Thursday, October 25, 2007

To Sag Or Not To Sag?

As more and more communities are creating ordinances in an attempt to ban the practice of “sagging”, I began to question my own feelings about the practice. As the parent of a young son, it is a topic that has become inescapable. It is a practice that I have never understood and found it to be foolish looking. I am reminded though that when I was a young man, I use to wear jeans that were completely patched. While adults at the time and many of my peers thought I looked ridiculous, I would not have changed them for the world. It was my way of saying “up yours” to everyone.

Sagging began in prison, where oversized uniforms were issued without belts to prevent suicide and their use as weapons. The style spread through rappers and music videos, from the ghetto to the suburbs and around the world.

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 is inspiring lawmakers in other states.[1]

Today, I wear Brooks Brother suits and other assorted designer fashions. As I look back at my teenage years, I realize that I wore those jeans because I couldn’t afford to wear the fashions my contemporaries were wearing. So, instead of being angry and becoming a criminal and stealing I went the other way. I decided to create my own fashion statement. I went to an all-black high school and so my hippie inspired fashion statement was met with derision, but I didn’t care. Before long people stopped trying to clown me and began to accept me. My point was made; a fashion misfit could still be popular. I was elected class president for 3 years in a row. Secretly, being the class-clown and egotistical ass that I was, I reveled in the attention my fashions brought me.

I relate these years to say that while I find the sag to be personally distasteful, lacks any true sense of style, and is unimaginative, I would not support public laws banning it. I believe in that case the cure would be more dangerous than the disease. With so many of our freedoms being curtailed for our own protection, it is a slippery slope to begin to legislate fashion. With that being said I also understand that we set decency standards all the time for the public welfare, but growing up during the first mini-skirt and hot pants wave it would be hard for me to ban anything. I find the fashions of the young people today to be an extension of their culture, which seems to be bankrupt. Their music is pirated and sampled, their lyrics lack creativity, and their language is crude.

The advice I gave my son, is how I have been able to endure the current fashion trends. I told him simply that he could wear whatever he wanted so long as it did not interfere with his studies. You can look like a fool, but you’d better not be one. As soon as he began to slip in school, the gig is up. There would be no more hip-hop fashions and no more sagging. I explained to him that when trying to establish oneself, appearance is important. I told him that while it was unfortunate; the truth is that we are judged by how we look. I explained to him the Dave Chappell analogy of female fashions.

Dave said that if women wanted to stop being treated like “hoes” they should stop wearing the uniform. He said that if a car pulls up behind you with flashing lights and a guy gets out with a uniform, badge, and gun then you reasonably believe that he is a cop. You believe this because he is wearing the cop’s uniform, so whatever uniform you are wearing do not be surprised when you are treated like that character. In a perfect world it would not be this way, but this is not a perfect world. In a perfect world we would be judged by what was on the inside, not the outside; but this isn’t it.

I explained to him as a young black man he was already going to be stereotyped and that he would have to work very hard to overcome them. I told him that dressing in that way only added to the impression that he would have to overcome. I told him that if he wanted to take on the added weight that it was on him, but understand what you are getting into. People are going to judge you based on what you are wearing.

After going through my whole spiel, it turns out he is a skateboard enthusiast and isn’t even into the sag. So here it was I wasted a perfectly good father/son speech for nothing. I think what is missing from this dialog for the young black man is the presence of a father/mentor to explain the true consequences of their actions. Right now they are only getting one side of the story. They are getting the street side and it is not being tempered by any other voices. I am not saying that this would reduce the effects, because let’s face it youth will rebel. What it will do is give them an anchor, a fixed place to return to when the rebelliousness of youth runs its course.

I think to legislate will only cause them to rally around the cause and reinforce the us versus them mentality. What is needed is more voices in the discussion, voices of reason and concern. What we don’t need is voices of condemnation. In closing, I would like to lend my voice with the following to sag or not to sag is not the question; the question is? Are you taking care of your business regardless of how you look? It is one thing to look like a fool, it is quite another to be a fool.


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