By Jineea Butler
Do you ever wonder what message our young men are really sending when their pants are sagging to the point of showing their underwear? Has it crossed your mind that they might be mooning us? Before we can figure it out, they pull up their pants, only for them to gradually fall right back down. Focusing solely on body language, it’s not a stretch to think they are saying, “Kiss my butt.” Or, words to that effect.
Whatever they are trying to say, an increasing number of public officials are making it clear that they don’t want to hear it. Wildwood, N.J. is the latest city to place a ban on sagging pants, classifying it as indecent exposure. The ban, which goes into effect July 2, applies only to the boardwalk in the Jersey Shore resort. Mayor Ernest Troiano, Jr. told the Associated Press: “It’s amazing — and this is a pun — how far decency has fallen through the cracks.”
This so-called fashion statement originated in prison. Yes, the joint. Prison clothing is often ill-fitting. But belts are prohibited in most institutions because they might be used for suicide or hanging.
Still, that’s no reason extend that style beyond the prison walls. They are wearing pants so low that they are obstructing the way that they walk and exposing where the sun doesn’t shine. And their staunchest defenders aren’t doing a good job of arguing their case.
Consider Hip Hop rapper The Game’s recent comments about Wildwood’s new law. TMZ reported that he said, “N****** should sag down to their socks out there. They trying to get people to not sag, please. Can’t tell people how to wear their f***ing clothes. What time are we in? This ain’t the f***ing slave days. F*** that.” He goes on to say, “I am with the sagging movement. First five people to get fines, I will pay their tickets … I will go there and sag cause I am a sagging Sagittarius.”
Whether the law is valid, racist or unjust, we should not encourage our young people to break the law. After The Game pays the tickets for the first five people who defy this order, what happens to the next 10, 000 who follow suit? Because the first offense is $25 – $100, he’s only committing to a maximum of $500. The fine can go as high as $200 and 40 hours of community service. Is The Game going to do their community service, too?
Other jurisdictions – including Lynwood, Ill.; Terrebone Parish in Louisiana; Albany, Ga.; Opa-Locka, Fla.; Collinsville, Ill. and Hahira, Ga. – have adopted similar bans. In addition, school districts, transit agencies and airlines ban wearing pants that expose skin below the waist or underwear.
Interestingly, before the crack down on those showing their crack, there were unofficial street standards for sagging. They called for wearing pants one or two sizes larger to sag below the elastic designer label on the boxers that matched and clearly defined your outfit. It was a requirement that boxers and the outfit had to showcase a brand from head to toe. The unspoken street rules went so far as to stipulate that if you didn’t wear a coordinating belt you were deemed improperly attired.
Sadly, many young people can’t give you a good reason for why they are showing their butts – literally.
When asked, most will tell you that they feel more comfortable with their pants exposing their backside. People of my generation used to say that we sag our jeans because we felt uncomfortable with the sizes and styles that were available. Consequently, Urban Fashion was born. Designers for Karl Kani, FUBU and Cross Colours began to make clothes that addressed our vision for a more comfortable feel.
As bad as the sagging looks, it’s difficult to sit by as people belittle our entire Hip Hop community on basis of only a slice of our community. Mr. Mayor have you taken the time speak with the young men in question? Fortunately, there’s more to them than meets the eye. And as one ACLU official said, having bad taste shouldn’t be a crime.
Just as public officials have a duty to look beyond our clothes, rappers need to clean up their act, too. I think many of them don’t understand the saying made famous by French writer Francois-Marie Arouet aka Voltaire, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”
My questions to The Game are: When these people follow you, are you going to give them a job when they are “sagging down to their socks”? Are you going to stop the paper trail that might hurt their careers? How will these five people even get in touch with you to pay the fines? No matter how relevant or powerful a rapper aspires to be we can’t allow them to plant messages that poison the mentality of our youth. If The Game is serious about making change; why not pursue the proper protocol to overturn this law.
Critics say if young men wearing pants below their waist want to know how they are perceived by others, all they have to do is look at what “saggin’” spells when the letters are reversed.
Jineea Butler, founder of the Social Services of Hip Hop and the Hip Hop Union, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet her at @flygirlladyjay.