Saturday, April 3, 2010

Peep the Filaments

Sometimes black folks just don't see the web.

I'm not talking about this Internet thing. I'm talking about the web that connects us all. There is a human web, and within that web there is a "black" web.

Some of y'all are shaking your heads already.

"There you go with that separatist talk again Big Man. How are black folks ever going to move past this race thing if y'all insist that y'all are separate all the time?"

First of all, I'm not interested in "moving past" this race thing. I like being black, it's wonderful. I wouldn't change my skin color if offered the chance. Besides, "this race thing" is real life.

Finally, race was created by a certain group that shall remain nameless, so I would imagine that it's up to that group to correct the problems they have caused. Maybe once that happens we can "move past it."

Now, with that minor tangent out of the way, let me get to the meat of my treatise. First, as is my wont, I'll share a little anecdote.

I was sitting in bible study the other day and we were talking about putting on the "clothing" of Christ. Basically, that means making your life mirror Christ's life in how you treat folks and conduct your business.

But, as the preacher is talking about spiritual clothing, he takes a long and detailed detour into a conversation on the clothing of today's youth.

Uh oh.

Anybody who has spent some time in the black church knows that there is a serious disconnect between the young folks and the old folks on the issues of clothing and music. Honestly, I can see the old folks point as I grow older, but that doesn't mean they don't get off track on occasion.

In this instance, the preacher begins railing against clothing that identifies young black youth, particularly males, as criminals. Y'all know, that "thug clothing."

He tells the young men that they may not be thugs, that they may not be criminals, but when they dress a certain kind of way, everybody assumes they are thugs. And, what really got to me was that he seemed to be defending this state of affairs. I mean, the preacher said it "might" not be right, but he never actually condemned the practice and seemed to be pushing the meme that it was justified.

That kind of ruined my worship.

Look, I understand the Uniform Doctrine. That argument says that if you are not doing the job, don't wear the uniform. I get it, and to a certain extent, I agree with it.

The thing is, life is full of unforeseen consequences.

In Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series that mantra was known as the "Wizard's Second Rule." (Sorry for exposing my inner nerd, won't happen too often in the future.) When black folks use the uniform argument on young black men, they provide cover for those who racially under the Black Skin Doctrine. That doctrine says that the uniform of criminals is black skin. Period.

I have spoken to folks who have had their young sons beaten or abused by the police, and none of them are "okay" with the Black Skin Doctrine. They may have embraced the Uniform Doctrine before their children got humiliated and injured, but when that doctrine is taken a tad further, they have a real problem.

They didn't see the filaments.

The filaments. The connections that bind all of us in this human web. The little invisible bindings that we can't see and just won't acknowledge. The filaments that make your neighbor your brother, and make his welfare just as important as your own.

Those filaments.

Older black people need to realize how easily the Uniform Doctrine turns into the Black Skin Doctrine. They need to understand that their status as "Good Negroes" is not some blanket protection. They need to remember Christ's words about the "least" of his children.

When you rationalize the profiling of some, you're really rationalizing the profiling of all. You may think that folks will be able to tell that you don't deserve to be profiled, but you're wrong. Once you give people the green light, it's up to them whether they follow the speed limit.

How many of y'all are speeders?

I'm really debating whether I should bring this issue up with the pastor at my church. On one hand I feel like it needs to be said, but on the other hand, I wonder if it will be received in love and truly considered. Most folks feel like their views are perfectly logical and acceptable given the realities of the world we inhabit, and they aren't inclined to change them for some idealistic vision of how the world should be. I get that, I truly do.

But, I still see those damn filaments.







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23 comments:

Thordaddy said...

Lil man,

Who are you trying to kid? They call it "thug" clothing because those that wear the style WANT TO LOOK LIKE thugs. The problem with styling like "thug" as opposed to styling like CEO or Tinker Bell without wings is that your style is threatening NOW. That is the desired result. Don't you get that? You do know of the phenomenon that we speak of?

If you think that in the battle between normal style and the style of the incredible shrinking nigel, that the latter should be given deference and be immune to mockery and ridicule because it is BLACK style then you are without legitimate foundation.

CNu said...

authoritarian "conservatives" in general - share in common the need to rationalize and normalize their ostracism and oppression of the "other".

An authoritarian bully's arrested development is a helluva challenge and it's the indispensable root cause of MOST killer-ape behavior.

History shows that Christian ideals are incapable of persuading the perpetrators of this tendency to overcome their stunted, collective, instinctual urges. Very simply, those who do it are addicted to doing it - and there's little you can say or show them that will change their pov.

OTOH, a savage and thorough ass-whooping is known and proven to remedy many forms of bullying.

Onward Christian soldier....,

Denise said...

Wow, this is the best explanation that I've seen for why all of these criticisms and laws against saggy pants and profiling of young black men pisses me off, but I never would have been able to explain it in such a clear way.

If it weren't the clothes, it would be a hairstyle, or some jewelry, or shoes, etc. There will always be an excuse to criminalize black men, when really the issue is their skin. I may not like the style myself, but I wrinkle my nose when I see hipsters, too. : )

Darth Whitey said...

I have to disagree. Yes I agree that black kids will get more scrutiny no matter what, but the thug uniform sure baits it, as it would for any kid regardless of race (though more for black kids.)

Anna Renee said...

How did the style come to be labeled as "Thug Clothes"? And, are they "thug clothes" because thugs wear them, or do people become "thugs" because they wear "thug clothes"? For example: Is a conservative suit "thug clothes" when Bernie Madoff wears it? Or would anything Bernie Madoff wear be "thug clothing" since he's a thug?
The truth of the matter is that Black skin on a black man is what many people see as thuggish. Period. Dreadlocks on a black man is thuggish. A black man riding a bike is thuggish. Black men four deep in a car is thuggish. A black man in a white community is thuggish. A black man as president is thuggish. The clothes, sagging or tight jeans, no matter. It's black skin thats thuggish to those who speak of thuggishness. Because if it was as simple as the clothes, believe you me, there would be no more racism, because we would quickly delete the clothes. Let's be real about it!!

White woman said...

From today's NYTimes:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/02/nyregion/02nyc.html

Some people have asked him if he doesn’t have better things to do and bigger problems to address. “I tell them no,” said Mr. Adams, a former police captain.

“In my 22 years of policing, there was a common denominator,” he said. “The first indicator that your child is having problems is the dress code. Prior to the sagging pants, it was the shoestrings out of sneakers. All this is born out of prison. We took the shoestrings and the belts from prisoners.”

“This is probably not a perfect science,” he added, “but if you start looking at how your child is dressing, it is an indicator of who his friends are and what group he’s associated with. It’s all in the clothing.”

------------

I'm a white woman, 40+ years old. I am one data point. But for me, "thug" clothes are a trigger. If a black kteenage boy is walking up my street wearing pants hanging off his behind, hood over his head, huge clothes, it is a different message to me than if he is wearing, for example, jeans with a tucked in shirt.

Skin color is far less a trigger for me. If yellow jeans were thug pants, i would be wary of teen boys wearing yellow pants. Teenagers know what they're doing. They are TRYING to intimidate.

Truth is, I am wary of teenage boys in general, black or white. Adolescent males in any species are a force to reckon with, especially when they travel in packs.

I would have called the cops on both groups of vandals in that park. And on the boys sleeping in the car.

Anna Renee said...

It's better to be honest with oneself.

CNu said...

Skin color is far less a trigger for me. If yellow jeans were thug pants, i would be wary of teen boys wearing yellow pants. Teenagers know what they're doing. They are TRYING to intimidate.

Truth is, I am wary of teenage boys in general, black or white. Adolescent males in any species are a force to reckon with, especially when they travel in packs.


adole-sins in general are highly dubious critters. hormone afflicted child-minds wielding animal-strong young adult bodies.

white woman is truth.

accept no substitutes...,

Thordaddy said...

@ white woman,

You went from recognizing unspoken truths to blurring out these truths with generalities.

Thug style is a PRODUCT of black culture. No, this doesn't mean ALL blacks created thug style or wear thug style or like thug style. It just means that thug style is largely the creation of black liberationists.

Thug style had purpose...

It sought to delegitimate white authority...

It sought to intimidate the white masses...

But now it's just a bunch uh stunted doodz wiff poopee pants fallin' on they grills when they gotta run too fass...

Law of diminishing returns...

Big Man said...

I appreciate the comments from y'all.

1. "Thug" clothes should be the clothes of criminals. As Anna Renee pointed out, why is it that only one set of criminals got their clothes labled "thug" clothes? Given the history of the mafia, the true history of cowboys, and the ongoing shenanigans on Wall Street, shouldn't thug clothing also include polyester suits, straight-legged blue jeans and power ties? If it's just about clothes, and clothes being a reliable indicator of criminal status, why do so many black people who are not dressed like "thugs" have stories of harassment by the cops or other authority figures?

2. For those folks defending profiling as an understandable safety precaution, I have two statements. One, just because something makes you life easier, doesn't mean it's right. Two, would you be as comfortable with profiling if you were the one being profiled?

I can't justify doing the wrong thing because its easier, and I can't justify treating someone in a way I wouldn't want to be treated myself.

I'm not saying I don't do those things because I fall short of my goals, but I don't justify my failures.

White woman said...

Big Man asks ...

1. "Thug" clothes should be the clothes of criminals ... Given the history of the mafia ... cowboys ... and Wall Street, shouldn't thug clothing also include polyester suits, straight-legged blue jeans and power ties?

Good question. I guess it's all about perceived immediate threat, especially to my physical person.

If mafia members or cowboys are walking toward me in a threatening manner and the media is full of stories of mafia members and cowboys mugging/attacking people in my town, then yes I would be wary of dark suits and fringe and chaps.

Wall Street criminals have hurt many people. But they committed their crimes far away behind a curtain. Very hard to see the enemy here and react accordingly.
Threat is not defined by the dictionary brain but by the amygdala.

Also, for decades and decades, suits and ties have been positive -- the uniform of daddies with office jobs. "Thug style" is a new invention, and it was branded as urban tough guy wear from the start. My friend managed a music store and said big clothes were often used to conceal things that were shoplifted.

----

"If it's just about clothes, and clothes being a reliable indicator of criminal status, why do so many black people who are not dressed like "thugs" have stories of harassment by the cops or other authority figures?"

I think these may be two different discussions. I am not triggered by black skin, but by age and clothing.

---------
"2. For those folks defending profiling as an understandable safety precaution, I have two statements. One, just because something makes you life easier, doesn't mean it's right."

If I am on an elevator in a parking garage, and the door opens and a (young) man gets on, I get off. I do not ride alone in elevators with strange men. I am profiling him. Is that wrong? Define "wrong."

I would rather be offensive than be a victim of crime. I have travelled the world alone and I have had some great adventures. But I do my best, given my wanderlust, to minimize risk. So yes, I guess then I would not call this type of profiling wrong or unethical.

"Two, would you be as comfortable with profiling if you were the one being profiled?"

We are all profiled. I am a woman and when I was young I had to be smarter and more sober than the boys to be taken as seriously.

Now that I'm older I have to worry about competing in the workplace from a different context. To fight the "old = not sharp, not fast, too expensive" stereotype.

I know this isn't the same as being pulled over by the cops for being black. The point is humans prejudge based on external factors. If "profiling" in your definition is only about authority figures abusing people, I again think that is a different discussion. And I don't think one type of wariness (personal safety) necessarily slides into the other (authority abuse).

As I write this, I do worry that I am providing more fodder for the "white people logic" thread. Yet, here it is, and here I am. No ill motive.

Big Man said...

White woman

You said:

"Thug style" is a new invention, and it was branded as urban tough guy wear from the start.

This is incorrect. There have always been "bad boys" and their style of dress has always been labeled as thug clothing.

Blue jeans and a white tee-shirt with slicked back hair was "thug style" at one point.

So were zoot suits.

Over the years, society has branded certain groups as dangerous. This has nothing to do with their clothing, and everything to do with society's perception of that group. In order to justify limiting or eliminating rights for the "dangerous" group, society has then created justifications for its actions based on clothing or other markers.

Those justifications are picked up and repeated by the public at large.

As a white woman, you are FAR more likely to be the victim of crime at the hands of a white man or white woman. Like two the three times more likely, in fact. Those statistics are courtesy of the Justice Department.

Also, I've noticed a tendency by you to personalize the discussion to the point where you say "This isn't why I do it." Or "that isn't what I do."

I attempted to write the blog in a manner that spoke to larger themes. Your personalization on certain issues obscures the larger point which I would kindly ask you to check out again and reconsider.

You mentioned your "wanderlust" and the precautions you take to be safe. It makes lots of sense to be be aware of your surroundings and attempt to be safe. If you view all men as a potential threats, that's your choice.

But, as I said, and you so neatly dodged, are you prepared for other people to treat you in the same manner?

None of your actions are based on external factors. You are in COMPLETE control of your free will. That's how God made you. He gave you the ability to make your own choices at every minute of your life.

They won't always be easy choices or good choices, but the choices will be there. You can't justify your choices by saying "everybody is doing it."

Do I need to ask you the same question my mother asked me about "everybody" and bridges?

CNu said...

Big Man caught up in his idealized sermon today.

I've got a much simpler yardstick than all-a-that being the father of a shockingly attractive and statuesque teenage daughter.

You don't even get to set foot in my yard with sagging pants - much less attempt conversation with anyone in my family.

Any boy stupid enough to adopt such an impractical, uncomfortable, value-laden, and effort intensive mode of attire - is automatically unfit for association with me and mine.

To this day, I still wear the simple prep school uniform which served me well from jr. highschool forward. My son is already imprinted with the same simple, cost effective, fungible values when it comes to attire.

Sagging - by its very nature - signifies a focus on "style" over substance that disqualifies its wearers from claiming the good sense that god gave them.

White woman said...

You mentioned your "wanderlust" and the precautions you take to be safe. It makes lots of sense to be be aware of your surroundings and attempt to be safe. If you view all men as a potential threats, that's your choice.

But, as I said, and you so neatly dodged, are you prepared for other people to treat you in the same manner?

--------
I thought I did address that -- the point I made about already being profiled. Already being put into a box (in the work setting) in the past because I was female, and now more because I am 40+. So yes I am prepared because it already happens. And if I walk into the workplace wearing clothing that sends a message of rebellion or disrespect, then I am prepared to be treated differently than if I wear the uniform. Today I am wearing jeans with the hole in the knee. If I run into a colleague I will be embarrassed.

It is difficult for me to see how someone would view me as a physical threat, since I don't know that anyone ever has. And that is what we are really talking about ... people scaring each other.

You make a good point about the zoot suits. I would say that it would take a lot of "rebranding" to make Wall Street suits and ties the icon of all dangerous criminals, since for so long that uniform has been associated with working professionals, not with someone who is going to rob me in the parking lot.

Low-hanging pants and huge sweatshirts and hoods ... has that style been around, 10-15 years? I always thought it was a style copied from rap or hip-hop artists. Thus branded from the start as youthful, rebellious, urban, in-your-face, dangerous. Teens didn't steal the look from Donny and Marie.

CNu said...

it's penitentiary style...,

sagging pants and shoes with no laces - that alone disqualifies it from any further "broad-minded" consideration.

Big Man said...

Cnulan

Now a cat as intelligent as you should know better.

We both know that meme about saggin' pants being a gay sign in the joint is overblown.

It has much more to do with the fact that prisons don't allow prisoners belts and shoelaces for fear of suicides, and prison clothes don't come tailored. I see cats roll out from the county jail all the time, and they always have to wait to get their laces and their belts.

Since so many of our black men were incarcertated, they got out and began to continue those styles to gain cache on the streets. Folks on the outside started mimicing the inside and we have our current state of affairs.

Now you can criticize me for my idealistic sermon CNu, but what is a man with ideals?

I readily admit to falling short of the mark, but I ain't changing the mark. I truly believe that right is right and wrong is wrong, regardless of whether I'm right or wrong. I'm not going to change the goalpost to make myself feel better about my failures and I won't do it for others.

As for you and your daughter, I respect the game and Lord knows that I would expect a young man who came to my house to pull up his pants and get his mind right, as well..

Not because I think sagging pants mean criminal, but because I don't respect a young man who doesn't know how to code shift and who isn't aware of his surroundings.

That sort of young man will be crippled in the world, and I wouldn't want that sort of hassle for my daughter, if I had one.

Big Man said...

White woman

Cats have been rapping since the 80s. So yeah, sagging, baggy clothes have been around for a while. But, actually, the new thing is tight clothes that sag, not baggy clothes, just to be clear.

I said you dodged the question because you told me what happened to you, but you didn't tell me what you were okay with happening to you. Matter of fact, i got the distinct impression that you were not pleased to be profiled.

Would you like being profiled as a racist simply because of the color of your skin?

Or profiled as an oppressor when you are satisfying your wanderlust in a brown country that has had bad experiences with European imperialism?

I'm not arguing for folks to be impratical. The point of the post was that you have to be careful what sort of discrimination you allow today because you don't know what type of discrimination will pop up tomorrow.

For black folks, we should understand the connections that all of us share, and we understand that when we allow the least of us to be abused, we are all in danger.

There is no magic uniform that protects us as black people. That is a myth.

This little ditty always pops in my mind when I think write about stuff like this:

"THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

THEN THEY CAME for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up."



Injustice will find you if you keep waiting around long enough.

Thordaddy said...

Lil man,

Why try to equalize all perceptions? If thug style and CEO style came towards you and a white woman on the street, should you have equal perceptions of the scenario?

If a white woman senses a possible threat from thug style versus CEO style, is it racist because thug style is worn by a black dude?

The evilness in your sermon couldn't be less idealized. You are attempting to desensitize perceptions to thug style BUT IT IS STILL THUG STYLE.

It still has PURPOSE.

It is still worn with REASON.

Many are simply sheep following their shepard.

BUT NONE OF US CAN TELL THE DIFFERENCE.

You say look behind the thug style lil racist white woman because there is a nice lil black boy in there.

Why?

Why does she have to? So as not to be "racist?" She cannot make an instinctual and highly efficient decision to avoid thug style ESPECIALLY thug style on black males ALL THE TIME?

Why are black boys sporting poopy pants entitled to the understanding and nonjudgementalism of a white woman?

Because they are BLACK??? Or, because they appear to have crapped their pants in public?

CNu said...

uh.., Big Man.

uh..,

pause.

where did I say "GAY"?!?!?!?!

rotflmbao.....,

dood, I said "penitentiary"

din't say nothin bout no gay....,

other than that, we agree in full.

and, uh..,

I have no time, sympathy, or apostolic compassion for cats who go to the pen - now that's a hard and inflexible standard - but we live in a hard and inflexible evolutionary threshing floor here in the belly.

those who win, win big.

those who lose, lose big.

those who manage to run the gamut are ahead of the game and THAT is worthy of my respect and consideration.

everything else is idealistic conversation...,

Big Man said...

CNulan

My bad, I misread your comment about "broad-minded" conversation. I used the street definition of "broad" not the correct one.

And, I respect your opinion and cop fully to being idealistic. I used to be the exact opposite. To each his own.

But, I know you work with young cats in a mentoring program. Do you demand that they adhere to a dress code before you'll deal with them, or do you help them how they come?

Honestly, I don't see "thug" style any differently from bell bottoms and big ol' afros. Both styles were viewed as reliable indicators of a threat by the majority, and used to justify discrimination and abuse.

While I understand your point about certain clothes, as somebody who used to dress that way and was friends with cats who dressed that way and were not criminals, I have a different perspective on it.
Thor

If you don't see my point, you don't see my point.

If you disagree, you disagree. I've explained my reasoning, and my logic, what you choose to take from it is up to you.

See, I've already peeped your mindset and the mindset of many others like you.

You all are on that "if it looks like a duck" kick. Cool.

Problem is, you don't want that standards applied to you, and you can't really decide what a "duck" looks like.

You don't want to be profiled, despite the fact that the vast majority of terroristic plots and terroristic actions committed on U.S. soil have been done by white men. That's a proven fact.

You don't want to be labeled a "racist" even when your actions, mannerisms and attitudes label you as such. Not to mention the highly "efficient" method of characterizing all white folks as racist immediately, and then letting them prove they are not in the future.

Nope, you don't like that as evidenced by your repeated attempts to cast off the "racist" moniker on several blogs. That's why you keep playing this rationalization game about supremacy.

But, it's cool. Folks gonna' live how they want. I have no control over that.

CNu said...

Big Man,

First off, I'm not baggin on you for being idealistic. I appreciate that in you and without a doubt, somebody's gotta do it.

But, I know you work with young cats in a mentoring program. Do you demand that they adhere to a dress code before you'll deal with them, or do you help them how they come?

You have to pull up your pants in my class. My collaborators and I set a climate which promotes creative discipline and sets a premium on the life of the mind, not what's "on your behind". (or sagging off of it as the case may be)

Honestly, I don't see "thug" style any differently from bell bottoms and big ol' afros. Both styles were viewed as reliable indicators of a threat by the majority, and used to justify discrimination and abuse.

I do. I come from the original afro and bell bottom generation and those were autocratic expressions of Blackness.

Sagging otoh, is a herd mentality expression of penitentiary-ness.

Not a good look.

While I understand your point about certain clothes, as somebody who used to dress that way and was friends with cats who dressed that way and were not criminals, I have a different perspective on it.

Why did you choose to dress that way?

Were you leading or following?

Why do you choose to no longer dress that way?

Big Man said...

CNu

No doubt I was following. I was a teenager, it's damn near instinctive.

Now, I was a leader in other ways, but when it came to clothes, I was patterning myself after what seemed to appeal to the fairer sex.

If chicks would have said only bald heads and suits got the booty, then I would have been Brooks Brothers to the fullest.

I stopped dressing like that because I became a man and put away childish things. I ridiculously baggy clothing with childhood and the desire to look "cool" in my youth. Today, while my clothes still trend toward baggy, they are nowhere near as ridiculous as back in the day, and I also know how to change clothes to fit the situation. Just something I picked up with age and understanding my pops' lessons on versatility.

Let me be clear, I agree with your point about being a leader not a follower. That was the mantra in my house as a child. I think it's very important to impress on children that they must understand the consequences for their actions and they must not be caught up in conspicuous consumption.

My parents were adamant about that. They almost never bought up brand name clothing and got pissed if we spent our own money on it.

That said, I think that the idea that sagging and other "thug" gear is a legitimate means for profiling is wrong.

I do not think clothing is a reliable indicator of criminality. I think it's a lame excuse made by folks who are trying to justify their real reasons for profiling.

Black skin. That's what's criminal, not the clothes. The clothes are an add-on, and the clothes that indicate "thug" just so happen to always be tied to black skin. That tells me something.

Your generation had skin tight bellbottoms, mini skirts, Afro pics and daishikis. Sure, some cats were wearing those things to show they were Black and Proud, but just like James Brown, many of y'all were just rolling with the flow.

Wearing what it was cool to wear, just like when young black folks were sporting Cross Colours and Malcolm X hats back in the 80s and early 90s.

The clothing of the youth will always seem dangerous and ridiculous to elders. Some of our concerns are justified, others are just our age showing.

Unfortunately, young black people get the added burden of being labeled criminals instead of just "crazy kids."

Orign said...

Great write up Big Man.

Great points Big man.........on the clothes from teh 70s. Even my older family members said that the stuff was nothing but fashion.

And ain't no way platforms and men wearing skin tight pants, so much that you could see their crotch a forum of black pride.

As far as the baggy pants coming from gay jail members that mess is a mainstream myth. Also remember Dr. Frances Cress stated in her book the Isis Papers that black males were imitating female culture and wanted to be women when wearing tigh bell bottom pants and platform high heels (I love to bring this up when older black folks bring up how kids dress today).

Actually I would argue that baggy/sagging pants coming directly from the people from prison isn't completely right. From what I remember as a kid the white skateboarders wore baggy, sagging and big pants even before black and latin did. Don't forget there has always been a relationship between the skateboarders and taggers (which is a form of hip hop). Another reason for the big pants was so that they would fit over shoes and boots. I can remember dudes buying women pants for large women in order to have the pants leg fit over the shoes or boots.

So the sagging /baggy pants actually may have been a combination the jail, tagging and skateboard culture.

But you know the media, white america and some black folks would never want to say this so called culture thug culture came from a mix of suburban white culture.

Raving Black Lunatic