some hetero sexual black women
attend Spelman with the intent of finding a husband and a visible Black
gay male population stifles this possibility?
as it is about making the homosocial nature of a school like Morehouse
not be read as homoerotic. What I mean is that Morehouse as a school
that wishes to claim a majority heterosexual student body, has anxiety
around the visible presence of gay students. What will people think if they
see black men rocking the latest jimmy cho's or sporting saggin' pants
etc. What is so interesting is that the dress code slices both ways.
They want to rid themselves of a working class hypermasculinity that is
expressed through baggy clothing as well as a feminine (read: queer)
aesthetic that also troubles a more conventional mainstream black
middle class masculinity. It seems much more prudent to begin to
have conversations about black masculinity and all that could be
rather than create a reactionary policy that brings attention to
the conservative and no-liberatory vision of the school.
RJ:What are Black people scared of?
MB: I think black people are afraid of their own queer desires. It's so
interesting that homosexuality is so threatening in our communities
that we'd rather institute draconian policies that limit all that we are or
who we could be out of fear. Homosexaulity and heterosexaulity are
recent concepts that don't effectively convey the diversity of human
sexuality, gender or biological sex. We hold tight to the notion that two
sexes, produce two genders which lead to two orientations but history
and our current world refute this at every turn. but we hold on. We hold
to these notions that ultimately imprison us and do nothing to transform
the world into what it could be. It's our desire to hold onto values, that
were never ours by the way, that keep us locked in a push/pull that is
not transformational or edifying.
RJ: Any other thoughts?
5 gay students who may or may not be wearing heels. How about
the number of sexual assaults that involve Morehouse students
and women in the Atlanta University Center? I can tell you it's way
more than five. How about the virulent homophobia and sexism that
goes unquestioned in the student body and in the administration?
As a feminist, I also want to call high heels into question as not
necessarily being indicative of a liberatory politic. Heels hurt your feet
and can even destroy them over a long period of time. I think it's interesting
that this ultra feminine footwear can be reclaimed as transgressive when
in some ways I think it can be the epitome of a hegemonic hetero-patriarchal state.
For more reading:
The difference between gender and sex
Elizabeth Gates's article in The Daily Beast: Morehouse College's Gay Tragedy
Article in the Paper Tiger, Morehouses newspaper: Is Gay the Way?
Latoya Peterson article at Racialicious: LA Times Explores Being Gay at Morehouse
Jason Harrell on Keith Boykin.com: Black and Gay at Morehouse
What does it mean that this is what Morehouse chooses to focus on?
Why Black folks sound like white 1950's or 2009 birther racist?
Did you know that Black MBA students can't wear locks or cornrows at Hampton?
This is material because they have a 5 year undergrad/MBA program.
What are we scared of?