Charges of discrimination are being made today over a dress code, but it is not what you might suspect.  The dress code is for parents visiting James Madison High School in Houston, Texas.

Even stranger than a dress code for adults is the way it came about and by whom.  Carlotta Outley Brown is the principle of the school and issued a letter to parents after a mother demanded to see a dress code for visitors following a confrontation at the school door.

Carlotta Outley Brown

The offending parent was wearing a t-shirt dress and a head scarf.

In the letter that was issued, a number of items of dress were banned that had to do with being dressed decently; low-cut tops, baggy pants, “shorts up to your behind”, “pajamas or anything that could be construed as pajamas”, yoga pants and leggings among the banned dress.  What has created a real flap, however, is that some items such as satin caps and bonnets, worn to protect the hair, are items that are more or less specifically worn by black women.

The letter to parents was composed and issued by the school principle without any conversation with other teachers or superiors, apparently.

A teacher in another school described the letter as “classist”, and that seems the crux of the complaint.

Black children who have not dressed in certain styles have been accused of not being “black” enough.  But is it about race or class?

The principle of James Madison stated that the school attempts to prepare children for a prosperous life, and certain dress styles interfere with that.  Is that a statement about race or class?  Is the prohibition against wearing corn rows or dreadlocks about race or class?

My blonde daughter had dreadlocks at one time.  They smelled bad because it is really hard to wash them (and she probably didn’t have the opportunity) and fine blonde hair doesn’t form dreadlocks very well.  It just looked like she had tangled up masses of blonde hair.  She was wearing them out of sympathy for Rastafarians or something.

Other than the fact that corn rows require a lot of work to put in, I can’t see a problem with them.

The principle of James Madison is black.  It hardly seems that she would have discriminated on the basis of race.  It probably is about class, and is that wrong?

Those who complain say that white parents in wet yoga pants don’t usually get stopped and turned away, and that the rules are about race.

It is probable, I think, that the letter is going to be discussed by others in the school district and either modified or rescinded.   It has started a discussion that ought to be had among those in the black community; what is the effect of “dressing black”.  Does dress affect career paths?

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Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on April 26, 2019 at 6:29am

Puts me in mind of how this appears in language.

I told students of color and working-class white kids that whatever modes of speech they used outside of my class (English;History), in my room they would speak standard English no matter what variations of English they felt comfortable speaking outside my class. 

In the main, they appreciated this bc they knew it was good practice for living in a mixed race and class world and bc I never issued the demand in a demeaning manner.

Comment by koshersalaami on April 26, 2019 at 6:32am

I don’t get why there’s a dress code for parents to begin with that doesn’t just involve decency. Given the bonnet question, I’d say in classism vs. racism some of each. Mainly I think it’s a principal overstepping her authority in stupid ways. 

Comment by Rodney Roe on April 26, 2019 at 6:36am

I was having lunch with a black coworker when a young black man spoke to her. When she replied in standard English he looked shocked. She immediately switched to something I could barely understand, and switched back when he left. She was bilingual it seemed.

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on April 26, 2019 at 6:42am


Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on April 26, 2019 at 6:44am

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Comment by Rodney Roe on April 26, 2019 at 6:53am


Comment by koshersalaami on April 26, 2019 at 7:12am

Bilingual makes complete sense.

Comment by Anna Herrington on April 26, 2019 at 7:46am

The clip I saw about it, the dress code was for wearing rollers in hair, wearing pajamas, wearing 'Daisy Duke' shorts... with the principal stating that the school is where students are learning how to prepare for success in the work world and the parents needed to step it up and dress decently when they showed up at school or the lessons for the students are diminished, saying How can we teach these children standards that aid in succeeding and taking pride, garnering respect in the world when the parents show up in pajamas. or with rollers. or ass falling out the back of shorts.

I thought it sounded less race or class and more... standards of respect, for the school environment, for the students in the midst of learning these intangible (?) lessons of garnering respect and good attention in the world. Like job prep skills.

That said, if the school is only targeting certain parents over others and the race line is clear, that part wasn't in the one clip I saw. I think it's not a bad thing, if the point is creating an atmosphere within school campus and asking parents to toe the line of respecting the lessons being taught, supporting students and the school.

At first, I thought the dress code was going to be more like what I witnessed in Georgia at my kids' middle school which I thought far too rigid, even in atmosphere: as I witnessed in the office one day, three students, all girls, white, brought into the office while the Vice Principal literally took out her ruler and measured the width of the girls' sleeveless tops for two of them. The rule was 5" of fabric across the shoulder and one girl's was 3 1/2". She also had on a long sleeve crocheted top over it but the 3 1/2" sleeveless shirt underneath had the school calling the parent. *That* was ridiculous. Second girl, parents called w/o the ruler: spaghetti string top. The third girl's shorts length was measured. She went back to class.

But asking and expecting parents to dress if they are walking into a school building? No pajamas, no rollers? Sounds okay to me.

I did wonder about parents staying in their car - that seems different and wasn't sure if that particular school included staying in their car. That would be a harder rule to accept or enforce.

Comment by Anna Herrington on April 26, 2019 at 7:57am

Re-reading comment.... so yeah: I'd say it's 'class.' 

Unless there's further information not known about so far...

Comment by Rodney Roe on April 26, 2019 at 8:02am

Personally, I think that the code should be about wearing clothes that cover your body.  From the time I first met my wife she thought wearing curlers in public was in poor taste.  Also, she thought it was a turn-off to me. 

As long as fifteen years ago black men in our neighborhood wore Walmart plaid pajamas in public.  My reaction was, "Well, they are cheap, cover all of the dangling bits and, while they aren't my choice for outdoor apparel", so they did not offend me.

On the other hand, going to Walmart meant viewing acres of women in sweatshirts and leggings that exposed WAY too much., and that was a white choice.

None of this really addresses the principle's principal concern: learning how to dress for a prosperous life.  This is a subject that minorities don't seem to want to discuss, and they should.  It is true that dressing and talking in a certain way does not curtail your career as a running back or a rapper, it may prevent other career paths.


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