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Oppressive Curriculum: Sexist, Racist, Classist, and Homophobic Practice of Dress Codes in Schooling

Abstract

In this paper drawing on a study about school dress code policies and related issues—such as multiculturalism, racism, sexism, and homophobia, in the professional discourse—I show how similar the two patriarchal and White supremacist structures of education (school) and law enforcement (police) work. I argue that sexism, racism, homophobia, and classism in formal and hidden curriculum could be as mortal and brutal as it happened in cases of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and others. Dress codes convey sexism with a male center gaze and racism with White middle-class norms that serve as a hidden curriculum with inherent biases. That is, not acting White, not being lady-like, wearing butch-tomboy or ragged clothing, is disruptive to academic success. Discussing a dress code in a high school in a working-class Black community, I argue that like police officers, educators tend to make dangerous judgments about bodies. Finally, to stop the harmful reproduction of such judgments, I suggest what Judith Butler calls “subversive repetition” and “subversive citation” (Butler 1990, p. 147) which allows resisting the everyday experiences that produce oneself to address the question that how can we, as teachers, school administrations, and teacher educators, resist those practices that produce our bodies as vulnerable and potential victims and others’ bodies as dangerous and potential violators. To problematize, to conceptualize, and to enhance the above-mentioned argument, I will draw on several feminist frameworks such as performativity (Butler 1990), intersectionality (Crenshaw 1989), and objectification (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997).

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Compare arrests rates here: http://www.gannett-cdn.com/experiments/usatoday/2014/11/arrests-interactive/.

  2. 2.

    Rivera twitted “Trayvon killed by a jerk w a gun but Black & Latino parents have to drill into kids heads: a hoodie is like a sign: shoot or stop & frisk me”.

  3. 3.

    Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted a landmark study using White and Black dolls to examine Black children’s view of skin tones (Clark and Clark 1939). The overall results of the studies conducted by the Clarks illustrated that young Black children raised in the 1930s preferred White dolls and judged the White dolls as superior to duplicate dolls of Black skin color. Replication studies in the decades that followed revealed that White children identified with their skin tone more often than Black children (Goodman 1952). In contrast, Black children were inclined to reject their own ethnic group and had greater preferences for White skin tone (Greenwald and Oppenheim 1968; Lewis and Biber 1951).

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Correspondence to Rouhollah Aghasaleh.

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Aghasaleh, R. Oppressive Curriculum: Sexist, Racist, Classist, and Homophobic Practice of Dress Codes in Schooling. J Afr Am St 22, 94–108 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12111-018-9397-5

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Keywords

  • White supremacy
  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Dress codes
  • Public school
  • Body
  • Surveillance
  • Policing
  • Care of self
  • Intersectionality