Cap and frown

joe@sfbg.com

Just in time for baseball season, Giants hats may be allowed back into San Francisco public schools. A new Board of Education resolution may change the school district dress code to allow hats to be worn indoors in classrooms, a resolution that is also sparking conversations about cultural sensitivity.

The resolution, which the board will likely vote on April 8, would eliminate a San Francisco Unified School District no-hats policy, allowing schools to set their own dress codes individually as long as they’ve considered community input.

Some schools currently allow hats in schools in violation of district policy, but others have no-hat rules due to long standing conflation of hats with gang clothing, Board of Education Commissioner Matt Haney, who authored the resolution, told us.

“Our students should not be treated as a threat or a gang member because they wear hats,” Haney said. “If the message we send to them is that the way they dress in their communities is somehow a threat, we should not be sending that message as a school system.”

Hats seem like an unlikely starting point for a discussion about race and social justice, but Haney connects freedom of dress to the story of Trayvon Martin, whose tragic slaying many connected to negative assumptions due to wearing a hoodie, sparking a national “Million Hoodie Movement for Justice.”

Haney said allowing hats in classrooms is one step of many ensuring students know they’re accepted, and not viewed as a threat.

“When I went to a middle school to visit, they asked ‘why we can’t wear hats?’ I said it’s because people may think they’re in gangs,” Haney told the Guardian. “They looked at me like they had never heard anything so crazy or disrespectful in their lives.”

In a world where some people view those dressed in a simple hoodie as a reason to fear a teenager, the change in dress code rules could be seen as rebellious. But not everyone is a fan.

“I’m both ways on it,” Jackie Cohen, co-founder of the student tutoring program 100 Percent College Prep Institute, told the Guardian. “They should be able to express themselves as young people, but I don’t think they’re ready for the consequences that come with it.”

The institute offers many workshops to youth in the Bayview, but one offered last October taught kids to be what Cohen calls a “social chameleon.” The class taught code switching, when Cohen as how people change behavior based on social surroundings.

It’s a concept that youth of color in her neighborhood grapple with every day. Do they wear a hoodie to a job interview? A hat in the classroom? How much slang should be used in any given conversation? How does the media portray them?

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Teenage (and younger) members of 100 Percent College Prep Institute learn about code switching from adult peers in a workshop held in October. Photo courtesy of Jackie Cohen.

San Franciscans were treated to a glaring moment of code-switching violation at last year’s NFC championship, when the 49ers were defeated by the Seattle Seahawks, whose cornerback Richard Sherman dissed 49ers player Michael Crabtree loudly in a TV interview, shouting, “Well, I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get! Don’t you ever talk about me.”

The moment drew fire from football fans and commentators nationally; many called Sherman a thug due to his aggressive speech. In interviews later, Sherman equated the “thug” label with a racial epithet.

The message? Men of color have to act and dress within certain boundaries, and young persons especially can have trouble navigating those social boundaries, just or not. Young people of color’s clothing and speech styles can often be an impediment to breaching white-dominated power structures, Cohen said.

“If you put that resolution on the table, [Haney] should expand that to teach the other side,” she told us. “The code switching class should be part of that resolution.”

Haney, for his part, agrees that families should have a say in how their children dress at school.

“I think it’s a fair point,” he said. “The resolution doesn’t say schools must allow hats, it says it should be up to the school community and can be up to the school staff.”

But in a way, the resolution is pushing back against the need for code switching, and even mentions that the school district should recognize different forms of dress as a part of a community’s culture.

The resolution states: “A District-wide, positive, relationship-based culture is best supported by contemporary, culturally relevant Dress and Appearance standards with consistent application.”

And in San Francisco, as other big cities with pride in their sports team, saying hats are “culturally relevant dress” is an understatement.

Len Kori is a 26-year-old design major at California State University East Bay. But first and foremost, he is a San Francisco native, born and raised — he went to Thurgood Marshall High School, one of the schools affected by the resolution on hats.

He remembers the ban on hats well, which makes sense since Kori owns more than 200 of them, most bearing that unbeatable abbreviation: SF.

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Kori stands amidst some of his hat collection. Photo courtesy of Len Kori.

“You’d be surprised how deep the philosophy of collecting caps goes, as far as why people collect what they collect,” he told us. “My collection is solely based on who I am, and how important for me it is to acknowledge my roots,” Kori told the Guardian.

Hats defined his identity as a San Franciscan since he was a youngster, and as an adult he channeled his passions into designing hats himself.

One has the peninsula of the city dead center on the front of the cap, half the city aqua blue and the other half a gold dusky land mass. It reads “Bay Era,” a play off of the name of the popular New Era hats. Reflecting a love of city sports, some of his designs hearken back to San Francisco’s original baseball team, the Seals, sporting the original 1903 team colors of blue and white.

He’s happy to see the hat ban lifted because he feels “it’s important for kids to be able to express themselves.” Hats expressing city pride have long been a part of urban San Francisco culture, he said, but they are especially important now.

With so many displaced in the city’s housing crisis, there are too few of his former schoolmates around anymore. It makes the need to declare his love of San Francisco through hats especially poignant.

“It’s just really sad to see so many of my friends who have gone and left elsewhere,” Kori said. “I take pride in my city.”