Thursday, October 15, 2009

hate sagging, especially when white guys do it

This is a guest post by Filthy Grandeur, who blogs eponymously here, where she writes of herself, "I'm a writer still trying to figure out what I'm doing, so I'm trying to do a lot of different things. I'm a daydreamer who hates being social. I'm afraid I fit the stereotype of angry, loner writer who enjoys sitting in the dark writing about things that piss me off. Yes, I enjoy drinking, but no I do not smoke."

So I've long noticed a common white tendency involving sagging pants: white people in general seem to hate sagging, and that hate is only intensified when the person sagging is also white.

I notice this tendency because my brother sags, and I have observed a number of instances where white people have not been too shy to express their judgments toward him.  He's been told to pull up his pants, helpfully reminded that he's not black (as if my brother is unaware of his skin color), and told to stop talking with that "accent."

These criticisms often came from members of our own family.  I can recall several instances where our dad yelled at him for "acting black."  But often this criticism comes from complete strangers (all white), usually in the form of street harassment.  He's told me that he's had white people shout at him from their cars while he walks to work, telling him to pull his pants up.

A few years back, he used to work for our family's landlord (who also own a rental store).  Once when he went into the store and asked for our landlord, the white man at the counter, instead of simply pointing my brother in the right direction, asked him, "You hang out with a lot of blacks?"

My brother ignored him and again asked where our landlord was.  The man then asked him if he is ashamed of his race.

There are also the ubiquitous "wigger" remarks -- again, often aimed at him from relatives.

There's this white tendency to police other white people's appearance in that manner of definition we know as "defining what it is by what it is not." This is within the parameters of white culture and proper performances of whiteness, which includes disdain for sagging.

I think an important thing to consider in this is that it's always adult white men and women policing my brother's attire.  It seems that the older generation is always going to find something they don't like in youth culture, especially when it comes to how they dress, but there's more malice against sagging. An important aspect of youth culture is that it embraces the idea of revolt, which of course can add to the longevity of certain fashion choices.  That sagging is supposedly a form of prison culture is apparently one reason why white people find it disgraceful.

The perceptions about sagging are entwined with stereotypes of sex and violence as linked to notions of black masculinity, which are only worsened by sagging's origins when one factors in the over-representation of POC in prisons.  Perhaps seeing white people sag or perform other aspects of black culture is in effect crossing some sort of invisible barrier.  When the "us" and "them" boundaries become blurred, there's suddenly a threat to whiteness, which would explain the discomfort white people have with the way my brother dresses.  His apparent lack of white solidarity causes him to be viewed as a race traitor; it's that sort of mentality which makes him acknowledge that yeah, maybe he is, but it's not like he was seeking white approval anyway.

But the fact that these people are finding something abhorrent in the way others dress is deeply disturbing.  These sorts of attitudes are not only condescending when coming from white people ("we didn't give you all these freedoms so you could dress like a hoodlum"), they also illustrate a sense of entitlement, that white people get to say what is and isn't civilized.

It's especially evident that this condescension and hate is not as pronounced when we're talking about a predominately white youth culture (think goth).

Thoughts?  Stories of your own?


  1. It's true. My friend was telling me about a law in a Florida town where the council was trying to pass a ban on sagging pants, cos they claimed they were tired of seeing young white men wearing sagging pants, but many people pointed out that this was racism, pure and simple. As there were no other complaints about white kids dying their hair, having lots of tattooes, or wearing mohawks.

    anyway, we all have suffered from this. I have always been accused by other South Asians and POC that I try to act "white" and that I'm ashamed of being Indian.

    my response: whatever.

  2. To be honest, I don't really understand the sagging thing? It strikes me as a hassle, since it seems you'd have to frequently pull up the pants. That, and the germs; if you're sitting on anything other people have sat on, that's one less layer of clothing protecting you from their germs.

  3. You are unfairly generalizing here. Yes, some people will consider this 'acting black', and criticize, and that's obviously racist.
    But there are plenty (me included) who just think it's utterly stupid to wear your pants below your ass, and who don't enjoy the grand view of your underwear. (Imagine that - underwear! like, that you wear *under* other things!) It doesn't matter who does it, it's just stupid. Now, I'm libertarian enough to never walk up to someone making a stupid-but-harmless choice and tell them it's unacceptable, but I'll definitely comment on a friend's stupid fashion.

    While I think you have a point about some of the comments, I think it's unfortunate that you're extending it to assume that any distaste is racially motivated.

  4. @ Kai

    i guess i'm just not bothered by the fashion choices of others. especially since most of the people i know who sag wear shirts long enough to cover their boxers anyway. and even so, it's just boxers. who cares?

    and yeah, i am saying that it's racially motivated, given that EVERY instance of someone's policing my brother's clothing has been racially motivated. but maybe i'm just one of those people that sees racism everywhere, huh.

  5. *possible double post*

    i find it funny that when white punk rockers, alt rockers, skaters, hipsters and others are saggin' with their skinny ass jeans, they don't get the 'acting black' comments.

  6. "It's especially evident that this condescension and hate is not as pronounced when we're talking about a predominately white youth culture (think goth)."

    Wrong. As someone who has been there, this statement is utterly incorrect and not true. Do some research about what it meant to be punk back in the late 70s or early 80s when the subculture was new and when its impact was at its greatest.

    If you were a middle American white kid who dressed like a punk or a goth (goth didn't really exist and was sort of a subset of punk in those days) you were the target of way, way more condescension and hate than sagging has ever attracted. Believe me, you were literally taking your life in your hands walking down the street dressed as a punk.

    White people can be vicious to each other for all sorts of reasons, not just "race betrayal."

  7. @DIMA - oh but didn't you know? only WHITE people have subcultures... we already have out "ETHNIC" culture... btw, I was being very sarcastic (I am learning to add this disclaimer everywhere in case people think I'm saying some sort of "truth" when I'm being an asshat on purpose)

  8. You'll notice that I never accused you of 'seeing racism everywhere'. I'm simply noting that not all objections to stupid clothing choices are racially motivated. I believe that what you've heard are - I'm not debating that. But you then generalize to assume that anyone who doesn't care for it is pulling up racist reasons. As a note, I feel equally about guys with their pants under their ass and boxers showing as I do about girls with pants halfway down their ass and thongs showing. I think it's stupid, and certainly inappropriate for anything requiring nicer dress, but I'm not going to pull someone off the street. I don't care about individuals choosing underwear displays and walking-prevention, but I sure will call it stupid.

  9. There's a lot of cross-over fashion in teen culture. The tongue and eyebrow piercings, for example, used to be (from my perception, maybe I'm a wrong) a white thing. Now enough black kids are doing it that I've noticed. They all like what's 'cool', and some of them really pull it off well. Not everyone looks good with every style, ya know? And style changes every few years and rarely lasts over 10.

    In my area, the young brothas are moving out of saggy pants and are into to skinny to mildly loose jeans. Don't matter; the true haters will invent another reason to hate them like it's a sick hobby.

    People ought to leave other people alone, especially if they aren't paying for their clothes, tatts, piercings, hair, etc.

  10. Filthy Grandeur, this post was really informative for me. I dislike the fashion of sagging pants, but I was completely oblivious to the history and associations that go along with it, and the accusations of 'race traitor' that go along with it when white people do it.

    One thing that interests me is why people feel justified in expressing racist objections so vocally and belligerently while people who hate the style for other reasons (eg perceived sloppiness) generally just walk on by?

  11. FG, I definitely agree with the broader point you're making: that it's perfectly okay for POC (all races) to act "white"--heck, they're expected to act white--but as soon as white people start to "act black," they open themselves up to ridicule and public harassment. Society (read: white society) says, "White people are, like, so awesome that POC totally want to be just like us, but God forbid we would ever be like them."

    I do think that you're tripping people up with by using sagging as a way "in" to the issue (although I probably would have done the same thing). People get very defensive about clothing preference, whether their own or other people's.

    I was thinking, maybe a better example would be simply listening to hip-hop music? I know that when I was in high school (c/o '03), we sort of made fun of the white kids who listened to rap and hip-hop and wore clothes in sort of that style. Why did we do this? Because they were posers, of course--pretending to be all cool, to be something they weren't, badass, and so forth. But you know what? The black kids in my class who listened to hip-hop? They lived in the same neighborhoods as the white kids who listened to it. Their parents had the same amount of money. They played the same sports. Their lives didn't resemble the sex/violence/money of many rap songs and more than the white kids' lives did. But we didn't make fun of those kids.

    This of course did not occur to me at the time, and I am rather disgusted with myself at the moment. Because our (pretty much everyone's) underlying thought process--that we were not even aware of--was that, a la FG's point, black kids can act "black" and it's normal, but white kids acting black is worthy of ridicule.

    Eesh. I'd gotten over that mindset ("white suburban posers"), but I always attributed it to simple growing up rather than side effects of social justice work. I *hate* finding out how much I used to suck. Ah well. You have to know what's wrong in order to fix it.

  12. Food for thought: maybe some of these criticisms stem from racism, but don't you think it's also stems with racism the way white kids haphazardly attempt to imitate what they imagine to be "black" culture by sagging their pants and speaking in what sounds like AAVE only to someone who doesn't know anything about AAVE?

  13. And honestly I can just as easily imagine a post appearing on this blog about the outrage of white people "appropriating" black culture by wearing sagging pants and trying to "talk black" (e.g., look at any race blog's discussion of Eminem) so what's the deal here?

  14. I was kind of expecting something in this post about the cultural appropriation aspect of white kids wearing sagging pants, kind of like what came up in the dreadlocks thread. I vaguely remember seeing a book cover or something about this issue, with a white boy wearing pants like this, on another blog, but I can't seem to find it. The idea being that white kids want to take all the "positive" aspects of black culture, with none of the downsides of being black.

  15. I used to wear huge baggy pants and sag them a bit and I almost always got comments from everyone. This was years ago, before the style got more mainstream, but yes, white people, black people, Asian people, they all would tell me to pull my pants up or make jokes about the way I dressed. Was this rude? Was it racist? I think that over simplifies people in general to make these assumptions.

    I used to get very upset when white people made negative comments towards me or stared and I tended to think that it was a racial issue because I was young and naive. My uncle made a very good point to me that slapped me out of my delusion. He said, "Have you ever thought that people stare at you because you're an Asian kid with bleached hair, wearing baggy clothes?" Well, no I actually hadn't because I convinced myself that most white people were racist and judged them from this perspective.

    What I came to understand, is that the fact that strangers felt that they could talk to me wasn't necessarily a bad thing at all. It showed that I still had a level of approachability and that they felt free to communicate with me. What I see today is an attempt by many to shut down communication; to teach people that it's bad manners or even racist to talk to people about their obvious differences. This only causes tension and fractures our society. In a healthy community, people should feel free to address other people, even strangers and even in a not so flattering way. I learned that choosing to step out of mainstream society has it's pros and cons. It may free you from the constraints of assimilation but it also highlights your differences.

    Many white people are afraid to approach black people and talk to them about certain things because our society has taught them that being ignorant of something equals racism. Ignorance and racism are not the same thing. People can't learn if dialogue is shut down. White people will feel freer to criticize another white person because the stigma of racism is absent.

    Years ago, in the city I live in, there were very few Asians and white people would constantly ask me questions about my race, my clothes, etc. Sometimes the questions were inappropriate but most of the time they were out of simple friendliness and curiosity. Now, that the city has become more diverse, white people seem to walk on eggshells with me, afraid that they will offend me or be seen as a racist. I don't think that this is an improvement in relations. I think the atmosphere is unhealthy and articles like this that assume racist motivations for complex human behaviors is not helping.

  16. This is all quite amusing, here in Australia the act of sagging is neither a black or white thing. Young kids and moronic youth do it regardless of colour, creed etc.
    Quite frankly, and I have had dicussions on this with a coloured American friend, I am amazed that the USA still has this black/white mentality. I thought the USA of all countries had the wherewithall to ascend from this blight of racism. Saying that, Australia is no angel, one of the most racist countries I've ever lived in. And I'm ashamed to say that!
    Personally I'd rather the kids get off on sagging and posing than beating up old ladies and stealing cars. Unfortunately I guess some do all three.

  17. I'm more offended by this stupid "acting black" notion. It's extremely frustrating that whenever a white person does something that is ignorant he is told that he is "acting black." By the same token, I hate to be praised for being "articulate" just because I can put a sentence a together properly. White people expect so little out of black people. It's condescending.

  18. I dislike the "acting white" and "acting black" stuff. I think a person should be allowed to act and dress however they feel like without being called out for acting like another race.

    In a racism-free society, saggy jeans will just be that - saggy jeans. With no racial undertones. People will like or dislike the fashion because of the fashion itself. Skin color or ethnicity would never play into the scenario.

    Unfortunately, we are not in a racism-free society. =(

  19. I always thought the new term was "ghetto", not "black"... I know this topic was more geared toward discussing older white people's notions of what is and isn't "black", but the young crowd seems to have adopted the term "ghetto" to be more specific in terms of socioeconomic. I think most people have trouble separating the two terms but I've heard the use of "ghetto" more thrown out there than "black", when in fact they most likely mean "black". But this transcends clothing and style of dress and goes into choices of music, hair styles, (and yes,) clothing, and anything of preference.

    What I do find interesting is when POC talk to "acting white" which I think stems from a very different place. It's more rooted in the ideas of a POC becoming "like them" and bringing white judgements and ideas of privilege into the group. The Uncle Tom factor. The "you think you're better than us" argument that POC have experienced in the presence of white people. If being a racist is a moral failing in the white community, being an Uncle Tom is a moral failing in the black community.

  20. I have nothing intelligent to add other than a strong second to 7ths comment.

  21. Where did this sagging phenomenon start??!!!

    Great and very interesting blog!

    I'm your newest follower.

    Holli in Ghana

  22. @Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist!

    I actually live in the same county that this law was passed. Well, it's actually a city law and 70% of voters in Riviera Beach voted this into being. It was found to be unconstitutional this year (I believe "duh" is appropriate here).

    But what's interesting and takes this whole topic to a different level is that the city is Riviera Beach is more than 60% African-American. Sounds a lot like racism. But the thing about Riviera Beach is that it was (and may still be) the only city, to my knowledge, also entirely run by blacks. And the law was voted in by its residents. This is the part that throws me. Is it still racism if the city officials are also black? I'm not asking acrimoniously either. I really don't know.

    Personally, I don't care what people wear. Like I would never want to censor anyone's expression. But I don't actually *like* seeing anyone's entire rear end or crotch any more than I like seeing thongs sticking out of the tops of jeans or entirely see-through shirts or dresses. But it has never bothered me to the point that I wanted anyone to do something about it.

  23. I remember hearing sagging started in prisons as inmate semiotic. It was basically a semaphore indicating sexual availability.

    But also read that it was just a ban on belts because belts could be used as weapons.

    Anyways... I think it's an ugly and unflattering look on whomever wears it. Should teenagers be wearing their clothing in a style that was started by prison inmates? It really depends on how divorced the style has become from its origins.

  24. @Al disagrees with you, stating that's a popular urban legend. Damn those urbans and their legend making abilities.

  25. I went to a predominantly white, suburban school, and it was all the rage for skaters to wear saggy dickies, no one had a problem with that, but when the white kids into hip hop started sagging, it was unacceptable and acting black. I learned that being or acting black is unacceptable.

  26. Vick,

    Went to school and hung out with the new wavers click. We listened to Bauhaus, This Mortal Coil, and wore all black, we weren't bothered as a whole except to be called weird, but no physical threats.Of course I was told I was acting white.

  27. Many white people are afraid to approach black people and talk to them about certain things because our society has taught them that being ignorant of something equals racism. Ignorance and racism are not the same thing. People can't learn if dialogue is shut down. White people will feel freer to criticize another white person because the stigma of racism is absent.

    Why is it the responsibility of the POC to educate white people? I can't tell you how many times a white person has asked me what it is like to eat chitterlings, pigs feet, or ham hocks. Or what it is like to live in the ghetto, when I've never lived in the ghetto. Or why black people have different hair than white people. Or do I use Crisco in my hair.

  28. @Victoria,
    Black people police other blacks all the time. It reminds me of the public bashing of gangster rap in California by Maxine Waters if I'm not mistaken. Older blacks believes it leads to the moral decay and fabric of the black middle class and/or black kids doing well in society.

  29. Siditty, I can see how it would suck to have people demand information from you all the time, but I also think it's unhealthy for white people to rely solely on each other for information about POC. After all, other white people are likely to be racist against POC. Do you think there's any context in which a white person can respectfully request to hear what a POC has to say about racism? (I don't know that this question is entirely on topic, but I'd love to see it addressed somewhere, if not here.)

  30. Sorry my last sentence was all over the place: "Older blacks believes it leads to the moral decay and fabric of the black middle class and/or black kids doing well in society."

    I meant: black kids NOT doing well in school/society.

    There are other grammatical/structural problems with the former sentence that I just don't feel like tackling right now.

  31. Do you think there's any context in which a white person can respectfully request to hear what a POC has to say about racism?

    Have a look at some of the blogs linked to from here. You will find much to read about racism from the POC perspective there.

  32. Do you think there's any context in which a white person can respectfully request to hear what a POC has to say about racism? (I don't know that this question is entirely on topic, but I'd love to see it addressed somewhere, if not here.)

    Here, let me Google that for you.

    But in brief:

    It is not the responsibility of the oppressed group to educate the privileged. It is the responsibility of the privileged group to pay attention if and when the oppressed group freely chooses to speak.

  33. bluey512, really.

    Why is it Siditty's responsibility to educate white people when God and Vice President Gore gave us the internetz?

    (Your comments are a piece of work. I'm still writing out a response to you in another thread. I want it to be logical and analytical and all. *eyeroll*)

  34. Humm. Snopes is usually pretty good about these things. But the sagging pants fashion started, not in prisons, but in the inner cities. Families there were usually too poor to buy several sets of clothes for every child, so you had to practice thrift in every way you could.

    Say you have three sons, and you take them shopping for school. The oldest son is the one that gets the new clothes; there's nothing else you can give him. The eldest son's old clothes were then given to the next son down.

    Of course, there was no guarantee that the pants were the exact right size for the second son -- in fact they were usually still too big. So they will sag until he grows into 'em.

    Not that whites tend to be any more comfortable with poverty than they are with criminality. Just sayin'.

  35. Wow I'm not quite sure what to say here. I don't like sagging, but thought it was just because it looks stupid (to me anyway). Seriously will have to examine my motives here. On a side note, a friend of mine who lives in TN says they were trying to pass a law in her town against sagging and there were complaints about racism. So, in response they also proposed a ban on showing your bra straps. Not sure if any of that actually passed but thought the whole thing was offensive. Clearly a violation of the 1st ammendment. But seriously while I do agree that such bans are racially motivated, I don't see how simply disliking that fashion (without doing anything about it) is racist. I'm not trying to derail ... just trying to work it out in my mind.

  36. I suppose each new generation of parents forget what it's like to be a rebellious teen. Her brother should remind his parents that they were [probably] into rock and roll (which for a while was considered a 'black' thing until it was appropriated); and THEIR parents were [probably] into jazz (which for a while was a 'black' thing until it was appropriated), etc. 9_9

    Heck, in that way, 'acting black' might be called a rite of passage. How weird is that?

  37. bluey512,

    The problem is that it doesn't matter what I say, people are going to stick with what they believe. If I tell them that a certain stereotype doesn't belong to me, I am seen as an anomaly, not as the norm. Not to mention, I don't think I should use what one white person tells me to judge the whole white population. Blacks, like whites have varying experiences, and opinions, and we are not some homogenous group with group thought. I shouldn't have to represent all black people when I have a one on one conversation with someone.

  38. Oh man, I can't stand the look of saggy pants. It makes me think of a toddler with a full diaper, and I'm baffled as to why anyone would want to look like they dropped a heavy load in their pants.

    That being said, though, I'd never go up and say something to somebody about it. It isn't my place to confront somebody about their unattractive clothing choices, even somebody in my family. (With the exception of my children, who are still young and learning how to dress themselves. But that's different. We're not talking about an autonomous teenager or adult.)

    And note, too, that there are varying degrees of sag. If I'm just seeing an inch of the top of your boxers, that doesn't really bother me at all. If the waistband is at half-ass or lower, then it definitely hits my "dirty diaper" meter.

    It had never occurred to me to think about a racial angle to some (many? most?) people's dislike of saggy pants, or the idea that white people may face more societal disapproval than black people. Definitely food for thought.

    @miajere: I hear the term "ghetto" used far more than "black" these days (as a perjorative) as well. "Ghetto" seems to evoke both the socioeconomic *and* racial aspect - like it's the black equivalent of "white trash"*, which evokes both the race and low socioeconomic status. And it's worth pointing out that I've only heard "ghetto" used to describe black people (or black-culture-related things) specifically, even though there's plenty of Mexicans and other types of PoC who live in inner-city ghettos. (I used Mexican there because I was raised in Southern California, so that's what I'm familiar with. Obviously the ethnic makeup of a ghetto would be different based on the geographical area.) And of course it's ignoring that there's white people who live in ghettos too. For the people that use the term (which, in my experience, has been exclusively white people using it), "ghetto" seems automatically tied to "black", just with the added socioeconomic slam.

    * My husband and I are still arguing over "white trash" - I think it suggests that PoC are automatically trash and that's why "white" has to be specified (because if you just said "trash" without the "white" - who does that leave? Well, non-white people). He disagrees.

  39. Robin- I think white trash was termed for the group white people disowned because they were "ghetto", or unfit to be apart of the white race. I think POC have tried to make the same reference with "ghetto". Black middle class seems to have taken to the word and tried to distance themselves from POC they deem to be problems to society.

    But it's interesting how that has created celebrities out of some- Eminem and Kid Rock- both considered "white trash" but both celebrities were born out of the hip hop community. IS it just me, or does it seem that society views these guys as special cases- "the only white guy". No matter how many white guys sag their pants- skaters- it will never be considered the status quo. Just by pulling up their pants, they can join the world of privilege.

  40. >Do you think there's any context in which a white person can respectfully request to hear what a POC has to say about racism?

    I think it’s a fair enough question. I personally wouldn’t mind it if a) the person is genuinely clueless about the (specific) issue at hand and genuinely wanting to know. Otherwise, they’ll come off as patronizing and hypocritical. And that’s when I’d think, ‘Go educate yourself IF you really want to know’ because I’m not convinced that you really want to know.

    b) But be aware that they might not know how to explain things. Often it’s just a gut reaction of ‘that doesn’t feel right’.

    c) Be aware that they may not want to talk about it, or may give you a sugar coated answer because they’re not convinced of your sincerity. The pocs I know usually never talk about these things with ‘white’ people. It’s like a silent code. You just don’t share it with white people because we think, ‘they just wouldn’t understand’. The ones who do understand are the ones with whom we don't need to talk about racism because they already know. So again, there’s no need to talk about it. So it’s a rare case that we actually have a conversation about racism with a ‘white’ person.

    ((d) Note that ‘white’ person is not a clear cut group. I’ve noticed that the first generation European migrants to Australia I’ve met do not really fall under the ‘white’ category. When it comes to discussions of racism, they’re more like pocs, i.e. not yet 'white'.)

    *Back to the topic - I’m one with others who think sagging (and the let’s-show-my-g-string look) doesn’t look all that pleasing in my eyes simply because. I don’t live in the US and am not up to date with what goes on in American pop culture or its subcultures. So I had no idea that sagging was associated with the black community. I just thought it was a teenage thing. It’s interesting to see how fashion can be seen as ‘betraying’ a culture.

  41. Goth isn't treated so badly? Since when was someone set on fire for wearing saggy pants? I never minded saggy pants, but the trend seems to be getting old to me, and some of the more extreme examples are a little impractical and seem like they would hinder movement (I've seen some sag around the knees, it seems to me that the belt cinching required to keep those up would be just about as fun to walk around in as a hobble skirt.) As for white people attempting to appropriate perceived black culture - this may be true for some, but it is a fallacy to assume that about someone is attempting to do this. It would be stereotyping - just as bad as assuming someone who was black who wore gothic clothing was attempting to appropriate perceived white culture. After all, you can't say that saggy jeans are so much a part of black culture as a whole, that's a pretty big assumption in and of itself.

  42. Do you think there's any context in which a white person can respectfully request to hear what a POC has to say about racism?

    Have a look at some of the blogs linked to from here. You will find much to read about racism from the POC perspective there.

    What if you are a white person who does not have the privilege of regular internet access?

  43. The "white trash" argument is confusing for me. I'm white, and in all white circles I've been a part of or witnessed or overheard, the term is "trailer trash," and it refers to poor white people who live in trailer parks and are ignorant "rednecks." "Trailer trash" almost always hates black people and would never want to emulate black culture.

    I've never heard of a term that describes white people "acting black," except for "wigger," which is terrible anyway, but either way, even that was rarely used.

  44. j wrote,

    Goth isn't treated so badly? Since when was someone set on fire for wearing saggy pants?

    The claim is that white Goths aren't TYPICALLY treated AS badly as white guys with saggy pants. That's because there's often an extra layer to the derision, an extra intensity, because the white saggers are thought (or maybe felt) to be crossing racial lines, as if they're being race traitors. There's often a kind of implicit white solidarity being called for in the derision for white saggers that plays no part in derision for white Goths.

  45. "What if you are a white person who does not have the privilege of regular internet access?"

    Public libraries. Sit at a bookstore cafe with a book and read the whole thing while you're there. Or hell, buy a book. Free speakers at colleges and community centers.

    Or, y'know, the next time you are about to accuse a POC of "playing the race card," stop yourself a moment and listen to what they are saying. Chances are, it's something about racism that you probably need to hear.

  46. I have an "acting black" story.

    I was talking to one of my (white) coworkers a few months ago. She homeschools her kids, and she was talking about how homeschooling was fine for now, but she didn't know what she was going to do when they got to high school. I suggested the local public high school, which is right on the border of the "white" and "black" parts of town and so is very diverse. I suggested this school because I have several (white) friends who went there and raved about it.

    She said "I don't know, I sent my son to public school for a while, but he came back talking in Ebonics. I don't want him bringing home that kind of thing."

    I was kind of appalled, but didn't say anything, because we were at work and I didn't want to start an argument. I'll never forget that, though. She's so afraid her son will start picking up aspects of black culture that she rules out certain schools simply because black people attend them. She didn't say it that way, of course, but that's what she was essentially saying.

  47. Okay, so it sounds like asking respectful questions of POC about race might be all right, as long as the rest of the conversation is equally respectful, and it usually isn't. Interesting. Thanks for sharing your views on that, Siditty and fromthetropics.

    This conversation on sagging is instructive. I don't know that I can add much to it, not even having really been aware of the style as a "black culture" thing. What it says to me, personally, is "I want to prove what a badass I am, so take a look at my ass. It is bad, is it not?"

    And I avoid groups of guys who wear the style, because young men in groups who have a need to prove their masculinity to one another can be dangerous and/or misogynistic. But I've seen guys of all races wear it, starting with my white suburban-dwelling cousin, so it doesn't really ever come off as a black thing to me.

  48. Truly?

    Everyone I know tells every guy who sags his pants (or every girl whose thong is showing) to pull them the fuck up, regardless of ethnicity.

    It's disgusting and careless, regardless.

  49. How funny. Here in Australia, where it has no connection to prison culture at all, "sagging" (I've never heard the phrase before) is most commonly associated with hipsters in skinny jeans. The general objection to it is that no one wants to see your underpants, and it makes look like an idiot. I wasn't even aware that in the States it had racial connections. You learn a new thing every day.

  50. None of the Black people I know like to be associated with saggy pants, hoods, or even Ebonics - to notemily. Broken English is something some Black people deeply resent when it's said to represent them, when it's said to be "Black culture", because it leads to more negative stereotyping. Maybe your own attitude is racist, think about it, before you come up with another "enlightened white girl" ignorant story.

    As for saggy pants, I think they look stupid on anyone, like you shit your pants on the way to the toilet. But no one should be bullied for their fashion choices, it's a free country.

  51. @badger, I'm fully aware I have some racist attitudes hiding in my brain. That's why I read this blog, because it helps me realize my own racist attitudes and behaviors, and therefore try to change them.

    As for my story, it seemed clear to me that my coworker was showing racism. She could have said "my kid came home with bad grammar," but she specifically used the word "Ebonics," which to me is a racially loaded word, and suggests she was specifically referring to black people. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's what I got from it.

    Shrug. I never claimed to be an enlightened anything.

  52. Thank you for this piece - and I can definitely see how, in this instance, it is definitely racially motivated.

    That said, I do take issue with this statement: "It's especially evident that this condescension and hate is not as pronounced when we're talking about a predominately white youth culture (think goth)."

    I really really think that depends on where you are. Where I'm from, goth kids get beat up, and white kids who sag their pants absolutely do not. They're the alpha dogs. If by your statement, you meant that there's more hate FROM WHITE ADULTS, then I'm going to trust that you're correct. But more hate? When was the last time a young person got killed for sagging?


    On a semi-separate note, I couldn't help but think about Bill Cosby's statements against sagging. Would any PoC like to comment on their feelings about that? I'm just curious, since I noticed a lot of (older) white people nodding along with him when he made them.

  53. And now that I read Willow's comments, I concur...I do get the broader point, but I don't know that this is the best example of it.

    Hip hop, incidentally, would have triggered a totally different set of emotions in me, too...

    Mildly funny and weirdly racial story - a few years ago in an unnamed Mideast country, I was talking to a guy there about Mobb Deep and all of a sudden, he just freaked out like "but you're a WHITE GIRL! you can't listen to THAT"

    Um, WTF?

  54. “Hi, niggers!”

    “What’s a nigger?” I say to my little white girlfriend who uttered the phrase. “Oh, it’s something that black people don’t like to be called.”

    I was five years old, nineteen seventies. I asked my mother about this and that day she explained to me that I was black and that some people were what you called “prejudiced” meaning that they might not like you, although they really didn’t know you. They judged you because of your appearance. “Ok”, I said. As I grew up, mom told me more things about my heritage, my family. Mom told me about how there used to be a thing called segregation. She told me about slavery. She told me about how hard it had been for my grandparents, my great-grandmother, who was still living. The dignity with which they lived and held themselves, the sacrifices they made, was inspirational to me. My grandfather told stories of times when he was almost killed. My heart swelled with pride when Mom told me about Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, jr, Thurgood Marshall, the sit-ins, the bus boicots.

    She made sure that I had a lot of positive black role models. Education was key. Say it strong, say it loud, I was black and proud!

    I remember how black people called each other brother and sister. I belonged to a community, I had a strong family and a lot of positive feeling behind me. When I was a little girl, there was black music and there was white music. We listened to black music, soul music. Earth, Wind and Fire, Marvin Gaye, a slew of others. But the message was generally positive. “You´re a shining star, no matter who you are Shining bright to see what you can truly be You´re a shining star, no matter who you are”.

    I don’t have much space here. A lot has passed since then, my musical tastes have expanded, etc. and I don’t want to go on too long, but the point that I want to make is this, if Macon is trying to figure out what it means to be white, well here I am in the age of hip hop trying to figure out what it means to be black. I feel that a lot of people have reduced my entire culture to hip hop fashion, hip hop lyrics and putting on what John McWorther, who is a linguist at Columbia, would call a “blaccent”. Some black people of lower economic backgrounds really do have that accent, they can’t help it, and they get discriminated against when they apply for jobs, when they try to find a place to live, etc. I really don’t mean to offend anyone here, I am just saying how ambivalent white people wearing their trousers below their butts and talking with a “blaccent” make me feel. This seems a reductionist view of Black life and it bothers me, especially when so many of the images and lyrics in a lot of hip hop music are not uplifting, I am sorry to say. It bothers me that white people do this, because it seems so shallow an understanding of our experience. I almost feel like I am being mocked. So, I guess I have to say that I don’t feel much sympathy for a white guy who doesn’t understand the nuances of black life enough to know about things like “code changing” when he talks to the landlord and who at the end of the day when hip hop goes out of fashion can just go back to being white. I wish I didn’t have to say that. I don’t mean to be hurtful to anyone. I’m just being honest about how I felt reading this post.

  55. @kingfisher--

    i appreciate your honesty. in writing this post i was mainly trying to answer some of my own feelings on this. my brother (who is my only sibling) and i are very close, and aside from the fact that we look very similar people wouldn't guess that we're related (this is based solely on what he wears, and how he speaks vs. what i wear and how i speak, i.e. "white."). i've found myself having to answer to other relatives about why he dresses the way he does and why he talks "that way." so part of it is me being defensive over my younger brother. i cannot speak for other white guys that sag, but in my brother's case at least i know he doesn't dress and talk the way he does to mock anyone. for him, he was just fitting in with the kids we went to school with. he certainly knows he still exists with white privilege, and he's aware that there's a lot of history and culture beyond fashion and speech mannerisms that he cannot attempt to appropriate.

    as for the comments on goth, i used this as an example since in my own very limited experience it didn't seem like there was much hatred for that vs. sagging. that doesn't mean i'm even close to being right, so thanks to everyone who pointed that out. although there were admittedly few goth students at my high school, and those few were actually the majority of the white kids there (our school was predominately black).

  56. Good post and great comments. Kingfisher yours especially touched me because growing up as a child of the 80s and hearing about the positivity in the 70s always made me wonder wtf happened to us. Like you I normally see the speech and clothing as a mockery unless I know the person grew up with or has strong ties to the black community.

    For me seeing someone sag and immitate the speech of kids I grew up with differs based on where they're coming from with it. A rich trust-fund baby acting like that amongst his peers who are of one shade rings suspect to me versus a neighbor who was raised in the hood like everyone else.

    Still I don't judge anybody, I could care less, until I get the all encompassing "why do black people ----?" questions where I either ask the person "should I answer for an entire set of people?" if i'm being nice, or tell them to get out of my face if I'm not in the mood.

    Sagging is on the way out anyway, kids wear painted on nut crunchers nowadays and call em skinny jeans.

  57. To those that have said that white people should look up their questions on the internet, well that's not really a healthy solution. Do minorities need to be researched like some science project? As a POC myself, I've found many other minorities tend to be overly sensitive about racial curiosity. If you actually truly believe in multi-culturalism, then you need to expect and encourage free expression. The idea that everyone's feelings need to be protected is a bit insulting, as if POCs are little children that can't accept questioning or criticism. Unfortunately, the thin skinned and loud mouthed have poisoned the well with constant cries of racism.

    Sometimes we have to accept that other people are not as informed or even opened minded. I live in the South, so I deal with ignorance pretty much daily. It can get taxing, but I've come to realize that most people are good and not malicious. Some people just don't understand things; some people don't want to, but others truly do. I think it's best to encourage those that aren't afraid to speak openly to do so, because just as you don't want your voice silenced, you should give others the same courtesy.

  58. I'm white. I hate sagging. I call people out on sagging. Maybe I'm crazy, but I don't think of myself as a racist. In my opinion, the fashion looks bad, plus it's impractical and seemingly pointless.

    You see, I'm a philosopher, and I'm eternally focused on the question "why?" These are people my age walking around with their jeans around their knees, constantly having to pull them up (or all-too-often simply holding them up), and I've approached dozens of them, white, black, hispanic, asian, native american, and probably more, with the simple question "why" and they have unanimously answered that they didn't know. That's why it bothers me. If you're making a fashion statement, that's cool. If you're too lazy to put on a friggin' belt or feel as though you're made better by buying your pants twice as big as they need to be, that's not so cool.

    In short, my beef against this particular fashion is not racial in nature. It stems, instead, from a hatred for those who don't feel the need to think about anything they do.

  59. Hey Fromthetropics, how the hell did you meet 1st generation European migrants to Australia??????
    The year was 1788, you are THAT old?

  60. Yes Alan, I am that old. Didn't you know? They invented a pill in the late 1700s that'll help you live for hundreds of years. *rolls eyes*

    Here you go. A bit of homework for you:

    Some scholars are also using the term '1.5 generation' to refer to those who migrate as a child or teenager with their parents to indicate that their experience would be different from both the first and second generation.

  61. I think part of the crazy reactions to the sagging-pants white guy is that people don't just see it as fashion, they see it as cultural expression and people in general seem to be uncomfortable with people wearing the outfits from other ethnicities. I can't count the number of time I've seen brown guys laugh at or make derisive comments about white girls who wear saris or other Indian attire. Or black girls throwing disdainful looks or comments at non-black girls in a head wrap - or at other black girls who speak standard English.

    I don't think people should be given crap for how they dress - regardless of what ethnicity it's originally associated with, but any time people "put on" something we see as outside their culture - be it clothing or mannerisms, we - people of all ethnicities - get annoyed. Some people, irrationally, get angry. It's not ok, but it's also not specific to white folks.

  62. Hey Alan,

    You do realize that Europeans still immigrate to Australia, right? I'm being facetious of course. Clearly you don't realize that.

  63. Becca said...

    "I don't think people should be given crap for how they dress - "

    Um... if my friends walked down the street with a garbage bag over their heads... yeah... I'm gonna give them crap. It's about the fashion. Not who's wearing it.

    Just because some people associate saggy pants with a certain race doesn't mean that everyone who opposes that fashion oppose it because of race. Honestly, I think most of the people who don't like saggy pants are disliking the fashion, not being racist.

  64. Personally I think sagging pants with your underwear showing and your butt crack hanging out is really really really disgusting - on any race. And I'm 26, not sure if that puts me in "the younger generation" or not but it was popular when I was in high school.

    I also find giant stretched ear piercings repulsive enough to make me want to vomit, and that's a primarily white thing. Oh and girls who wear thongs showing over low rise jeans. That's so white. Especially if they have a tramp stamp tattoo showing over the nasty thong.

    I don't see how this is a race's totally just a fashion thing.

  65. I think some people still feel that certain black cultures, especially are intrinsically degenerate. They cannot get that in the same way that blacks can study or be influenced by mainstream or European culture, that vice can be versa without feeling it's a loss to the dark side!

    Actually, I don't think this race policing is specifically white at all, in fact, I know it isn't.

  66. @wriggles - You raised a point that's very interesting to me. I'd love to see a post about race policing in general, by all races. I think we'd get a much clearer picture of racism in this country if we opened up the discussion beyond what just white people do.

  67. I dislike the saggy pants look, whether on white people, black people, or any other race of people. I think it looks dumb - learn how a belt works, dude! And I'd definitely call out a friend about it, or comment to my friends about it if I'm out of earshot of the person wearing the saggy pants, although I would just say it looks dumb, not that it looks "black."

    Sorry, but I don't see how this makes me racist.

    And if a restaurant wants to insist on appropriate attire for entry, I don't see the problem, so long as it is enforced for all people, not based on race. (The examples you've given of racist enforcement of the rule are awful - but could as easily have been enforced/not enforced based on race, with a "ties required" or a "no tee shirts" rule.)

    Heck, the health code even requires shirts and shoes. If a restaurant wants to make sure your pants stay on your butt, too, I consider that a bonus.

    I wish they'd ban "muffin tops" too - another look I just don't understand.

    I've been turned away from restaurants for wearing shorts instead of a skirt or pants, and I didn't start yelling about gender bias. I just went to a different restaurant, and made a mental note to dress up a bit more next time if I wanted to go to that particular restaurant.

  68. it's striking to me that everyone seems to think their disdain for sagging is a sort of isolated fashion opinion.

    i personally think it's unattractive, and it seems impractical to me. but then, most fashion is not based on practicality (and what i personally find attractive is neither here nor there unless you are trying to attract me)!

    but i find most people hard to believe when they say they think it's gross, offensive or stupid to have your boxers hanging out of your pants, considering the number of "clean young men" (you know, those wearing belts and "normal" not-baggy khakis or jeans) whose ass-crack i see on a daily basis.

    for the record, i find strangers' ass-cracks unattractive too, and a hell of a lot more objectionable than strangers' boxers. so, given that people regularly point out the sagging over the low-rise, hell yes i think it's race- or class-based!

  69. I will agree with you that some of this 'policing' is racially motivated, but much less than you think. You stumbled right over it, but you didn't stop to look.
    The inner-family policing comes mostly from disappointment that the 'sagger' would stoop to trends. Family simply expects more from family. So many trends are stupid and this bothers your aunts and uncles. In the current social atmosphere it is popular to over scrutinize everything and perhaps arrive at a clever acronym that we might type a little faster into our favorite blog. My nature is to trust my first impression....stupid is stupid, and if it's my relation doing it, I tell him so.


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