“Spelman thou name we praise STANDARDS and honor raise we’ll ever faithful be throughout eternity . . .”
Reflecting on my twenty some years of existence, I must say the best decision I’ve made thus far was to attend Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. Not because it was the blue print for the show, A Different World (even though I loved that show) and I often imagined myself as high pitched voice Whitley Gilbert and not the strangely socially conscious Freddy because I thought she was annoying always yapping about helping the world and saving the damn humpback whales. But, life is ironic and as I get older I feel more and more like Freddie always yapping about violence and oppression. But this is not the point of this post. The point is to answer the question, “Why is Spelman the best decision I’ve made thus far?” And the answer is because of the many invaluable lessons Spelman has taught me and continues to teach me about the strengths, weaknesses, complexities, “respectabilities,” and boundaries of who can be called a bonafide black woman.
You see at Spelman we would chant with arrogance, “You can tell a Spelman Woman, but you can’t tell her much.” We would also bellow, “You get you hoes from Morris Brown. You get girlfriends from Clark Atlanta. But you get your wives from Spelman College.” We understood from the very beginning who could and could not be called a Spelman woman and by default who could and could not be called a real black woman. In many ways the social practices at Spelman defined black womanhood as feminine, heterosexual, smart, non-promiscuous, have good relationships with Morehouse men, Christian, and class privileged. For instance, during orientation week at Spelman, incoming students are required to wear dresses the entire week and also until recently they were paired with incoming Morehouse students to foster a sexual platonic brother and sister relationship. Mind you, when I was a first year student I didn’t see any problems with either tradition. Yeah, I was in my Whitley Gilbert’s phase.
However, as an emerging Freddie, I can now say that these seemingly innocent social practices, Spelman and Morehouse Alumnae would call traditions, narrate and with an iron fist in a white velvet glove enforce “appropriate” feminine and heterosexual behaviors. Of course, this is not to say that Spelman should not create spaces for young women to be traditionally feminine or to identify as heterosexual. I think they should. However, I think this same facilitation of social practices—once again alumnae would call traditions—should be extended to girls who are queer. Yes, girls who prefer to date other girls. Yes, girls who are attracted to men, but feel awkward around them for various reasons. Yes, girls who don’t like to wear dresses and prefer pants and Timberlands. Yes, girls who like to have sex with different partners, male and/or female. I will be the first to admit I felt very uncomfortable around my Morehouse brother not only because he was weird, but because he was aggressive. So, to be paired the first week at Spelman with a man from Morehouse was not comfortable for me. To say the least, these social practices help to define appropriate behavior for Spelman women.
You’re probably wondering where I am going with all of this. Well, the recent uproar surrounding Morehouse’s announcement of their Appropriate Attire Policy got me to thinking not only about Morehouse College, but also about Spelman and other Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) like Hampton University (i.e. no braids or locks policy) where similar policies seek to control sexuality and present “respectable (i.e. class)” heterosexual images of black men and black women. So, the frustration and anger that many feel about the new Morehouse’s policy should also be equally apportioned among other HBCUs where the “politics of respectability” reign supreme. Of course, many people have been throwing the phrase the politics of respectability around as if it was a Frisbee and self-explanatory. But I do not think the term is completely transparent and easily understood.