Last year, visiting a local high school in a majority black working class community in Georgia, I confronted a poster posted all over the school. The poster, titled “The Dress Code,” included figures of two young adolescents; a black male wearing baggy jeans, bandana, tank top with a beer logo on front and a white female wearing short shorts, halter top with spaghetti straps and a hat. The poster was meant to visually portray the inappropriateness of hip hop clothing, revealing too much skin and working class attire at school.Idiot. What the author refers to as privilege is simply an evolutionary stable strategy. People who do not want to be perceived as thugs or tramps don't present as thugs or tramps. That's not how the conscience-cowboy sees it.
In the picture, representation of working-class masculinity and femininity was vivid, which was, of course, entangled with race as well. It conveyed a message to working class as well as black students (and faculty and staff) that it aims to exclude their culture from the school environment. It also emphasized what is valued as modesty in the South. Knowing that clothing is a socio-cultural construct and potentially represents ethnicity, class, sexuality, and many other things, posting this picture simply means that white middle-class clothing and culture is privileged over working class and black ones.
In a community in which the majority is African-American and from a lower socio-economic status, this implicitly teaches students their culture is disruptive for their education and academic success. However, all individuals should receive an equal respect and all cultures should be valued equally in a public institution. How could we call for diversity and multiculturalism, and yet tell students to leave their cultural knapsack at the door?If you want to see the fruits of that sort of multiculturalism, just look at that community, and compare the quality of life there with communities that adhere to bourgeois norms.
Will Rierson of Campus Reform interviews the conscience-cowboy, who stands by his position, getting off this howler.“We need to acknowledge diversity. We need to realize that other peoples’ cultures are different. The key is multiculturalism and acknowledging that diversity. Not everyone needs to act white; not everyone needs to act middle class.” Good luck with that. Perhaps in two thousand years we got a few things right. Here's Pamela Constable, apparently an aging ex-hippie, recognizing that deconstructing convention didn't turn out so well.
Still, it was only after witnessing the desperation and cruelty of life in much of the world that I began to reexamine my prejudices against the cloister I had fled. In some countries, I saw how powerful forces could keep people trapped in poverty for life; in others, how neighbors could slaughter each other in spasms of hate. I met child brides and torture victims, religious fanatics and armed rebels. I explored societies shattered by civil war, upended by revolution, and strangled by taboo and tradition.By all means read and understand her full essay.
Visiting home between assignments, I found myself noticing and appreciating things I had always taken for granted — the tamed greenery and smooth streets, the absence of fear and abundance of choice, the code of good manners and civilized discussion. I also began to learn things about my parents I had never known and to realize that I had judged them unfairly. I had confused their social discomfort with condescension and their conservatism with callousness.
Perhaps the code of good manners and civilized discussion are among the things that in two thousand years we got right, and there are taboo and tradition that ought not be celebrated: indeed, that ought be understood as habits that keep their adherents poor and alienate other people from dealing with them. I laid down my marker in favor of power ties and dressing for success long ago.
Today's young people, particularly those insufficiently conversant with the ways of the middle class, deserve no less.