The Case Against Do-Rags

By Jabari Asim
Monday, October 31, 2005; 11:39 AM

WASHINGTON -- I've always admired black athletes who use their celebrity and influence to speak out against injustice. Paul Robeson, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Arthur Ashe -- I count all these men among my heroes. That's why I was so heartened when Stephen Jackson of the Indiana Pacers announced his opposition to what he viewed as a fundamental unfairness. What was he opposing, I wondered. President Bush's ill-fated nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court? The fiasco in Iraq?

He wanted to talk about bling. And do-rags. And sagging pants. The NBA's new dress code forbids its athletes from wearing such items when representing the league. Jackson, Rasheed Wallace of the Detroit Pistons and Marcus Camby of the Denver Nuggets are among the players who have voiced objections to the new policy. Methinks they may be wearing their do-rags too tight.

Actually, I'm glad they spoke out because they have given me an opportunity to announce the formation of a new activist group: Dads Against Do-Rags. I've resented those ugly things for years, and I know I'm not alone. It's time we all came out and aired our feelings in the light of day.

Bling doesn't bother me, aside from occasionally hurting my eyes. I can admire the beauty of a bauble, especially on those rare instances when I can convince myself it has no connection to corruption in Sierra Leone, gunrunning or the hacked-off limbs of African children.

It's the do-rags that do me in. Bandannas I can tolerate. I'm talking about the nylon-polyester jobs that look like restitched discards from a hosiery factory. They serve no apparent purpose and look foolish instead of stylish.

Do-rag defenders cite its usefulness as a cover-up on bad-hair days. I've got an answer for that. It's called a brush.

Others have cited it as an emblem of individuality and rebellion against the status quo. Please. For me, it represents the opposite: slavery. It says, I have abandoned free will -- a sacred birthright for which my ancestors fought and died -- and joined the forces of mindless consumerism. Do-rag embracers are the logical descendants of those same folks who during the '70s and late '80s plunked down their ducats for "Curl Keepers" -- shower caps slickly repackaged and sold as hair-maintenance necessities.

You want to talk about rebellion? Then you may want to talk about Crispus Attucks, the oldest of old-school symbols of courageous uprising. Was he wearing a do-rag when he was killed by those trigger-happy Redcoats in 1770? No.

Maybe you'd rather discuss the late, great Rosa Parks, the ultimate modern symbol of principled individuality. Photos show that she was arrested and fingerprinted in 1955 while wearing a crisply tailored suit and minimal makeup. Dignity in abundance, but no do-rag in sight.

Shall we focus on the four young men who stepped into history by taking seats at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., in 1960? You guessed it: no do-rags.

I can't even look at photos of the 1963 showdown in Birmingham's Kelly Ingram Park without choking up. But even through my tears I can note the absence of do-rags. Perhaps then, you can understand why I associate rebellion with more abstract possessions, such as intelligence, integrity and fortitude. I'm sure I'm not the only one who remembers when "handkerchief-head" was an insult connoting a complete absence of such qualities.

I realize that the calculated sloppiness of some NBA players is also an attempt to distinguish themselves from the previous generation of pro basketballers. That group includes men such as Magic Johnson and Isaiah Thomas, who emerged from the locker room dressed like presidents of major corporations. Clothes don't really make the man, yet it's probably no coincidence that today both of them do indeed run major corporations.

If the example of Johnson and Thomas seems too tame for the younger set, they might consider the bra-burning feminists and fiery draft resisters of yesteryear. They declared their independence by doffing the symbols of their repression. They -- and you, dear reader -- can join me and other members of D.A.D. in our quest to free our brothers from do-rag domination. You don't have to burn those rags, though. You can send them to me, care of this newspaper. In return, I'll send you a membership certificate and the following pledge:

I will not be a slave to fashion. I will not wear recycled pantyhose on my head. I will honor the best traditions of my forebears. I will be free!

© 2005 The Washington Post Company