River Deep, Mountain High

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 07 2012

Second-Hand Sagging

In the wake of the tragic Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman saga, there has been a lot of debate over the role Trayvon’s hoodie played in the shooting. Most notably, Geraldo Rivera called Trayvon a “gangsta wannabe” for wearing a hoodie (he later apologized only after acknowledging that it was raining; therefore, Trayvon had a “right” to wear his hoodie). Personally, I’m offended by this and find it ridiculous that someone even needs to have a “right” to wear a hoodie, especially, in America. I agree wholeheartedly with the young man’s father who stated: “if …walking in the rain with your hoodie on is a crime, then I guess the world is doing something wrong.” Amen.

Growing up in a predominately white, rural community, wearing a hoodie never had an apparent racial connotation; it was more often associated with skaters. One of my favorite hoodies was a black with a small green Mountain Dew logo that I won as a part of a championship basketball team in a summer tournament. Once in college, I only wore it while traveling between Maine and Boston via the Concord Coach bus line. Given the demographics of this particular route, I was typcially the only minority or one of two-three out of 40-55 people.  As a very observant, future sociology major, I quickly noticed that whenever I wore my hoodie, I always ended up with an empty seat beside me. Over the next three years, I would experiment under different conditions and found that if I wanted to not be bothered by a neighboring passenger, that surest thing to do was put on a hoodie and cover my head. In nearly a dozen five-hour bus rides, there were only two people who elected to sit next to me instead of somewhere else; an African-American guy, who was also wearing a hoodie, and a pleasant woman who asked me about my story and was fascinated to learn that I was actually a Harvard undergraduate… go figure!

Now, I share my story not to give advice on how to gain extra leg room nor do I share it to condemn my fellow passengers as racist. I share it because the issue of wearing hoodies should not be an issue. On the other hand, I don’t agree with this opinion piece that equates the criminalization of “sagging” with hoodie-wearing. Those are two VERY different things and the argument for justice loses weight when progressive folk start to over reach. Maybe I just have a different cultural standard of decency but wearing a hoodie perhaps with an innocent logo is not the same as sagging so low people can see your boxers.

Pop quiz: who said the following- “brothers should pull up their pants. You are walking by your mother, your grandmother, your underwear is showing. What’s wrong with that? Come on. Some people might not want to see your underwear.”

Not some right-wing radical, but Barack Obama himself.

The rest of the article is decently well-written and even mentions a former professor of mine who studied extensively the so-called “Politics of Respectability,” but my own opinion is that there are many, much more apparent and consequential examples of racial oppression than “conforming to white, middle class norms” by pulling your pants up. Moreover, it’s a constant battle for a few of my boys to conform to the school dress code because they think it’s cool to sag. I get that, I really do, but not in school. Especially when you’re going to make fun of other black males for being “nerdy” when you don’t know how to properly wear a belt! C’mon now! I’ve had great conversations with many boys about the difference between the street and the classroom and the vast majority of them get it. People think smoking is cool too, but we have laws to protect others from second-hand smoke because it’s damaging to our collective health. The same cannot be said of second-hand sagging aside from standards of decency, so I agree with Obama that laws against this practice are a “waste of time” and likely to just put more black men in jail. At the same time, I want don’t want my boys to encounter yet another instance of their being set up for failure. They deserve better and have potential for much more than a jail cell…

Going forward, I think the key is to provide opportunities for boys to express themselves in other ways, which starts with teaching them the skills and knowledge to be well-equipped to create their own opportunities for expression. In my ideal world, one day the whole sagging debate will become irrelevant as chalkboards.

5 Responses

  1. I can’t figure out how they can walk with their pants down like that without tripping.

  2. Malia O.

    This was really insightful–thank you for sharing your personal experience. I’ve noticed that, as I identify as a woman of color, I am followed in certain stores, or given critical looks from employees. At first I thought I was imagining things. After all, people say that “prejudice is dead in America”. FALSE. I’ve shared this link with fellow social justice advocates–thank you again for your thoughts!

  3. Your blog, I love it.

  4. Finally, someone else who undrostoed the context of Geraldo’s statement. While I think Geraldo’s opinion was poorly stated his entire point was missed by so many. Most people that have lived long enough know what a trouble maker looks like in the context of a location and that’s regardless of race or ethnicity. Man on top of a ski mountain wearing a ski mask isn’t going to raise any suspicions like that same man wearing such a mask in a store. A man wearing a trench coat when it’s cold and rainy doesn’t raise suspicions but same man wearing a trench coat when it’s hot and the middle of summer is going to raise suspicions. I don’t agree with you on Zimmerman in regards to itching to kill someone. The media has painted this guy as trigger happy when all the facts and details about this case has not been released. The media has also painted Treyvon Martin as some perfect angel which also isn’t true.

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Remove Barriers, Raise the Bar

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