The Other Down Low: Sagging

saggingSagging pants has long been an issue of debate in the Black community long before culture bandits usurped it and made it profitably fashionable. So last week when Carson Councilmember Mike Gipson resurrected the sagging issue, I thought, here we go again.

Gipson and other Southern California city leaders have called on Black children and teens to ‘pull up their pants on their waist’ as a sign of respect during February’s Black History Month explaining that ‘you can have the swag without the sag.’

Gardena Councilman Steve Bradford and Carson Councilman Mike Gipson

I have to be honest. I don’t know how much weight a call from city leaders is going to have on a generation of youth who know no boundaries and barely listen to their parents let alone teachers and politicians.

Jasmyne Cannick with Gardena Councilman Steve Bradford and Carson Councilman Mike Gipson

You see, the irony of sagging pants in the Black community among males, especially those homophobic Black males, is that its evolution came out of the prison system where if a prisoner’s pants were below his butt, it was a sign that he was gay—yes gay. Just try walking up to a Black man on the street with his pants hanging below his butt and ask him if he’s gay?

Now me, I don’t have a problem with gay men—to each his own. However, I can’t say the same for all of my skinfolk—especially the brothas who, while they don’t have a problem with two women being together, still have a hard time (no pun intended) when it comes to seeing two brothas together.

The reality is that even though we’ve come a long way as Black people—after all, the president is a Black man—calling someone gay in some circles is still fighting words. An idea that a campaign by the city of Dallas tried to play on back in 2007 with a billboard that read it’s rude to be “walking around showin’ your behind to other dudes,” which only helped to further spread homophobia amongst Blacks but did nothing to curb the sagging of pants.

And like with the word “N****r” which we then changed to “nigga” and adopted as being our own, sagging was popularized by rap artists in the 90s and eventually adopted by women, whites, and others as being fashionable– opening the flood gates for everyone.

I tell you all of this because a lot of the brothas walking around sagging are the same ones who would call another Black man a fag without thinking twice. How ironic. Almost as ironic as the reemergence of those tight ass skinny jeans (aka male leggings) on Black men who can’t bend down or run in them, but still manage to get them to hang off the back of their butt. And that’s by choice whereas in the prison system belts simply are not allowed.

Don’t expect an end to sagging by Black men in or out of prison coming anytime soon. Heavily influenced by mass media, what started off as a signal for other prisoners that one was gay, is now a part of pop culture. Not to mention, how are we going to ask the son’s to pick up their pants and not call attention to the father’s—or better yet, the mother’s who buy them and the women who think it’s cute—I’m just saying.

jasmyne cannickI give Councilman Gipson an ‘e’ for effort because it did after all spark up the conversation again about sagging. However with all of the problems facing Black people as a whole–and there are many–had it been me, I’d have pushed for an end to the use of the word ‘ni**a’ as a proper noun amongst Blacks of all ages. But hey that’s just me.

Jasmyne Cannick

Based in Los Angeles, Jasmyne A. Cannick, writes about the intersection of race, politics, and culture. She can reached at www.jasmynecannick.com.

Published by the LA Progressive on February 10, 2011
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About Jasmyne Cannick

Jasmyne is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the intersection of pop culture, race, class, and politics as played out in the African-American community. An award-winning journalist who previously worked in the U.S. House of Representatives as a press secretary, Jasmyne was selected as one of ESSENCE Magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World and is a regular contributor to National Public Radio’s “News and Notes.” She is currently working as a political consultant in California on local and state campaigns.