Thursday, April 01, 2010

An Eyeful on Franklin, Courtesy of Eric Adams

Walking to work today, I spied a CBS 2 camerawoman setting up her gear, and I immediately kicked into blogger mode (tiny notepad? check. cellphone camera? check. stubble? check.). Why was she there? Was something wrong? Was the shot going to be a chilling intro on the nightly news? She rolled her eyes and gestured skyward to the pair of plaid-clad rear ends staring back at us from the billboard on Sterling and Franklin and said "no, just here for that."

State Senator Eric Adams has certainly garnered a lot of attention with his "Stop the Sag" campaign, which has placed several such billboards around Crown Heights at a cost of $2,000. While Adams and others opposed to saggy pants deride the fashion as "self-imposed racism" and "convict chic" (many argue that the style originated in prisons, where belts are a no-no and clothes don't always fit too well), most locals interviewed for the story, particularly the young men sporting the trend, shrugged it off as a comfort or generation-gap issue. While I have the benefit of not being expected to represent my race at every turn as a white guy (when I wore my JNCO jeans well off my backside in middle school, it brought me nothing more than parental mocking), I'm slightly loath to ascribe much significance to the impact of sagging pants on the fortunes of young men, if only because a) the trend seems to be on the way out, what with skinny jeans making the rounds and all, and b) racism, in all its permutations, runs far deeper than the clothes on our backs. What do you think . . . was this money well spent, or a publicity stunt (or both)? Do we need to lean on our youth to hitch up, or would we be better off just letting them grow out of it?

All those who are convinced by the billboard and find themselves in need of new, better-fitting pants should look across the street to About Time, where I'm sure they'd be more than happy to deck you out.


  1. I hold every Albany politician in a great deal of contempt. Yesterday we watched them fly right past the budget deadline and the state has frozen all payments to all contractors. State level politicians have robbed the MTA of over $100 million in dedicated taxes (paid only by the thirteen downstate counties). They used that money to patch more holes in the budget that they can't balance on time, and haven't for the last few years. Furthermore the same state level politicians have the audacity to yell at the MTA for the cuts that it has to make because the state refuses not only to fund it adequately but also steals from its dedicated tax pool.

    That said, I think that Eric Adams generally rises above the rest. Towards the end of last summer's Senate debacle he stood up on the floor and went on a tirade where he offered up his offices, chairmanships and other seniority perks if "they would just get their butts in here and pass some bills."[1] During the whole incident he was also sending out letters to explain what was going on in Albany. I don't know if he sent them to everyone in the district, but I got two or three different ones as it dragged on. I've also seen him at community events where he was the only politician in attendance. In particular, a memorial for pedestrians and cyclists killed in the city, which is not a cause that he is even vocal about, and the event was in Manhattan.

    Adams has been outspoken on issues of racism throughout his career. He was a founding member of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, which often speeks out about racism and racial profiling in the NYPD.

    These billboards? They are a waste of money.

    I don't disagree with the idea that sagging has a place within the discussion of race and identity. I went to a high school in Baltimore where 85% of the students were black, and while the Baltimore City Public Schools had a dress code that prohibited sagging, the only people who really ever seemed to care was the black faculty. It was never about being punitive, it was always about students respecting themselves. I don't want to presume or pronounce anything about a community that I am not a part of, but my anecdotal experience is that how you carry yourself, your clothes, the manner in which you speak, etc. are much more important in the black communities than in white ones. It makes sense too. As a white guy I can look like a slob, talk like an idiot and still be taken seriously by a lot of people. That isn't anywhere near the experience of most black men in their mid twenties.

    However focusing solely on sagging is not the same as teaching black kids about the way that racism functions day to day. What people need to know is how things like sagging can play into a narrative that they may not want to be a part of. Sagging is just a fashion choice, but its one that fits right in to a common racist perception that all young black men are criminals. My guess is that Adams is trying to get at that point, but I don't think that these billboards will do too much more than garner a couple of chuckles from folks in the neighborhood.


  2. Slightly loath. Loathe is a verb.

  3. I woke up one morning and saw this when I looked out my window. At first I thought, this is hilarious, and then I took a picture. I guess I understand what they're getting at, but c'mon, really? As long as you don't dress like that at a real job, outside of those formal spaces, anything goes.

  4. @ Daniel Howard: duly noted.