Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Why young black men could use a little kick in the pants

September 26, 2007 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

(Akiit.com) Be Our Guest

Dear brothers (do you mind if I call you brothers?),

Have you heard about the movement to ticket and fine people – meaning, people like you – for wearing sagging, underwear-revealing pants? It started in a small Louisiana town, where you can now get up to six months in jail and a $500 fine for exposing your undergarments. Proposals have since popped up from Atlanta to Baltimore to Trenton, and last week even in Yonkers. It’s only a matter of time before some enterprising City Council member puts it on the table here in New York.

And in every city, the most vocal critics of the saggy pants ban – groups like the ACLU – argue that it is a form of racial profiling that unfairly targets African-American males for what supposedly is just a type of cultural expression.

Enough of this “cultural expression” argument. Those who want to ban sagging pants (who, by the way, in most cases happen to be African-American lawmakers) are onto something. And it’s more than just about indecency. It’s about your self-image as young black men – and our self-image as African-Americans.

Do you realize where the sagging pants trend started? It started in our nation’s prisons – where inmates were not allowed to wear belts (or have shoelaces) for fear they would use them to harm themselves or others. Before long, the gangsta rap world caught on – and made the look a symbol of street life in urban communities across America, New York City included.

So this is not your fashion trend, young black men. It’s a trend created by and perpetuated by people who have hurt others. A staggering number of black men are incarcerated across this nation. You don’t really want to celebrate that, do you?

For far too long, we – black men like you and black women like me – have silently accepted the low expectations that have permeated our communities. That’s led far too many torefrain from encouraging you to improve your self-image – and your true self. Everyone knows that academic achievement among black youth nationally is still scraping the floor of the basement. Everyone knows that far too many young black men are still in the thrall of gangs and street violence.

If we can’t outright reject a prison fashion trend, God knows we will not be able to grapple with the really important stuff.

And please don’t tell me clothing is irrelevant. It matters. Go to any one of the exemplary all-boys, predominantly African-American schools in America – like Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Excellence Charter School – and you’ll find there are many ways they instill in their young people a sense of self-worth and respect. And that starts with how the youngsters dress. They dress to reflect self-respect. And that translates into discipline, leadership and scholarship.

Yes, I understand – it’s a shame it had to come to this. It would have been better if we could have gotten our own house in order. But for years, we let pants ride lower and lower, exposing more and more of young men’s undergarments. Hardly anyone did anything.

Constitutionally protected expression? But there are limits to everything. You can’t walk around naked, can you?

Instead of cursing the fashion police and going to great lengths to defend a style of dress, I say you should get outfront and endorse this movement. That’s right. You, young black men, should be the first to say that you are rejecting a prison mentality.

Stop this fashion trend dead in its tracks if you can. And if you can’t – well, then, a new law may be on its way.

Pants up. And stand up, young black men. You’ve got your self-image. Say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud.


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