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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Pull up your pants, you big buffoon
By BILL MAXWELL
Published June 24, 2007
[Bill Serne | Times, 2004]
A town in Louisiana has passed a law against this kind of getup.
All right, call me an old goat, a geezer, an old codger, a curmudgeon, an Uncle Tom or any other unflattering name.
I don't care.
Let it be known, here and now, that I hate saggin' pants. I dislike being in the company of anyone wearing these buffoonish, self-loathing and effeminate getups.
You've seen the hip-hop style: pants three or more sizes too large that are worn below the behind, showing underwear, filthy flesh often in plain view.
Call me old-fashioned if you wish.
I have a lot of company. The Cajun town of Delcambre, La., (pop. 1, 700) recently passed an ordinance, which states: "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 to 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."
Delcambre Mayor Carol Broussard said of the new law and of saggers: "If you expose some of your privates - the crack of your behind - if somebody feels insulted, they should press charges. If you're offended by it, we want to straighten that out."
According to the Christian Science Monitor, Broussard is not alone. In many other parts of the country, school districts, city councils and mayors are fed up with saggers and are seeking questionable legal action, which I disagree with. Civic groups in Atlanta, Detroit and Birmingham, Ala., are organizing antisagging measures. A Florida senator hasn't given up on a bill to outlaw saggin' pants in public schools.
And the Rev. Diane Robinson of Jacksonville, whose effort I like, is handing out free belts through an initiative she calls "Pull Up Your Pants - Need Some Help, Here's a Belt!"
People who study such trends offer two main versions of how this subculture originated. One states that during American slavery, some white masters would rape their African male slaves, and after the criminal deeds were consummated, the victims were forced to wear their pants sagging so that their masters could identify them for future pleasures.
In other words, dehumanized black slaves wearing saggin' pants were said to be announcing that they were available for their white masters. Over time, the style became a little-talked-about subculture that seeped into general black culture.
The other version says the fashion developed in prison among black convicts. I quote Judge Greg Mathis of television's Judge Mathis show. He knows what he's talking about. He served eight months in jail when he was 17, and he has studied the saggin' phenomenon in his effort to understand some of the young men he would have to sentence.
"In prison you aren't allowed to wear belts to prevent self-hanging or the hanging of others, " Mathis said in the May 7 issue of Jet magazine. "They take the belt and sometimes your pants hang down. ... Many cultures of the prison have overflowed into the community unfortunately. ... Those who pulled their pants down the lowest and showed their behind a little more raw, that was an invitation. (The youth) don't know this part about it. I always tease and tell them that they better be careful because some man who has been in prison 30 years who comes home and doesn't know any difference may think it's an open invitation."
Despite his humor from the bench, Mathis is philosophical about saggin' and its deleterious impact on black males: "Young people have given up on society as a result of the obstacles they face. Instead of fighting back, they join the subculture of drugs and crime as a means of what they believe will uplift them from poverty. So you have this (interchange) of what is cool and hip in the 'hood and what is hip and cool in prison. You have a (revolving) door. ... I want to challenge our brothers to pull up their pants and lift up their head. ... We're no longer slaves. We are free to fight back, and that's what we must do."
The good judge is spitting in the wind. By all accounts, the saggin' craze grows stronger by the day. In fact, an increasing number of white, Hispanic and Korean males are adopting saggin'. The reality, of course, is that these white, Hispanic and Korean youngsters know when it's time to grow up and put away their unsavory low-slung wear.
Not so with too many young black males, who never grow up. They go to their untimely graves saggin'.