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Dem State Lawmakers Rail Against Senate Chamber Dress Code as a Form of White Oppression

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A sneaker-clad state senator in Rhode Island is objecting to his chamber’s jacket and dress shirt mandate as a form of white oppression.

“These rules make it OK for us to judge people based on the way they dress or how they look, and I just feel that’s super problematic,” Jonathon Acosta, the 31-year-old Democratic state senator, said. “I assure you that what I wear does not influence the quality of the work I produce.”

The Democrat-controlled Rhode Island Senate approved its new dress code on Tuesday over objections from Acosta and other lawmakers.

The provision, a revision of a policy the chamber has had for decades, requires senators and staff to dress in “proper and appropriate attire, such as blouses, dress slacks and collared shirts with accompanying jacket.”

Democratic Sen. Louis DiPalma, who chairs the rules committee that vetted the revised mandates, argued that the dress code is broader than those in other state legislatures.

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“It’s not about judging how anyone looks,” he said. “A dress code and decorum are about respecting an institution that is 200-plus years old.”

Sen. Gordon Rogers, a Republican from rural Foster, said he supported the attire rules even as he admitted it was difficult to trade in his beloved Chippewa boots for dress shoes to enter the chamber.

“It’s not about disenfranchising anybody,” the businessman and farmer said to some applause. “Sometimes you have to force respect.”

But Sen. Cynthia Mendes, an East Providence Democrat, complained that this year’s dress code is more specific than the chamber’s previous one, which simply required all persons on the Senate floor to “be properly dressed.”

Should legislative chambers enforce dress codes?

“This is colonization language. The need to remind everyone who is in power. It has always started with what you tell them to do with their bodies,” Mendes said. “That’s not lost on me.”

Acosta, who was elected in November, argued that the Senate’s dress code isn’t widely enforced. He’s been wearing cardigans and Air Jordan sneakers for weeks without any apparent objection.

“Whose sensibilities are being insulted?” Acosta asked, donning a traditional Caribbean shirt without a collar for Tuesday’s debate.

The National Conference of State Legislatures said roughly half of all state legislatures had some sort of formalized dress code in 2019.

On the other side of the globe, a Maori lawmaker won his battle against wearing a tie in the New Zealand Parliament last month. He called the tie a “colonial noose.”

The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.

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