Saturday, May 2, 2009

Racism in Shades of Gray

This post comes late, at least later than I would prefer; the event to which it was supposed to respond has long past. Please forgive me, but I wanted to make sure all my facts were straight. In addition, this post runs rather long. Again, please forgive me, but I have a point I am trying to make.

This post is in response to The Old Black Church’s (OBC) post on Friday, April 24. In that post, OBC brought to light a number of cases [Case 1; Case 2] in which local government leaders were attempting to make it a crime to wear sagging pants, or as described in one such proposed law and/or municipal ordinance, “[P]ants that ride below the waist exposing skin or underwear.”

In the end, OBC finally concluded that these proposed laws and municipal ordinances were inherently racist in that they targeted African Americans in general and young African American males in particular. And I agree with OBC wholeheartedly; however, I also believe there exists a gray area within that charge of racism that offers an opportunity for meaningful dialogue.

Though these proposed laws and ordinances are undoubtedly racist, and as such must be rejected accordingly, I unapologetically agree with them in spirit. Allow me to explain further by presenting a similar case.

The Jacksonville Landing is located along the river in downtown Jacksonville, Florida. It features some shops, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, and the ocassional concert. Once it was one of the most popular spots in Jacksonville. On occasion, I enjoyed taking my family there and having a good meal and then browsing the shops, catching a concert or walking along the landing to some event at the adjacent concert hall.

But then came the hordes of teenagers, mostly African American. They came in large groups, and they came cursing, fighting, and generally behaving boisterously. And then there were the reports of theft, though I believe these reports were greatly exaggerated. [Related stories: Story 1, Story 2, Story 3]

What was the public’s response? Of course, they stopped patronizing the Landing. The merchants, who were losing money, appealed to city leaders who then proposed a number of municipal ordinances meant to cure the problem.

Among these ordinances was a 6 pm curfew for unaccompanied minors 18 and under, and minors could not congregate in groups greater than three.

Is this racism? Yes, I believe it is in that the ordinances were aimed particularly at young African Americans. Nevertheless, I still agree with them in spirit.

What are we to do when the very laws targeting a group of people actually work in our favor? What if these laws actually performed those actions we should be performing ourselves? No one should have to tell these young men (and increasingly young women) to pull their pants up. This is a parental function. They look absolutely disgraceful and slovenly with their pants hanging down. I am tired of seeing young African American males with their pants hanging off them and their underwear showing. So, I am almost positive white folks are offended too. So should we become angry when white folks finally get fed up with it and decide to act?

Similarly, I enjoyed spending time at the Landing. However, these young people targeted by the municipal ordinance managed to absolutely ruin that experience. How many times did my wife and I look at each other and declare something should be done? So, how can I get upset when something finally is done?

You see, racism is not always simply black or white. Both sets of proposed laws and/or municipal ordinances are racist, yet in the same instance, they address problems and issues which desperately need to be addressed and remedied by someone at some level.
So, I understand and agree with the cry of racism by African Americans, and on the other hand, I understand the impetus driving those laws and municipal ordinances and in some cases agree with them. And it’s all so confusing to me. I can’t figure out which side of the fence I should be standing on.


Anonymous said...

Racism is white supremacy and white supremacy is racism.

As much as I detest the sight, images and feelings of at best arrested development and worst, another insidious attack upon black male masculinity that are evoked when I see young black men not honoring social contracts regarding proper decorum (i.e wild style of dress and hair, loud and usually profanity laced open air conversations) in public, I fear being a reactionary much more. Is the self determination sought by these young people much different than that of people who wore Afros? Isn't our society based upon determining the proper balance between self determination and refraining from infringing upon the rights of others?

I don't believe that the city should have involved themselves so quickly. It sets a bad precedent. I go out of my way to shop at the local Target to avoid the foolishness that often defines your shopping experience at Walmart. With that in mind, couldn't these issues been solved by instituting a dress code and adjusting your price points? Not the most practical solution, especially in this economy, but I think that its worth more discussion and investigation.

This issue is certainly polemical.

Max Reddick said...


You said,

"Is the self determination sought by these young people much different than that of people who wore Afros?"

I never thought of it that way. In that regards, I guess you are right. I guess every generation stages their own rebellion against authority in some way or another. But what about the basic laws of respect? We rebelled when I was a young man; however, we did maintain a healthy respect for our elders.

Also, if you will take a look at related story number 1. In that article, it shows a picture of a thirteen year old girl as she waits for an adult to pick her up. In her care is a seven year old, a nine year old, and a four year old. Someone obviously dropped them there. I do not know if you are a parent or not, but what parent would leave those young children in the care of a thirteen year old?

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