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By
AFP
Published
Oct 19, 2007
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Low-slung trouser laws hit young blacks below the belt : experts

By
AFP
Published
Oct 19, 2007

WASHINGTON, Oct 19, 2007 (AFP) - Bans on low-hanging trousers that display parts of underwear are hitting already alienated black US teens below the belt, African-American experts say as more US cities lined up to ban "saggy pants".

"This affects a certain population that always gets picked on," said Wilhelmina Leigh, a senior researcher at the Washington-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think-tank that focuses on African American issues.

"Even if they weren't wearing saggy pants, the same group of African American males standing around would be subject to more scrutiny than any other group of young people," she said.

"Tattoos, body-piercing and punk hairstyles are part of the youth culture, too, but no one is legislating against them. Singling out baggy pants is clearly singling out a group that people have issues with anyway."

Half a dozen towns in Louisiana have passed local laws against falling-down trousers, on the grounds they are indecent, and a dozen more towns and cities, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Opa Locka in Florida, and Yonkers in New York, are mulling bans.

Councilwoman Patricia McDow drafted the resolution that would ban saggy pants in Yonkers, but said she was motivated by issues other than decency.

"I drafted the resolution at the request of a community anti-gang coalition ... and because we want young adults to understand the history of this attire," McDow told AFP.

"Saggy pants came from the prison system. We want to teach our children to shun that culture and be proud of the rich history that they have," McDow said.

Oversized trousers were added to many a US teen's wardrobe -- especially young blacks' -- in the 1990s when hip-hop "gangsta" music surged in popularity.

The fashion comes from the US prison system, where inmates have their belts taken away for security reasons.

"Young black men walking around with these pants emulating what is a prison fashion trend is wrong," said former Miss Louisiana Faith Jenkins, who is now a lawyer at an international legal firm in New York.

"There are a staggering number of young black men in prison in this country and it's become almost a self-fulfilling prophecy that a lot of young black men end up in prison after emulating a prison culture every day of their lives by the way they dress, talk and act," she said.

Recent data released by the US Census Bureau showed that blacks made up 41 percent of US prison inmates in 2006, but only account for around 12 percent of the population.

With punishment for those who breach a saggy pants ban ranging from fines that go up each time the pants go down in the Louisiana town of Alexandria, to a possible stint in prison in Delcambre, Louisiana, critics of the local laws worry they will heap more woes on black youths.

"I'm concerned that we would be creating more arrest records for young black men and exposing even more of them to the criminal justice system," said Jenkins.

University of Pennsylvania sociology professor Chad Dion Lassiter said legislating against the fashion "pushes the already rebellious youths further away."

"Black males scare some white people, and sometimes even black people, whether they have their pants hanging off or a shirt and tie on," Lassiter said.

"I've seen it in my personal life, as an Ivy League-educated black man ... I can walk by some people, black or white, with a three-piece suit on, and they'll clutch their purses," Lassiter said.

He urged those wearing droopy trousers to pull them up to help themselves.

"But I don't want the young people to change their apparel so that they can be accepted and people won't be fearful of who they are. I want their apparel to change because it would improve how they see themselves. There's an image problem at the heart of this."

Jenkins agreed, and urged young black men to stand up for themselves without needing a law.

"Pulling up our pants is something we need to do by ourselves without someone telling us to do it," she said.

by Karin Zeitvogel

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