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!Powered by Sidelines