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Sagging Pants, Hip Hop, and Racial Discrimination

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Several years ago the National Basketball Association implemented an extremely unpopular dress code, and you did not have to be a rocket scientist to know that the target was African American basketball players.

Understandably, school districts, given wide latitude by the courts, have also implemented more restrictive dress codes. Now it appears that communities across the country have decided to get in on the action by passing laws against wearing sagging pants in public.

Sagging pants style is worn by young black males, although a few white males wear sagging pants. This style, popularized in the early 1990s by hip hop artists, has become extremely popular across the United States. In Delcambre, Louisiana, a town of 80 miles southwest of Baton Rouge, wearing your pants in this manner carries a fine of as much as $500 or up to a six-month jail sentence.

Another town, Mansfield, fines offenders up to $150 and 15 days in the slammer. According to the esteemed mayor, “this new law will set a good civic image.” The success in passing these dress codes has inspired other communities to follow suit. Efforts to outlaw sagging in Virginia and statewide in Louisiana in 2004 failed, usually when opponents invoked a right to self-expression. But the latest legislative efforts have taken a different tack, drawing on indecency laws, and their success has inspired other lawmakers. With hip hop under serious attack from the song lyric police, the time is ripe to make a frontal attack on sagging pants. Next, they may go after the over-sized t-shirts.

For example, in the West Ward of Trenton, New Jersey, Councilwoman Annette Lartigue is "drafting an ordinance to fine or enforce community service in response to what she sees as the problem of exposing private parts in public. 'It's a fad like hot pants; however, I think it crosses the line when a person shows their backside,' Lartigue said. 'You can't legislate how people dress, but you can legislate when people begin to become indecent by exposing their body parts.'" While she is being general here, you can bet that sagging pants will be included in this ordinance.

From my perspective, sagging pants is nothing but a metaphor for the hip hop lifestyle. Critics of this lifestyle view sagging pants as a badge of delinquency along with its distinctive thug walk and disrespect for authority, whatever this means. Sagging began in American prisons, where over-sized uniforms were issued without belts to prevent suicide and the use of belts as weapons. The style spread by way of rappers and music videos, from the ghetto to the suburbs and around the world. Sagging pants are an easy and convenient symbol of the supposed dereliction and menace of young blacks.

While this issue is usually viewed in the context of racism against young African American males, blacks are also split over this issue. It was African American councilpersons in Shreveport, Mansfield and the other small towns who proposed the sagging pants laws. America’s most famous dad, Bill Cosby spoke for many blacks when he criticized sagging pants and other supposedly “ghetto” practices. While he later backed off much of his criticism, many blacks agreed with him.

Cosby and other older African Americans are over-reacting to the cultural significance of sagging pants. Clothing, body piercing, etc is nothing more than youthful rebellion. Most young people, except the Willie Nelson types, will eventually grow out of it, evidenced by the lack of sagging pants worn by African American male college students. My advice is to just roll with it. Like most fads, it will pass just like bell bottom pants, hot pants, zoot suits, pointed toe shoes, platform shoes, and Mao jackets. Sagging laws are certainly not the answer.

Besides, these kind of laws reinforce negative images of young African American males and will do more to swell the prison population than reduce it. These laws confirm for many that the problems of poor blacks are self-made and insoluble. Many employers admit that they won't hire young blacks because they believe they are lazier, more crime prone, and educationally deficient. Many politicians, even without the excuse of ballooning state and federal budget deficits and cutbacks, mightily resist efforts to increase spending on job, health, and education programs for the poor.

Finally, sagging laws will expose these communities to expensive litigation. The American Civil Liberties Union has been steadfast in its opposition to dress restrictions. Debbie Seagraves, the executive director of the group in Georgia, said, "I don't see any way that something constitutional could be crafted when the intention is to single out and label one style of dress that originated with the black youth culture as an unacceptable form of expression." So leave it alone!

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  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Good lord, who cares how they wear their pants? If they wear them that way they mark themselves as morons, and what more punishment should they need?

    Dave

  • moonraven

    [Personal attack deleted by Comments Editor]

    Just shows that folks in the US are way beyond fiddling while Rome burns–spending their time writing laws like this instead of putting their government in front of a firing squad–the one instance where I would say that guns are okay is if Dick Cheney is smoking his last cigarette in front of a g roup of crack shots.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Can we get an amendment to ban Zubaz altogether?

  • sr

    I always wear baggy shorts to hide my depends. This keeps me from taking a shit in my cowboy boots.

  • third eye

    Hey Moonraven, Perhaps you shoud worry about whatever ass backwards country your from instead of trashing the most successful the world has ever known. Im sure you dont consider it jealousy, but we Americans sure do.

  • Alessandro

    Actually, third eye you may be on to something. Is there a Mexican version of BC? We could all go on it and bash Mexico to smithereens as she does America. See how she feels after that.

    Reminds me of that Seinfeld episode when Jerry went to heckle Kramer’s girlfriend (my pinky toe!)at work after she heckled him during his routine.

  • Polly

    Anyone caught wearing saggy pants should be drafted into the US marines, given a few weeks basic training to make them neat, tidy and psychotic and then shipped off to Iraq to kill ordinary people of all shapes, sizes and ages.

    People caught wearing Jesus clothes – robes and sandals- should be stoned by a mob of born again retards and then nailed to crosses on the White House lawn.

  • Constance

    “Sagging pants style is worn by young black males, although a few white males wear sagging pants.”

    What research is this based on? None. Absolutely none. URBAN males in certain age groups are wearing the sagging pants. I’m tired of everyone playing the race card. I’ll agree that it began with Black males, young and/or ignorant (not stupid, there is a difference – get a dictionary) Black males, but it is now a part of the urban youth culture. Hip Hop culture isn’t identical to Black culture. I believe it is more closely aligned with urban culture. I don’t like the sagging pants, but think about it. The “moral majority” also didn’t like rock music, women in pants, mini skirts, low riders, etc.

    I’m tired of our country being run as a religious state and I’m a Christian. I don’t want men judging me. That is God’s job.

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com Elvira Black

    Actually, I think the saggy pants thing may have run its course in NYC–just my observation.

  • wdufkin

    #7 As a born again retard with a baggy(ish) pants born again retarded son in the Marines I find your post comical!

  • JustOneMan

    “Why is da white man always trying to keep da brutha down”…..Pleeeeaasssee….who gives a shit about a bunch of morons who want to dress up as their male role models —- prisoners.

    The black community better wake up.

    JOM

  • Nancy

    Constance is right: I see as many (or more) saggy pants on young white guys as young black guys. It eventually clears up for the most part, when they get older & realize that the GIRLS don’t LIKE saggy pants styles, but prefer their men to look neat, spiffy, stylish – along GQ lines. I would question what kind of parents, white or black, allow their kids to go out of the house looking like that, or to buy them in the first place? If I had a kid, that kid would be wearing what I say s/he wears until s/he’s old enough to support themselves. At least that’s the way it worked with me & my parents.

  • JustOneMan

    “I would question what kind of parents, white or black, allow their kids to go out of the house looking like that”

    Nancy…thats the answer…the parents are not involved and they dont care!

    JOM

  • http://nitpickingnightdragon.blogspot.com Mark Edward Manning

    Sagging pants are just a macho version of low-rise jeans. It seems that everyone, including hip-hoppers, want to hop onto the “show yer ass” parade. Well, to be fair, with the saggy pants crowd, it’s more a case of “show yer boxers,” but the point is the same: it’s showing something to the public that they should not expect to see. The reason many blacks themselves signed up to the anti-saggy pants platform was because they know that to get respect, you actually have to earn it — and that’s as true for everyone else as it is for blacks. I’m not going to hire some white kid with piercings galore and a spiky mohawk any more than I’m going to hire a black kid who thinks that, by the very virtue of his saggy, baggy pants, I’m supposed to endow him with unbridled respec’.

    No, dawg, I don’t play dat game. Yo.

    Furthermore, if this was a fad, as you allege, it would have ended five years ago. It hasn’t. It’s stronger than ever.

    Not that I really care. If someone dresses like a moron, I’m taking the liberty of treating them like one. Case closed.

  • moonraven

    [Deleted]

    Third rock from the Sun:

    I am a US citizen. Ergo, I will say whatever the fuck I want about the US–and in whatever venue I choose to do so.

    [Gratuitous vulgarity deleted by Comments Editor.]

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    The writer says sagging pants started in prison…I’d almost bet that any kid that had to wear hand-me-downs will tell you that sagging pants DID NOT start in prison…it started in poor families…that’s where it started…buncha bullshit is what it is…the biggest farce in this piece is calling this any kind of “Style”!!!

  • http://www.robot-of-the-week.com Christopher Rose

    Andy, I had no idea you were so fashion concious!

    I believe the writer meant the style of saggy pants started in US prisons. However, I had been led to understand the source of the inmate style was that the diet is strict there and this caused people to lose weight and thus their pants sag, rather than issuing all inmates with over-sized clothes to prevent suicides.

    Of course, I hate the USA, so what would I know? ;-)

  • http://culturesalad.blogspot.com Ray Ellis

    Actually, the style did start in prisons, and it had more to do with a dominance/submission pecking order. Need I go on? How going from that translated into a gangsta style is anybody’s guess.

  • Baronius

    Any “gangsta” trend lasts about three years among urban blacks, whites, and hispanics. Then it runs for three more years in suburban white high schools. (Suburban black kids just look on in embarassment.) Unless the droopy look has come back, it should have played itself out 3-4 years ago.

  • http://nitpickingnightdragon.blogspot.com Mark Edward Manning

    Christopher Rose: “Of course, I hate the USA”

    Evidently.

  • http://www.robot-of-the-week.com Christopher Rose

    M.E.M. I know at least one of us was being funny…

  • daryl d

    Ray, it had NOTHING to do with the “pecking order” that you fantasize so much about. Christopher Rose’s post is correct. I did a paper on this when I was in College.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    I still say it comes from little brothers having to wear hand me downs…you gangstas can try to pretend that you invented it, but it was the kid down the road that lived on the dirt road and had an outhouse in his backyard, who’s parents couldn’t afford to buy him knew or used clothes and had to wear his big brothers old clothes, not some braindead assholes in prison.

    And CR…I know it’s really envy…but we love you anyway.

  • http://culturesalad.blogspot.com Ray Ellis

    You might want to start choosing your words more carefully, Daryl. I wasn’t “fantasizing” about anything. I was merely stating a known fact culled from interviewing saggers. By the way, “college” is not a proper noun.

  • Zedd

    From what I gather from “the kids”, excessive sagging is out. Hip Hop dress is now an over sized preppy look. Kids are wearing huge polos, and over sized plaid shorts.

    What I heard was that extreme sagging in prison had more to do with advertising ones availability for sex… Could be an urban myth.

    I do think that hip hop attire did cause young black males to be labeled as hoodlums. Now that the look has spread to all races, the look is accepted as another eye rolling youth engagement. I think that the desire to over correct by Black adults comes from understanding the visceral reaction to Black maleness in society in general and knowing the economic impact of that reaction. That attire, which was intended to convey coolness, only heightened the distrust and fear of Black young men, especially in those first five years that it was out.

    The result however has been that people now see just how goofy the entire labeling of Black youth is, because of witnessing their own silly kids trying to be cool in the same way, when two years back they were into Santa and “nite nite” stories. I believe that the result is a humanizing of Black boys.

  • Clavos

    Not one single typo!!!!

    Not one single misspelling disguised as a typo (well, except for “nite nite,” but we can let that one pass on the grounds that it’s almost an accepted alternate spelling)!

    Not even an “off course!”

    Congratulations, Zedd!!!

    See, you can do it!

    (Now, if we can just do something about the pop psychology….)

  • moonraven

    Now if clavos could, like The Scarecrow, find someone to give him a brain….

  • Cindy D

    Actually, “nite” is perfectly acceptable for informal use. You can find in most any current dictionary.

  • Zedd

    Clavos,

    Now if you could only do something about growing your tiny mind, we would all be in business.

    I’m pulling for ya lady.

    Oops I meant to say lad. Darn it!! Rattunspakinoobligosh!!! That would mean I cant be in your super cool club can I Cleavage? Where is that rope!!! I mean what to do?!!! Spelling errors in the day of free spell checkers…. What can be done??? Oh the wind doth roar loudly mocking my great distress. I would search the globe but there is a war in the East. Wherein shall I find the answer? Alas, I shall ponder upon it another year, while in distress off course, I mean offcourse, decrying oh damn thee third grade teacher! Course the phonics!!! A major pock to the daughter of romance, oh Latin, you allusive tart!!

    OOH new episode on HGTV!

  • Zedd

    Oh darn it I missed MR’s comment. Now it looks like I copied!

    or

    It could mean that it’s more than apparent that Clav needs a little help in the noggin department.

    Oh another dilemma. Which is it? If only The Wise Men could make this yet another great trek to impart their knowledge and untie this knot.

    Boy minutia is fun. Thanks Clav. I’ll do this more often.

    Let’s see…
    My pen won’t write. Oh Beelzebub, thou doth spit your empty venom on the parchment of life at will. But I have developed an immunity to your sting. I have purchased an entire box of writing tools, carefully awaiting your strike. Foiled is your attempt. I write again!

    Oh you don’t accept checks?

    Alas the plastic sword! Savior of man. Platinum goddess, she waves…….. (I mean four dots)

  • Clavos

    “Oh darn it I missed MR’s comment”

    …And the point.

  • Zedd

    That’s alright Clav.

    I’ll throw you a misspelled word and punctuation error frequently enough to keep you alert.
    dot dot dot dot

  • Clavos

    Which wasn’t the point, Zedd, but never mind.

    You don’t have to “throw” any misspellings or other grammatical errors my way, Zedd, all you have to do is keep posting; it’ll happen without you even being aware of it.

  • Cindy D

    Fat plumbers had better avoid west Trenton, NJ.

  • mexicanlakerfan

    well i hate all the stupid preps they are just a bunch of show offs who just care about their clothes man who gives a fuck i hardly sag but fuck that new preppy look fuckin posers i still be doing like in the hood fuck suburbian i still be wearing them 2XL tall pro 5’s and baggy south pole pants with chucks with fat lasses and new era LA caps mutha fuckers so fuck all you suburbian wanna be ghetto faggots

  • http://www.thepoundersblog.com/ Tironius

    Its amazing how dumbfucks like “Moveable Feast” cannot separate the behavior from the person, meaning that jackasses who expose their repugnant body to the public do so because it is their culture. Horseshit. This writer EXPECTS blacks to behave like jackasses, ACCEPTS it, and then says their horrible behavior is some kind of right. I can’t walk around with my cock out, but if I do I’ll claim its my right “to expression,” though the words “right to expression” are not anywhere in the Constitution, and if they were, exposing yourself isn’t expression of anything.

  • http://me me

    hi

  • missladyk

    i think sagging pants should be legal in the whole country

  • Jonny

    I would like to say somthing on this topic of banning baggy clothes, QUIT WHINING, if you cant see it then how do you know it is there, there are some pants made exactly dfor the baggy look, any way it is what defines us clothing is what gives the right to express our feelings and our pride, i think the adults should stick to there stuff about the war and leave kids alone cause remember we are the future, oh and by the way for those people who say that kids with baggy pants are thugs and dropp outs well your wrong i am a 16 year in my senior year of high school and my pants sag and i am proud of it cause it is very comfortable. Thank you for time

  • MJB

    i believe that if kids want to walk around with there pants below the waist they should be able to no matter what race.

  • Mydnyte

    Johnny… I just want to know what “feelings” are expressed when sagging pants? And to the editor, you’re a little racist. I am a white 17 year old, I sag my pants, half the time out of habit. Also, I’ve seen white people around here get the ticket for sagging. And everyone, think about this; maybe sagging started many different ways in many different areas. I’ve heard the prison “offering” one, I’ve heard the prison “over sized clothes” one, I’ve heard the “hand me down” one, but one not mentioned yet, is it was started people hiding their guns in the pants. If the pants are sagging, the handle of the gun won’t rub against your stomach. Other than all that, good job to all of you for not typing like idiots, using “idk” “u” or anything like that

  • flashpoint77nyc

    Black Americans have always been at the cutting edge, in music, sports, and (without question) in
    fashion. However, this hip hop cuture and/or jail
    mentality is somehow mixed into this psuedo hyper masculine identity that has no value whatsoever.
    It’s also masking a sub-culture of men who prefer
    other men, but don’t want to labeled as gay. The
    so-called homo-thug can blend easily into this
    “culture”. Gay’s on the other hand have been
    victimized by the so-called hard core hip hoppers,
    while thier counterparts enjoy a sublime duality
    within this community. A man, whether gay or straight shouldn’t be judged on the basis of his
    clothing. It is a man’s “character” that defines
    him. It’s really bazaar when a man’s arched and
    manicured eyebrows are frowning because he is
    insecure about his masculinity. Grow up, be yourself and stop acting like somebody else.

  • flashpoint77nyc

    Black Americans have always been at the cutting edge, in music, sports, and (without question) in
    fashion. However, this hip hop cuture and/or jail
    mentality is somehow mixed into this psuedo hyper masculine identity that has no value whatsoever.
    It’s also masking a sub-culture of men who prefer
    other men, but don’t want to labeled as gay. The
    so-called homo-thug can blend easily into this
    “culture”. Gay’s on the other hand have been
    victimized by the so-called hard core hip hoppers,
    while thier counterparts enjoy a sublime duality
    within this community. A man, whether gay or straight shouldn’t be judged on the basis of his
    clothing. It is a man’s “character” that defines
    him. It’s really bazaar when a man’s arched and
    manicured eyebrows are frowning because he is
    insecure about his masculinity. Grow up, be yourself and stop acting like somebody else.

  • david

    I don’t see the point of saggin pant at all… ok..we all know sagging pants started in prisons..so what…why would you sagging your pants if you are not in prison?

  • SKEETE

    Just so you all know, Sagging started in the 80’s
    When Immagrants, and poor americans moved into what we call ghettos. It was a simple process of buying big clothes so they would last longer, since know one had money to buy clothes all the time. Its that simple, Why it got so big, You just have to ask the same people that think super tight clothes is a fad

  • http://www.theblackcritic.com The Black Critic

    If only they spent more time fighting teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, gang violence, dead beat dads, high school drop out rates, poverty, etc. as hard and passionately as they fight sagging pants. Who needs the NAACP when you can have a Black Fashion Police Department battling to uplift the Black community?

  • Daniel

    To say this is only a fashion statement or that this is a youthful rebellion only shows how out of touch some people are with reallty. These youth are being set up as future outcast and failures, only a fool would believe anything different. You will not be taken serious dressing this way nor should you be. I could go on and on about how this impacts a young mans future, his thinking, and now many young black females who have adopted this crap but what would be the point when whom ever wrote this artcle has no understanding of obstacles we black men face and this is one more bull shit thing we don’t need!!!

  • kel

    it started in prison and was to identify who was Gay

  • larod

    why it always got to be black people

  • John

    This has gotten way out of Control. Young Men of every Race should have More Respect for Themselves and Everyone Else. Is it right for These Young Men to Impose Their Taste in Fashion on me and the Other People of this Country.It’s wrong to make Laws that have No Bounds, But this is Something that All Young Men should think about and Understand that Showing Your Rear-ends and having Young Girls and Women in the Presence of this Disrespect,and to some could be Concidered Un-Healthy . We Teach Our kids to not show Themselves to Anyone and to Tell if Someone does so to them. What is so different about Sagging Pants,this could very well be Viewed in Some Ways as a Sexual Assault on Multipal Persons . This is a Problem that should be Stopped and Viewed as Indecent and as Assault on Others. Offenders should be Punished . Think of your
    Mother,Grand-Mother,Daughter,Sister,Aunt. How do you feel about them being Visually Assaulted in Public all to Save a Fashion Statement.