Acton Institute Powerblog

Outlawing Baggy and Saggy Pants Won’t Work

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The City of Atlanta, and several other cities, have been debating whether or not to pass a law prohibiting saggy pants. Here’s the story from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Atlanta officials did not decide Tuesday whether they should become fashion police.

However, they did agree to continue to debate whether the city should regulate whether folks can walk around Atlanta with saggy pants and exposed undies. Council members expect to create a 10- to 12-member task force soon to further the debate and decide whether Atlanta should — or can — pass a law to control fashion.

Either way, the issue drew heated discussion from a crowd of about 55 who packed the first City Council committee debate on the subject Tuesday afternoon. Here’s what some folks had to say:

Dave Walker, East Atlanta:
“We got old and forgot there are fads. They come and they go and no legislation is going to get rid of natural trends. We have no right to legislate what folks wear.”

James Allen, Atlanta: “It bothers me as a black man. They dress down. They talk down. Some of the things they do are downright low down. It sickens me. We need to teach them in a way they will become prospects, not suspects.”

Yemaya Bourdain, senior at Clark Atlanta University: “This is absolutely asinine. I can’t believe this is the best you guys can come up with. As if we don’t have enough already targeting our black youth. Who can this help?”

Clyde Wilson, Atlanta:
“It is a problem. Not just the men wear their clothes down; the women do. If you dress like a prostitute, they are going to treat you like one.”

Naomi Ward, Atlanta:
“I am supportive of the ordinance. It is not just unsightly. It is what it represents. It is restrictive and constrictive. It restricts the physical movement. And it constricts the mind.”

Are you kidding me? A law? Is this the best use of the law? We are moving closer and closer to a police state. Here’s why this is silly:

(1) The law won’t change the mentality that says, “wearing pants below my butt is a good thing.” How is a law going to change that? Oh wait, this does work, right? Making the drinking age 21 sure has curbed “under age drinking.”

(2) How do you enforce a crazy law like this? How many inches below the waist will be illegal? Will police officers need to get outfitted with a special holster for tape measure alongside their guns and handcuffs?

Ok, saggy pants are unpleasant to look at but I’m not sure wearing pants low should be illegal. What aren’t we, instead, seeking to affect the mentality that embraces saggy pants as good? Maybe we want to pass a law because changing a mind-set would require getting personally involved in the lives of people who wear saggy pants. We would much rather pass a silly law than to roll up our sleeves and sacrifice our own time to offer those individuals a different vision for their own dignity. This requires time and energy and it comes with with no guarantees for change. It’s risky.

Laws of this type expose our own apathy to show real compassion and commitment to those people with whom we disapprove. Is it possible that those who seek such laws don’t see those that wear baggy pants as human beings who can be reasoned with and persuaded to behave otherwise? “These people are stupid, pass a law,” the law-seekers conclude. If you want a kid to stop wearing his pants below his butt then personally get involved in his life. This is how true virtue is cultivated–from one person to another. Passing fashion laws will not cultivate character, virtue, nor wisdom. It’s an impersonal, materialist solution to a problem that needs personal attention and care.

Has anyone ever thought about the fact that saggy pants may be cry for help?

Anthony Bradley Anthony Bradley, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics in the Public Service Program at The King's College in New York City and serves as a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Dr. Bradley lectures at colleges, universities, business organizations, conferences, and churches throughout the U.S. and abroad. His books include: Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America (2010),  Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development (2011),  The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone of the Black Experience (2012), Keep Your Head Up: America's New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation (2012), Aliens in the Promised Land:  Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (forthcoming, 2013). Dr. Bradley's writings on religious and cultural issues have been published in a variety of journals, including: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Detroit News, and World Magazine. Dr. Bradley is called upon by members of the broadcast media for comment on current issues and has appeared C-SPAN, NPR, CNN/Headline News, and Fox News, among others. He studies and writes on issues of race in America, hip hop, youth culture, issues among African Americans, the American family, welfare, education, and modern slavery. From 2005-2009, Dr. Bradley was Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO where he also directed the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute.   Dr. Bradley holds Bachelor of Science in biological sciences from Clemson University, a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Westminster Theological Seminary.  Dr. Bradley also holds an M.A. in Ethics and Society at Fordham University.