Let’s begin with agreement.
On the policy question, I’m in agreement with progressive Democrat state Senator Jonathan Acosta that legislators should be permitted to dress as they see fit while in the State House. His reasoning is noxious — even dangerous — but in the end, he’s right: let legislators look different. Allow them and their constituents to discover the results of outward disregard for the norms of their broader (i.e., statewide) community.
Let Acosta wear on his body his show of contempt for all of those stodgy white people he’s so eager to dehumanize. That’s his right, and sometimes we must let those with adolescent beliefs learn by erring when the stakes are relatively superficial.
The mature approach would be for the fresh-faced legislator to spend some time in his new position. It’s not his seat. Yes, he’s representing a particular community, but he’s doing so in a shared space, which is where people of differing views are supposed to come together to make decisions and work out differences in a collegial way so those distinct communities don’t start fighting each other in the streets.
Then, after observing his new environment, a mature legislator would assess whether there is some value to the rules that he didn’t see through the sparkling lenses of his freshman ideology and seek incremental change if merited. Instead, progressivism is bringing to the General Assembly the substance of student councils — declarations against dress codes… along with demands for free stuff and the destruction of others’ livelihoods and rights.
The possibility of an alternative approach to sartorial differences brings us to the more disturbing bit of the controversy:
Acosta said he wore a tie every day his first year of teaching.
“I came to realize what I was doing was reaffirming to all the Black and brown poor kids that I was teaching that, in order to be successful, you had to try to look and approximate whiteness as much as possible.”
“And that is the message you would be forcing down the throat of all the residents of Rhode Island.”
Bringing this attitude to the classroom does an incredible disservice to our children, although in this, Acosta is merely riding on the progressive wave that is flooding our educational culture to the point of drowning.
For most people, being successful requires getting along with other people, and our civilization has established various superficial norms to make that go more easily. To be successful and innovative, it is helpful to take certain areas of strain out of the equation. That is, if you want to change the way people think, clashing with them over your clothing is a counterproductive distraction. Indeed, a collared shirt and a tie represent a pretty inexpensive way for those “Black and brown poor kids” to take anxieties of difference off the table in a professional setting.
At this point, we can be pretty sure that Acosta sees a personal benefit to encouraging rebellion among young Rhode Islanders who, in reality, need access to every advantage they can find. He’ll reap the rewards of his immature ideology while they suffer the consequences on his behalf.
Featured image: Ben Masora’s Man in Blue and White Plaid Suit.