Floating Face Down in the Mainstream

Posted: October 20, 2009 in Uncategorized

Detroit Red

So I was reading Belle’s blog the other day and she had a post about how “bougie” DC is, and noted how the men dressed:

Oh, and DC dwelling- dudes regularly rock suits to to the club. It’s borderline uncivilized to “just” rock a button down (that’s Saturday daywear.)  A blazer will get you in, but may not get you noticed. And when I say suit, I’m talking the suit with the shirt, with a cashmere V-dipped sweater (always pastel) with the Windsor knot puffed up so everyone can see it. The suit game is pretentious serious in DC.

And while I didn’t see myself in that description (I find the negro club scene everywhere rife with ill-advised pretentiousness and unjustified pride in poorly tailored haberdashery), I’ve been around enough of it to ask if maybe I’ve been around it too much. I thought the same thing in thinking about this whole Morehouse Dress Code thing (the argument that won’t die).

Isn’t the core of the argument about conformity? Conforming to white-oriented middle class ways of being? No gold teeth, no sagging pants. No designer shades.

I mean would Sly have been thanking my alma mater for “letting me be mice elf” again? And how would I at tihs point in my life have looked at Sly? As a brilliant musician who made that funkay shit, or an embarrassing negro with his wild untamed naps and shiny pimp clothes? I say this somewhat in jest, but I do notice as I get older, I’ve gotten less and less tolerant. In part because I view things less through the eye of the individual and more through the context of the whole.

Lost? I’ll give you an example. when I was fifteen, I went to a nice private school. I was on my way to being a national merit scholar and I wore slouched wide leg jeans, oversized Polos, Timbs, and a nappy bush. Which is what black people wore back in those early days when Biggie first came out and we learned we should smoke weed when Doggiestyle dropped. I was conforming and rebelling at the same time. My folks of course, sucked their teeth at my general appearance, saying that people would assume I was a thug. I, of course, in my youthful naivete, believed that they would not, and they would see me for the upwardly mobile, going to college young man I was and ignore my general demeanor and appearance. People would look at me as an individual, I believed.

Not the real thing

Not the real thing

Of course, people did not. Because the fact is, most people that looked like I did didn’t go to college. And as you get older, you become less interested in the exception, because you realize that’s what exceptions are: exceptions. Kind of like the drop off of people’s career goals. In grade school, everyone was going to be a president, in middle school, an actor or an athlete, in high school, a producer or an agent, and in college, a banker or a consultant. At some point, we realized how exceptional exceptional things are, and frankly how ordinary everything else is and how neatly it fits into a box. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…

I mean, when’s the last time, someone or something has truly surprised you. It looked like one thing, but turned out to be something totally different?

Like, what if E. Badu turned out to be a total gold-digging groupie? Or Gucci turned out to be a rocket scientist? The last time I can think of was buddy up in medical school in Boston who was killing hookers on craigslist.

This opie-looking motherfucker killing hoes? word?

This opie-looking motherfucker killing hoes? word?

I mean, shit, I was surprised. Not because he was white, if that’s what you were inferring. No, most people who kill hookers are white. The blacks may slap em around a little bit, but most of us know at least one good pimp or have an uncle with a purple suit that we know better than to damage one of Sweet Daddy Williams’ prize money making stallions. But everyone else was surprised too. That’s the only reason it made news was because this guy looked like a clean cut upstanding WASP. It was so shocking that a man in a Oxford could kill hookers, it was on US Weekly for like three weeks straight.

This is kinda why I’m with the MC dress code. It ain’t really about the pumps that much. That’s like 5 students who don’t get to wear their louboutins. (sp)  Tough. But the golds and the sagging pants really set the expectation for people that you are other than a student at one of the nation’s best colleges. It may not be fair, but it is what it is.

But in a rush to be accepted in society’s eyes as (insert whatever positive here), have we as the black middle class also forgotten to keep rebelling against a system that, while it may accept us from time to time if we’re on our best behavior, doesn’t embrace us? Doesn’t love us. Doesn’t think of us as one of them. Are we giving up our right to fight the idea that gold teeth and tattoos means you’re not as smart as clean shaven and sweatered? Is it a battle worth fighting?

Will you stand up for Jimi?

Will you stand up for Jimi?

Or should we try to fit in. Be the good soldier. Prove ourselves worthy. Then what?

Then still get thrown under the bus? Hmm, I don’t know about that one. Or having these thrown up by people who don’t want a “you” where “they” should be?

What about the runaway slaves, the women who wouldn’t sit at the back of the bus, the blacks that would rather walk than sit on segregated buses? Where are we without them? and let’s not pretend this was some unified front back then. The civil rights movement was rabble rousers and po’ folks. Not light skinned physicians from the North. It’s usually swept under the rug that much of the black middle and upper class opposed the civil rights movement because they didn’t want attention drawn to them. They didn’t want to give up hereditary privilege. Or pigment privilege. Are too many of us folks who think we’ve made it now really just the latter day version of those negro physicians from the North? Trying to keep our heads sown and not attract attention to ourselves lest we piss off whitey for our arrogance? Maybe we should get with this rebel thing a little tougher.

You wanna make an omelet...

You wanna make an omelet...

You gotta break some eggs

You gotta break some eggs

  1. […] more:  Floating Face Down in the Mainstream Posted in Mobile | Tags: and-appearance, college-young, eneral-demeanor, for-mobile, for-the, […]

  2. Tunde says:

    good read. i used to be (and in many ways) like you:

    “when I was fifteen, I went to a nice private school. I was on my way to being a national merit scholar and I wore slouched wide leg jeans, oversized Polos, Timbs, and a nappy bush.”

    i dress and act in a way that makes me comfortable. its not about conforming or rebelling for me , it’s just about being comfortable in my own skin. i don’t really wear overly baggy jeans but i don’t really dress up that often (don’t really have to in my field). people who may not know me might judge me and perhaps lump me into a certain category but that doesn’t bother me.

    this is also a good point:

    ” It’s usually swept under the rug that much of the black middle and upper class opposed the civil rights movement because they didn’t want attention drawn to them. They didn’t want to give up hereditary privilege. Or pigment privilege.”

    i believe that this happens in today’s society to a much lesser extent. i see it everyday in my personal life as well as on television.

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  4. Well in many ways it’s the same black bourgeois that makes rules like Morehouse’s dress codes and expects their kids to be doctors, lawyers, corporate drones, etc.

    Not much has changed –

    I’m a bit (okay a lot) of a non-conformist – always have been – finding your own way is difficult though – very difficult – sometimes I wish I was more in line with the “nrom” but I always realize i’d be very miserable so…

    It is what is I suppose.

  5. BlkBond says:

    Good points.

    Whenever these discussions come up, I’m reminded of a quote from one of my former co-workers,

    “I can’t afford to be a liberal”

    After a long discussion, eventually, what she was saying was that people who must pull themselves up by the bootstraps, blue-collar, aspiring professionals, etc. are not in a position to ‘buck’ the system. Bucking the system would likely threaten their ability to make a living.

    Social change has and always come from the middle class. Those people who organized the civil rights marches and sit ins were college students—the rebellious children of middle/upper middle class physicians, lawyers, doctors, etc. They were in a position to do all that ‘uprising’ because if it was not on their dime or time. It always amazes me when I see people on that other site who are born privledged to educated/wealthy parents condemn others for being conformists or too conservative. Do they not realize they are in positions to wear bushy hair, colorful clothing, etc. because someone (likely their parents) has already ‘conformed’ to give them that freedom to do so?

    I mean, the audacity of these ‘cosby kids’ amazes me to the point of insanity.

    Lower class (poor/working poor) people are not in a position to care about trees (conservationists), whales (environmentalists), organic foods (naturists), etc. because they are at work.

    While college may be a place for some (i.e. privledged) to ‘free themselves’ or ‘discover new things’, it is an opportunity for most to jump classes (from middle class to upper middle class) by utilizing that time to capitalize on their talent and time coupled with vast opportunities.

    I worked through school-every year from sophomore to senior until I got sick. I couldn’t go down to Cabo with ‘them”, take weekend trips to NY, etc. I didn’t have the hookup like some of our classmates who could pick up a phone and get internships to record labels and fortune 100 companies due to family, friends, and associations. I’m not bitter, but I understand my reality is different. I only people to know that their reality is not everyone else’s.

    I remind you that there is less than 1 percent of Black men on wall street. That’s less than 1 percent of our brothers that are involved in a large portion of the financial decisions that are being made in this country; however, of that 1 precent, Morehouse has over half (or did when we were in school).

    This is a game of numbers. We must be there, to change what happens there. We need to put Black people in those occupations, companies, jobs, roles, etc. THEN change the settings, perceptions, requirements, etc.

    Bond. BlkBond.

  6. 24karats says:

    I like this, a lot.

    For me at least, while it may be wrong and misguided and totally off base, I think of myself as trying to start the revolution from the inside. (how much work I’m doing is another post altogether, but its a working theory….)

    Your post assumes (can’t think of a less hostile word, but I don’t mean to be hostile) that those of us who are clinging to middle class norms and general conformity do so because we have no interest in change or rebellion. I don’t think that’s true at all. But our society has evolved at least to the point where legally-mandated acceptance is not so hard to come by. Therefore, the methods of fight can and should be different. Which is a long-winded way of saying I don’t think conformity and rebellion are necessarily mutually exclusive.

    I don’t know how many hearts and minds I’m changing as the first and only african american in this particular department of my law firm. But whatever I’m doing, I’m doing more here than if I were smugly mocking them for missing out on my superior intelligence from the outside – because I couldn’t be bothered to put away my stunna shades and my references to Weezy during the interview. As you point out, fairly or not, people will judge you on your wardrobe, your grills, your pumps or whatever the hell else was in the new dress code. It just doesn’t make sense to Plaxico yourself before you even get in the game.

  7. @Blkbond

    What you say is true.

    But I’m a poor kid who didn’t go the “conformist” route and yes it is a bitch to make a living – HOWEVER most people don’t get into the position and then change – they continue to conform – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the revolution as folk say isn’t going to happen by the folk on Wall Stret – they are too comfortable in their positions.

    You need the Hendrixes and Badu’s and what not…there’s more than one way to be black – the acceptable standards of blackness can be constricting and limiting.

    It takes all inds to make up this world — and black people too.

  8. I grew up sorta poor. Well poorer than a lot of my friends, so I didn’t (couldn’t conform) in high school, and honestly, I think that’s where a lot of it starts. If my family had the monetary means to buy into labels (at the time guess, tommy hill, polo, etc) would they have. Not sure, but because of my humble upbringing, I was forced to march to my own drum beat. And in all honesty it didn’t change much. I was still smart, still a cheerleader, still on student government, still working, still hustling, still going to church

    All too often, people let clothes, money and materials define them (ie Moorehouse Dress Code, cars, bling) and the ability to buy those things. In fact, those are the wrong things. Because first unfortunately, you are your skin color first, and no matter what, someone will always look at you and put you in a category, no matter what your social status or education is, until you prove them wrong. Whether you are black, white, brown, etc.

    I still march to my own drum beat.

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