Here is an early look at Bob Wilson's column in the Sunday Durham News. Tell us what you think (but add your name if you want your comment published in the paper).
By Bob Wilson
In a let-it-all-hang-out culture that disses rules for almost everything, especially when it comes to personal appearance, two events in Durham last month suggest that a counter reformation is stirring beneath the surface. Some people have had enough, others are learning that they should.
Huzzah, then, for N.C. Central University Chancellor Charlie Nelms, who is teaching male students how to tie a necktie. Seriously. It seems many freshmen arrive at NCCU never having heard of the Windsor knot.
That's because nobody along the way thought to impress on these young fellows the importance of professional attire, otherwise known as coat and tie.
The other event was a convocation of ministers and other concerned adults with young people in gangs or at risk of joining them. Such meetings are not new in Durham. What is new is the continuum that now links Durham's at-risk young blacks with what Charlie Nelms is doing at NCCU.
At the gang meeting, a youngster named Cheyenne Lucas allowed that she feels judged when going to church because people see how she is dressed, and “they automatically scoot over and grab their purses … it's not supposed to be like that.”
But it is like that, and for good reason. Gangsta attire is a powerful semaphore for anti-social behavior, up to and including criminality. Lucas can change the way others judge her – yes, we're all judged, so get used to it – by simply changing her attire to the Lands' End look.
Or something like it without Lands' End prices, thanks to Triangle charities that help women learn the basics of professional attire and even give them gently used clothes to help them make a good first impression in job interviews. One such organization is Dress for Success at 1058 W. Club Blvd.
Dumping the Gangsta look is probably easier for females than for males. The latter face more peer pressure to wear low-riding baggy pants, scruffy shoes, do-rags, sunglasses and other marques of street cred.
What NCCU is doing with its male students coming out of this environment follows a path cut by other majority-black institutions. The most extreme example is Atlanta's Morehouse College, one of the country's premier undergraduate schools, whose new president in 2009 laid down the law on Gangsta dress.
There wouldn't be any at Morehouse. No do-rags in public, no lewd or otherwise offensive language on shirts, no “grillz” (gold or diamond-studded teeth), no baggy pants (which have their origin in prison garb) and so on. You get the idea.
In the great blueprint of ideas, the dichotomy between donning shirt and tie and a dress mode that reflects black (and now Hispanic) rebellion against conventions of the majority culture reaches back to Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.
Washington urged accommodation with white culture as blacks worked their way out of post-slavery poverty, and that included white dress. DuBois was a revolutionary who dismissed virtually any accommodation as a fatal strategy.
You could say Washington is winning a victory beyond the grave at NCCU, Morehouse and other prominent black institutions.
Really, whom would you rather sit next to in church, a Gangsta teen in baggy pants or a well-groomed teen in shirt and tie?
Check with Charlie Nelms if you need help with that