Policing black [youth] bodies in an urban context
The kids are right in that freedom to offend is part of our democracy. But no other ethnic group ever concluded that terrible behavior was a version of ethnic authenticity. That is a black American innovation in cultural imbecility. –Stanley Crouch, Daily News 2010
When America Idol’s General Larry Platt “Pants on the Ground” gained popularity, Simon Cowell’s exasperated prediction that the old man’s song “could be a hit” proved true. “Pants on the Ground” became a national anthem–a joke to many, but a sort of Bill-Cosby-sings-the-blues to others. While many of us are smart enough to find it funny and simply a matter of dress, others use it to express the growing concern for the exposed rear ends of America’s youth, particularly black youth.
Politicians from Louisiana to New York have been leaning to introduce legislation barring the display of underwear. Many of the bills have been shot down in name of freedom of expression, but are gaining acceptance under indecency statutes. Of course, I think the bigger question is why does it matter enough to become a law. In a time where Arizona is banning ethnic studies one must wonder why politicians particularly politicians of color are focusing their energies on rounding up “improperly” dressed youth. Louisiana, really? For all of your failing schools, inflated poverty rate, and oil-infested water. What makes this priority?
Eric Adams is one of a few elected black officials across America and has wasted little time exploiting his role as a “black leader” to inflict a round of secondary marginalization on black youth. In his video, “Stop the Sag” he uses archaic racial imagery and then juxtaposes it against the sagging jeans of young individuals many of whom are also wearing backpacks as they walk to class. Why bother?
This is a man who gained access to politics fighting police discrimination and who has worked on important Homeland Security measures. Why sagging jeans? It seems there is an implicit belief that “unkempt” youth are to blame for the escalating street violence, police discrimination, and failing schools. We have Senators for these problems. Fix something that matters!
Black youth, who are often victims of unfair laws are targets for all politicians from the polished Clarence Thomas, to the newly elected officials. It seems practicing any law in America means cracking the whip against people of color whether they be Hispanics in Arizona or youth in Louisiana. Outlawing practices that are more than commonly associated with a particular group of people is just as demeaning as the posters displayed in Eric Adams’ video. It is Jim Crow all over again. The very focus on striking down these practices in an effort of righting some perceived wrong is no less discriminatory than an employment office that denies employment on the basis of skin color.