He Tried It! White Republican Tennessee Politician Tries to Criticize Black Rep For Wearing Dashiki
Add wearing traditional African garments to work as a crime for Black people.
That’s what Justin Pearson, a Tennessee state representative and Democrat, experienced recently when he was criticized for wearing a dashiki on the Tennessee House floor.
The Hill reported Pearson was told by a fellow state representative Twitter account that if he continues to wear such attire, a career change is in his future. “If you don’t like rules, perhaps you should explore a different career opportunity that’s main purpose is not creating them,” the GOP account tweeted.
Pearson, a newcomer who was elected to the House in a special election, wore the garment on his first day on the job. He told Action 5 News why. “Wearing this dashiki on the first day and being sworn in, wearing it is paying homage to the ancestors who made this opportunity possible,” Pearson said.
His appearance seemed to threaten notable Republicans. Representative David Hawk, a Republican, made opening remarks regarding the “importance” of appearance.
Referencing the bipartisan and unanimously approved rules for House decorum and dress attire is far from a racist attack.
If you don’t like rules, perhaps you should explore a different career opportunity that’s main purpose is not creating them. https://t.co/UdPkk8WLCS
— TN House Republicans (@tnhousegop) February 9, 2023
“We honor Lois Deberry’s memory by how we look and how we treat each other and how we give the respect we hope to get back. I still, to this day, keep an extra tie in my drawer,” Hawk said. Deberry, the second African-American woman to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly, died in 2013.
Pearson feels its time to move past that narrative.
“I’ve been wearing suits since I was 8 years old. It’s not a problem with wearing suits,” Pearson said. “There is a problem with upholding systems that tell people what is wrong and what is right based on what is considered normal and, in this status quo, what is normal is what is white.” While ridiculed by others, some House representatives applauded the young politician’s bravery, claiming Deberry wouldn’t have approached it that way.
State Rep. Karen Camper (D) says this is a teachable moment. “She wouldn’t embarrass a new member. She would say let’s educate the new member,” Camper said as reported by The Hill. “Let’s fold them in appropriately.”
As for Pearson, he plans to educate his chamber mates in a different way—by wearing the dashiki again but with a tie and jacket over it, if needed.
According to Action News 5, there is no written rule for what can be worn on the House floor.