Even the preacher,
and all my teachers,
couldn't reach me.
- 2Pac, "If I Die 2Nite"
Unlike the other few young black boys in his township, this one looked like an inner-city youth...He wore his pants sagging below his gluteus minimus...wanted to carry that ghetto attitude within him when there wasn't a need...why this kid wanted to look and behave like something he didn't have to baffled Dr. Branch. This kid represented everything [Dr. Branch] hated about his people...If he could change this one kid, he could change the world.
- Dr. Trenton Branch, Black Boogiemen (80-2)
Men of the lower socio-economic classes in America, along with black, African American men, in addition to their concerns, feelings and thoughts, have represented a great portion of the articles and essays promoted by Labancamy: not all, but a great majority. And, while Shonda Rhimes reminds us that the world is not concerned with the “blah, blah, blah” of being a black man, I never realized that the public would be so disdainful of participating in simple dialogue. But such has been the case. Simple association with black masculinist issues has been met with whimsical indifference, vitriol bordering on the…I don’t know what and, in one case, a blatant refusal to even entertain discussion of the topic at hand. Allow me to explain.
We have written on a number of issues here – older men dating young girls, articulateness, intelligence – but none has elicited responses like the blog posting on sagging pants and the proposed sagging pants ban in St. Louis, Missouri. More people read, shared and commented on the blog posting entitled “The Curious Case of the Sagging Pants” than any other piece promoted on our Facebook artist page. We have written on homosexuality and loyalty and honesty: none garnered the attention of sagging pants. Most of the comments reflected a desire to mandate that young boys and men wear their pants at a level considered appropriate by societal standards. No one, I repeat, no one was interested in any type of discussion with men who wear their pants sagging and their motivations for wearing their pants sagging. They just wanted the men to be mandated to pull them up. Now, while I do not necessarily advocate the wearing of sagging pants in the piece, I do not espouse support for the ban either. I simply point out my concern with how the ban may be employed and attempt to explain the perspective of, at least, one demographic that embraces the wearing of sagging pants. I attempt to explain the inmost thoughts and feelings of men as related to the wearing of sagging pants. Here are a few examples of the responses we received:
Terri H. E. : I don't think I know you and I would appreciate being taken off of your list. I am much older than you and my opinion about them is that it is a sad statement that young black men take their fashion cues from people in JAIL.
Vincent A. N. IV: I think anyone with a hoodie pulled up looks suspicious just because there's no need. If its that cold get a jacket. Why you hiding? Of course its none of my business, you can where whatever you want it's a free country right? Just sayin... Don't look walk talk like a duck if you don't want people to think you're a duck. I heard the saggin pants thing started in prison? You wanna look like a felon? By all means dress like one...
T.P.: As Dave Chappell said "you might not be a whore but you're wearing a whore's uniform." So don't be shocked when your treated like one. Same thing applies here [regarding sagging pants].
I selected the above responses because they not only work to illustrate and further my point, but they were each made by people that I consider friends, or at least folks with whom I am cordial. Terri H.E. is a very accomplished African American businesswoman centered in Washington, D.C. She provides management consulting solutions to companies of America’s leading industries, including many Fortune 500 companies. I, along with a group of young, minority graduates, was introduced to Mrs. H.E. with the hopes that she would be able to provide advice and support and guidance. Mrs. H.E. gave us a presentation about how much she was concerned about our futures and well-being and dreams and aspirations and the things important to us. Now, as you all are well aware, Labancamy Jankins is not my real name. It is a penname used by every writer who writes an article or blog posting or essay on the Labancamy Jankins website. I mention this because, when introduced to the businesswoman I, of course, used my real name and told her about Labancamy Entertainment and Productions, LLC. She told me to add her name to the mailing list. I did. Her response was in response to an email alerting readers to the posting on sagging pants. It was quite disappointing to discover that: 1) she had no idea who I was (How can you forget the name Labancamy? It is so weird.), 2) her opinion about them (I could not decide if she was referring to black males or sagging pants, but I will give her the benefit of the doubt and infer that she is referring to sagging pants) is that they (black men or sagging pants) are sad and 3) she believes that the black men take their fashion cues from jail. Using my great inductive and deductive reasoning skills, I determined that Mrs. H.E. is not interested in any political stance that sagging pants may signify for young black men.
Vincent A.N. IV is one of my white, former private school classmates. I attempt to engage in conversations about race and socio-economic issues with Vincent because the topics are usually treated in such a taboo fashion between the races. I am always interested in the opinions of Others. Vincent provides great, and alarmingly honest, insight regarding how a certain demographic interprets certain black men. For Vincent, if black men are not willing to acquiesce and assimilate to a style of dress that men like Vincent have declared valid, then the black men are subject to whatever consequences which may befall the men. So, Vincent definitely does not wish to engage in dialogue on issues of importance to black men. He would prefer that they just dress as he suggests, or they can face whatever societal consequences, in some cases death, which come along with dressing in a non-conforming fashion.
T. P. and Vincent share a similar outlook; T.P. is not receptive to the political arguments made by men like Nasir Jones regarding their stance on the wearing of sagging pants. T.P. and Vincent also share similar age and educational background; however, T.P. is African American. The position held by he and Vincent suggests that the aversion to the thoughts and feelings of black men is not confined to white men. Race alone does not endear one to be more receptive to the thoughts and feelings of black men. Black men, seemingly, can ignore the inmost thoughts and feelings of Other black men with the same intensity shared by white men. Finally, something on which white men and black men can agree: the castigation of black men classed socially and economically lower. King’s dream has reached fruition in some spaces.
Dr. G is another highly respected mentor. Dr. G has implored me to consider opinions and positions that are in opposition to my personal and professional beliefs. And, how have I. I have had to consider: the economic desires of slave masters; the pragmatic Realist position of the United States government regarding all matters international and domestic; the military and planning genius of Adolph Hitler; the sentiments of southerners who wish to display the Confederate flag and on and on. But, the moment I suggest that those who oppose the wearing of sagging pants should consider engaging in dialogue with those who wear sagging pants instead of simply castigating them, my mentor all of a sudden does not believe in considering the opinions and positions of others. I am not disappointed with Dr. G. for being an opponent of sagging pants; I am disappointed in his staunch, visceral reaction to the wearing of sagging pants and willingness to advocate the criminalization of sagging pants without ever having a single conversation with a sagging pants wearer about the reasoning and rationale behind wearing sagging pants. Remember Martin Niemöller: “First they came…for me,” next they may come for you.
It is amazing that out of the many topics discussed – open-heartedly, truthfully and from a position of vulnerability – regarding men, their concerns, thoughts and conceptions of masculinity that the one topic which has seemed to arouse the passions of the public is the dress of some black men. I should not be shocked. Next to one’s skin color, one’s dress is the most conspicuous sign used to discern, categorize and profile the Other. Like skin, one’s dress, is also a most horrible sign used to determine characteristics of the Other and is just too superficial. Using the dress of another as a prejudicial sign marker is also too facile. And, perhaps facility in the interaction between our citizenry is what is sought. But, in a country where we pride ourselves on the diversity of the fabric of our social makeup: facility regarding the interactions of the country’s citizenry just may not be plausible. If we want to know one another, then some hard, difficult work may be required. It starts with dialogue.
This piece was written before George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the killing of Trayvon Martin. The fact that he was not found culpable in the young man’s death was not shocking; I remember Emmett Till. What I have found alarming are the criticisms of young black men and their dress in the aftermath of the verdict. While listening to WFUN-FM Old School 95.5 in St. Louis, Missouri, I could not help but be taken aback by some of the comments made by callers. One in particular left me feeling a certain kind of way. In response to a question centered on feelings regarding the jury’s verdict posed by the radio station’s program hosts, one caller – a self-identified older, African American woman – went on a rant about “our” young people and how they wear their pants and how sad and dumb they are; about how she wishes she could live in an area where all of the black people are intelligent and dress reflective of intelligent people; about how black people in America are doomed to destruction because of the young people who will one day represent the leadership of “our” people. While the lady never said that she believed that Trayvon was murdered because he was wearing a hoodie (and, implicitly, that a consequence of wearing hoodies, such as death, is what he deserved because “our” young people are dumb and out of control), she left me, as a listener of 95.5 FM’s listening public, with the understanding that Trayvon was at fault for his own murder because of the manner in which he was dressed. And then yesterday morning, July 15, 2013, ESPN’s Steven A. Smith shared his opinion about how the verdict was just because the prosecution did not prove Zimmerman’s guilt. He then went on to share with the national television public how his sister, Carmen I believe, admonished her son for wearing hoodies and mandated that he never wear a hoodie again. And so, it seems, whether it is liked or not, African American men in American have a “clothing-limit.” African American men are precluded, it seems, from the wearing of sagging pants and hoodies by contemporary American societal standards. While Justin Bieber may be afforded the space to wear sagging pants, and while Justin Timberlake may be afforded the space to wear a hoodie, Justin Labancamy Jankins should not wear either lest he is prepared for the becoming-criminal that such clothing signifies when coupled with the sign that is the black body in America.
Last Note: I am not a wearer of sagging pants, per se. But, check it out: I was at QuikTrip the other day. As I was exiting the main building, a white guy was entering; we passed one another. He seemed about twenty-something, looked as though he liked to party. He was wearing no shirt. He had a few tattoos. He wore shorts and what could best be described as Timberland construction boots. His shorts seemed to sag on his waist. I pegged the guy as a construction worker. I wonder: would he receive a fine and/or jail time under the new proposed ban, or would he simply get a warning, or would his appearance simply be ignored (he was served; QuikTrip mandates no shoes, no shirt, no service)? I digress. I mention the story because arbitrating what is and what is not sagging and who is and who is not sagging are subjective exercises. However, the subjective feelings of some are trumped by the objectified spaces they occupy.