Saturday, October 17, 2009

Black Masculinity and Higher Education

Morehouse College, an all-male historically Black college in Atlanta, Georgia has decided to enforce a dress code policy. The new dress code prohibits women's clothing, makeup, high heels, purses etc. Additionally the new policy does not allow students to wear pajamas in public, sagging pants, and do-rags.

The new policy has created mixed reviews among students and outsiders. The message of "the image of masculinity" is very present in the statements from people supporting the new policy. CNN covered the story with an article and a video.

This policy change and the message of "masculinity" that is being discussed here is actually heavily related to the research I'm doing right now for my thesis.

One way that Black masculinity is performed is by control of the body (style of dress) and the rejection of anything that could possibly portray them as passive and weak. Thus their decision to ban "cross-dressing" is in response to insecurities they have in their image.

The ban on "pajamas in public, do-rags, sagging pants, sunglasses in class and walking barefoot on campus" follows the idea of transcending and rejecting the stereotypical tropes of "Blackness." In the video they even say that these items give their community a negative image, so they default back to the images of leading Black men in history, like Martin Luther King Jr. and Maynard Jackson, who wore shirts and ties. These men presented themselves in suits to solicit respect. It was in response to White masculinity.

It is interesting that this rhetoric is still very prevalent, but disappointing that it's become part of the educational system.