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How Hegemony Operates Through Dress Codes to Reproduce Whiteness in Schools

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 February 2022

Christopher Rogers*
Department of Sociology, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Knoxville, TN, USA
Corresponding author: Christopher Rogers, Department of Sociology, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, 901 McClung Tower, Knoxville, TN37996USA. Email:


There is much research on race and schooling focused on punitive discipline, but little attention is paid to how teachers and administrators use minor policies to coerce students to “willingly” adopt hegemonic ideologies, particularly the ones that correspond to Whiteness. In this work, Whiteness is conceptualized as a social concept in which forms of knowledge, skills, and behavioral traits are cultivated for the sake of maintaining White supremacy as the dominant ideology in the social organization of structures and people. My work explores how teachers and administrators use school dress code policies, specifically the policies regarding hairstyles, to indoctrinate Black students into Whiteness. I argue that schools are sites intended to racialize Black students into White society. I argue that dress codes that regulate hairstyles are a form of White hegemony. I ground my work in Antonio Gramsci and John Gaventa’s theoretical views of hegemony to conceptualize how administrators and teachers invoke forms of domination and coercion to force Black students to transform their appearance for the sake of upholding White ideals of professionalism. I offer a critical race conceptual model that articulates how power is enacted upon Black students to further a White aesthetic. The conceptual model highlights how teachers and administrators assign racialized social meanings to different hairstyles and unconsciously or consciously reinforce the idea that Black hairstyles hinder Black students’ performance in the classroom and reduce their future employment opportunities. Contemporary examples of Black students’ experiences in school are cases that validate this model. I argue that dress code policies about hair that incur minor infractions are destructive to Black students’ sense of identity and reinforce Whiteness as the normative frame of civil society.

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© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Hutchins Center for African and African American Research

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