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Don’t play respectability politics with Black women over their fashion choices | Jenice Armstrong

If Kim Kardashian showed up at LAX with a bonnet and designer shades, the world would celebrate it and hail it as a new fashion trend.

Oscar-winning actress and comedienne Mo'Nique caused a stir on social media Friday after she called out some women for wearing hair bonnets in public.
Oscar-winning actress and comedienne Mo'Nique caused a stir on social media Friday after she called out some women for wearing hair bonnets in public.Read moreWilly Sanjuan / Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP

It was a rainy and windy day.

I took one look outside and knew the hairdo I had spent hours getting the day before wasn’t going to survive the massive downpour. I must have moaned out loud because my husband came running to ask what was going on. After I told him about the damage the rain would wreak, he suggested: “Why don’t you wear your shower cap?”

“You aren’t serious, are you?” I responded, horrified at the thought of parading through Center City with a shower cap on my head.

“You can take it off when you get to work,” he gamely suggested.

“Um, no.”

I don’t remember what I wound up doing that day. But looking back, I can see that my hubby was only trying to help. Later, I mentioned our back-and-forth to girlfriends and was met with “Don’t you dare!” and “If I see you with a shower cap on, I will snatch it off your head!”

Often, what passes as appropriate is a matter of personal opinion, as we saw Friday when Oscar-winning actress Mo’Nique publicly chastised Black women who wear hair bonnets in public.

“I’ve been seeing it at the store, at the mall, I’ve been seeing sisters showing up with these bonnets and head scarves and their slippers, and the question I have for you, my sweet babies, is when did we lose pride in representing ourselves? When did we step away from ‘Let me make sure I’m presentable when leaving my home?’” she says on video. “All I’m saying is, ‘Could you please comb your hair?’”

Look, I love Mo’Nique. One of my favorite interviews was one I had with her over lunch at the Four Seasons years ago. It was obvious by her gentle tone in the video that the comedienne, whose legal name is Monique Angela Hicks, means well. She’s an “auntie” helping her fans out.

Mo’Nique makes a very good point. I don’t like seeing hair bonnets in public either. But what I dislike even more is singling out African American women for criticism over their fashion choices.

It smacks of respectability politics, which is the notion that how you present yourself can somehow protect you from being racially profiled. It’s not fair. If Kim Kardashian showed up at LAX with a bonnet and a pair of designer shades, the world would celebrate and hail it as a new fashion trend. She would get even richer with her own line of satin bonnets.

But when an African American wears the exact same thing, she gets called ghetto.

» READ MORE: Debate heats up over Steak 48 restaurant’s new dress code and $100 minimum tabs

I get what Mo’Nique was getting at, though. We all have our pet peeves. I certainly have mine.

But we need to be careful about imposing our views on others even if they sit next to us on a plane dressed in pajama pants, furry bedroom slippers, yoga pants, skintight leggings, or satin bonnets. In a country where hoodies are acceptable as corporate attire, and celebrities trot out wearing pricey Australian Ugg boots with shorts, what business is it of anyone else’s how a woman presents herself? You rarely hear men criticized no matter how distastefully they present themselves in sagging jeans or T-shirts with giant writing emblazoned across the front, faded, shapeless dad jeans or slides with white athletic socks.

We got a taste of that last week as people on social media debated Steak 48′s controversial dress code barring bustier tops, corset tops, and yoga pants, among other clothing choices.

It’s a slippery slope when we make assumptions about people based on outward appearances.

I’m old school. I began my career back during the Dress for Success days. I used to want double piercings in my earlobes. But didn’t dare do it for fear of what some editor might think. I wish I had had the courage as so many tattooed, nose-pierced, and frayed-jean-wearing young people do today to demand the rules be rewritten.

If I had, maybe I would have taken my husband’s well-intentioned advice that rainy morning and not given a second thought to what some random passerby might think about my having a shower cap on my head.