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ken_bw.jpg     Ethicalego Speaks

Ethicalego (Kenneth Brooks) discusses current events from a critical thinking perspective rarely expressed elsewhere


Rules against the Afro plus saggy pants laws equal modern Black Codes

 

By Kenneth Brooks

ethicalego.com

April 22, 2009

 

The sight of young males with low-slung pants waddling down the street like penguins is sometimes humorous and sometimes annoying. Politically powerless, probably they dress this way to protest a culture that denies them an identity other than as potential criminals. The symbolism is starkly evident. True to its character, American culture responds to this bizarre but nonthreatening style of dress by criminalizing it.


At first, I thought only petty elected officials in a few small towns passed those saggy pants laws against wearing low-slung pants. Then, I read how since 2007 large cities like Dallas Texas, Atlanta Georgia and Trenton New Jersey considered saggy pants laws and many other cities already passed them.

 

Obviously, the high percentage of young black-labeled males swept into prison by race-specific drug laws did not satisfy society’s need to profile and scapegoat them. Now cities pass laws that specifically criminalize a style of dress commonly worn by a faction of young black-labeled males. A news article reported Atlanta City Councilman C.T. Martin’s remarks that he proposed a saggy pants law because “he is tired of seeing kids and young black men wearing their pants down around their knees.”

 

A Delcambre, Louisiana city ordinance posted on the internet had this wording: “It shall be unlawful for any person in any public place or in view of the public to be found in a state of nudity, or partial nudity, or in dress not becoming his or her sex, or in any indecent exposure of his or her person or undergarments, or be guilty of any indecent or lewd behavior.” This city’s penalties for those offenses are a fine of not more than $500, imprisoned for not more than six months or both. Other cities have similar ordinances that include a penalty of community service (forced labor) for wearing saggy pants.



Supporters for saggy pants ordinances claim the sight of those young males’ boxer shorts or skin showing above their pants is offensive. In addition, they say they must amend decency laws to protect community values and to teach them to young people. Nevertheless, the penalties are too harsh for an act that at most offends someone with the choice to look away.


Men have commonly shown the upper edges of their underwear when they walk around shirtless. Also, men wearing low-slung trousers that expose their underwear and upper buttocks is so common that comics make jokes about it. Nevertheless, I never read about an ordinance criminalize this behavior. Therefore, recent laws are suspiciously racist that find similar exposure by young black-labeled males so offensive society must criminalize it.

 

America’s race-specific drug laws and the saggy pants laws bring to mind the Southern Black Codes of 1865. They controlled every part of life for people recently freed from slavery by the Thirteenth Amendment. Legal restrictions controlled where they lived, where they traveled and what type work they could perform. Most burdensome were laws that made their unemployment status a criminal offense, but not for white-labeled people. Forced labor in the service of landowners who previously enslaved them was the penalty freed people suffered for this fake crime.

 

Laws against low-slung pants also remind me of society’s strident reaction to the Afro and dreadlocks hairstyles black-labeled Americans adopted during the 1960s. We young people wore those styles to reflect the attractiveness we saw in our hair texture and dark brown skin. However, society interpreted this new self-image as a rebellion against the white establishment. Employers and schools banned them with dismissal from job or school the penalty for defying the ban. So, the proverb is true for American race relations, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”