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 Writer's Desk 

November 11, 2005
Vol. 3, No. 27



Tara Harris The sagging pants fashion does make a statement

By Tara Harris

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A friend and I were discussing one day the whys and wherefores of that pervasive fashion statement: sagging pants. He agreed with me that it revealed a certain level of stupidity in the wearer, but he also pointed out that it also revealed the depth of the despair young, Black males must feel.

That gave me pause. I had never bothered to consider the deeper implications of "sagging." "Sagging" originated in prisons, where it has sexual connotations. Why do so many young, Black males embrace it? The pants tend to be name brand jeans and slacks, many go so far as to wear belts. Why bother? The more I think about the world these young men and boys inhabit, the more I understand why they might identify with something, which on its surface, appears ridiculous.

There was a time when young, Black males had readily available role models. Prior to desegregation, the Black middle class lived in close proximity to the Black working class and poor. Poor and working class kids saw Black doctors and lawyers, teachers and dentists, store owners and engineers. They could easily see the benefits of diligence to school, being well kempt, being polite. With the end of legal segregation, the Black middle class began moving to the suburbs with their White counterparts. Suddenly, the poor and working class Black kids no longer went to school with doctors' and lawyers' kids. They no longer lived next door to the engineer. All they saw were people struggling to make it.

Why bother to try to excel at school when the rich and middle class have abandoned the public school system? Why bother to dress neatly when even the schools that require uniforms don't bother to enforce the dress code? I once saw a young man from a local high school wearing a "Safety Patrol" armband. His shirt was neatly tucked into his pants, which were at his knees. All of the statistics show that if you are young, Black, poor, and male you stand a good chance of being incarcerated. What hope do these young men and boys have of succeeding? Why not sag your pants?

The horizons for the young, Black male are not very broad. Schools are more interested in teaching kids just enough to pass a standardized test than in making them well rounded boys and girls. In gym class, kids used to learn square dancing, the waltz, tennis, bowling and many other physical activities that expanded the mind while exercising the body. Now gym has been severely contracted if not eliminated in many public schools. Music and art are considered expendable, easily eliminated if more time is needed to prepare students for the next test.

The very things that have the ability to show these boys the world beyond the inner city have been removed as public schools have fallen under the tyranny of the test. How many Black pianists, dancers, painters and sculptors have they seen? Think about how many rappers they know of who have come from the 'hood'?

I am no longer inclined to disparage the young men I see "sagging." I may despair that society that has brought them to this point, but I don't think ill of these boys.

I disparage the society and culture that has decided that it is acceptable to abandon an entire segment of the population. Young, Black males just don't matter to our society.

They should. It's cheaper to educate them, mentor them, and help them get into the workplace, than to incarcerate them. Yet our society has washed its hands of them and left them to their gangs and their sagging pants.

And that is a sure sign of the decline of our civilization.

Tara Harris is assistant to the NCR editor. Her e-mail address is tharris@ncronline.org.

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