I’m a firm believer that anyone with a gripe about black people can easily get a platform to say as much on television. Don’t believe me, just watch – this video of Don Lemon’s epic impression of Stephen from Django the other day.
Claiming to be inspired by the murder of Trayvon Martin (because what better time to discuss all the s**t that bothers you about black people than the tragic death of a black kid, whose death had nothing to do with black pathology), Lemon decided to not just cosign remarks made by Bill O’Reilly a week ago, where he too decided to use Trayvon Martin’s death, and the subsequent George Zimmerman verdict, to assail black people. He also said of O’Reilly that, he “doesn’t go far enough” in his critique of black culture and, in a bizarre Bill Cosby moment of his own, decided to give his own Five Point Strategy for ensuring that black people are not stalked and killed by the likes of George Zimmerman and can restore the community.
The usual lot of oversimplifications made the list including: “black women stop having babies,” “pull your pants up,” “go to school,” and “stop using the N-word.” He also advised black people to “stop littering,” which was a point that you have to give him points for due to originality. Who knew that was tearing us apart? I mean, if only our ancestors owned some brooms and had in place a good recycling program, perhaps they could have prevented themselves from being chattel on the Amistad? #DonLemonLogic
Initially, I had planned to speak on every point, which Lemon raised in his five point “strategy” for black success. But after reviewing it, and in particular, seeing that it qualified for what you folks like to call TL;DR (“Too long; didn’t read), I decided to focus on what has always been a personal favorite thorn in the side of modern day black respectability, and that is the sagging pants.
First, let’s look at what Don Lemon said about the fashion trend:
“Pull up your pants. Some people, a lot of them black, gave me flak for saying that recently on the ‘Wendy Williams Show.’ If you’re sagging, it means I think your self-esteem is sagging and who you are as a person it’s sagging. Young people need to be taught respect and there are rules. Sagging pants, whether it’s Justin Bieber or no-name Derek around the way, walking around with your a** and your underwear showing is not okay. In fact, it comes from prison when they take away belts from the prisoners so that they can’t make a weapon. And then it evolved into which role a prisoner would have during male-on-male prison sex. The one with the really low pants is the submissive one. You get my point?”
Actually, I’m not quite sure if I do get your point at all. Matter of fact, I’m quite curious as to why Lemon, an out-and-proud gay black man, would be giving a platform to what is largely a homophobic urban legend? That’s right, the tales of the pants sagging, booty-snatching homosexual prison pirate your youth minister has been warning you all about since the first day of Sunday school is a baseless allegation, owing itself to lack of substantial evidence beyond the all too familiar, “Well, I heard…”
While it is (possibly, but not confirmed) true that the belt-less pants sagging had its roots in prison culture, the prison “style” has less to do with a prison homosexual mating call and more to do with unavailability of belts and shoe strings due to fears of rampant suicides. Likewise, the mass introduction of the prison jumpsuit might have eliminated the sagging problem. However, those in prison, who do sag now, do so for the same reason that the average kid on the street does so: out of comfort and because of a pop culture trend, which was ironically influenced by the plight of the belt-less prison inmate.
This saggy pants-prison homo meme has even been debunked by urban legend investigation site, Snopes.com, which attributes the spread of it, as well as other variations, on how easily it plays on folks’ already existing personal bias towards the fashion trend as well as folks’ own fear of homosexuals, or being perceived as homosexuals. And as most observers of popular culture would note, the loose and droopy fit of male trousers has always had a place in black male fashion. Before there was belt-less saggy pants, there were baggy-crotch harem pants, popularized by rapper and free-movement dancer MC Hammer. And way before that, there was the Zoot suit, which has its roots in the young black jazz culture of the 1940s. While sagging, loose, and droopy pants were always seen as counter-culture, men today profess comfort and trend as likely motivators for the style rather than some sort of moniker of their sexuality (unless you count the peacocking in your trendy best).
And despite the fact that at times, saggy pants have found themselves in the center of racial tension (i.e. the Zoot Suit Riots), no time in history did any black person ever report more or less racism because their waist and crotch line were more aligned with the white norm. Or as the Anti-Intellect wrote recently on Funky Dineva’s blog:
“Did Don Lemon forget that White racists hosed down, sicked dogs on, and lynched Black people in suits, ties, and dresses during the Civil Rights Movement? Many of the Blacks in the Civil Rights Movement had on their Sunday best when they were protesting, and they were still treated worse than animals. Oppressors have rarely taken it easy on the oppressed because the oppressed presented themselves in a “respectable” manner. Greenwood, Oklahoma also known as “Black Wall Street” was one of the most prosperous, successful, and respectful Black towns in the United States, and it was still burned to the ground, in 1921, by a mob of jealous White racists.”
It’s funny how the “most trusted name in news” can’t be trusted enough to get what it reports correct. And that’s what annoys me most about Lemon’s rant: the lack of journalistic integrity used by both him and CNN for airing such an unsubstantiated claim, as fact. Not only is there no proof of correlation between criminality, self-esteem, academic, or even professional achievement and the waistline on a pair of men’s pants, it is in fact quite dangerous to even promote such as the sagging-pants/prison gay sex-theory as something that normally happens.
Despite Lemon’s (and whoever else helped him write his script) belief of some sort of happy smorgasbord of gay sex in prison, the reality is that homophobia is still pretty much rifled in the prison culture. According to Amnesty International, homosexuals (or even those suspected of being gay) are routinely targeted and mistreated in prisons throughout the world. And according to another study, in the United States alone, there are 39 percent of gay and bisexual prisoners reportedly being targeted for sexual violence in both men’s and women’s prisons. Even though folks may want you to fear a gay boogeyman, a report by the Human Rights Watch says that the, “perpetrators of rape typically view themselves as heterosexual and, outside of the prison environment, prefer to engage in heterosexual activity. Although gay inmates are much more likely than other inmates to be victimized in prison, they are not likely to be perpetrators of sexual abuse.”
Therefore, if we were to actually follow what the data suggests, gay men would probably be less likely to use any sorts of identifiers including sagging pants to advertise their sexuality. But that’s the kind of stuff they don’t tell you on television, I guess.