Stuff White People Like #104: Wondering When Minorities Will Stop Doing Weird Shit

By Jesse Taylor
Tuesday, June 17, 2008 0:31 EDT
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imageBelle Waring notes some hope in the power of Negrosity on the horizon: Mickey Kaus is hoping and Mary Battiata is wondering (the distinction is different, as Kaus seems like a befuddled white guy who just really hates the silly shit some black people do, while Battiata seems cluelessly naive about the whole matter) whether or not Barack Obama’s election will do away with the baggy clothes and hippity-hop gun music.

Lately I’ve been wondering what an Obama White House might mean for the future of bling. For the fate of heavy gold, medallions, below-the-butt denim, the whole hip-hop gangsta fashion habit.

Given that we don’t elect The Official Black President until summer of 2010 (the election is actually scheduled for the same day as Election Day this year, but, you know, Colored People Time), I don’t think that Obama’s election will give the final nod for all of Black America to get our grown man on. Black monoliths do not run the entire black community, even if we all can recite one of several Chris Rock jokes at the drop of a kufi.

What if January 20, 2009 turned out to be not just a cultural and clothing pivot point for adults — a return to the minimalism of sleek, 60s-era sharkskin suits, the containment of golf-ball sized Barbara Bush costume pearls — but a watershed fashion moment for teenaged boys? Picture it. On Inauguration Day next year, thousands and thousands of young men and boys from city street corners to suburbs, look up from their X-Boxes and catch a glimpse of the impeccable President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama climbing the steps of the Capitol and suddenly feel… unfashionable. Out of it. Old.

Because we all know where black teenage males in the hood get their inspiration from – famous middle-aged people. I’ll never forget when I was a kid and everyone was in those Cosby sweaters…man, that was a hot ass summer.

What if they are overcome by the same stunned, something’s-happening-here feeling that teenagers in the early 60s, their closets full of sock hop regalia, felt when they first laid eyes on The Beatles in 1964, on the nationally televised Ed Sullivan Show.

Motherfucker, are you out of your blessed fucking mind? The “gangsta” style and the “bling” you so thankfully appropriated from Weezy and the Hot Boyz are not the fashion choices of 1950s white America. The oversized white tee you see is not from Black Hollister, much as you might wish. It hearkens back to prison time, when gang members wore baggy clothes because that’s what the DOC gave them. And prison, thankfully, is not the black sock hop.

Baggy clothes and the hip-hop culture are statements about the pervasiveness and inescapability of crime in black inner-city neighborhoods. The shit ain’t keen, dumbass.

For adults, this kind of moment is, at most, something to take note of. To a teenager, it’s a gale force warning of imminent social tsunami, an urgent prod from the eyeballs and the amygdala that to everything there is a season, and now is the time to change, change, change. Ask not what you can do for your closet, but what your closet, if ignored, can do to you.

From a friend to a jackass, this is the season of shutting the fuck up.

The relationship of clothing to behavior is real. Clothes may not “make the man,” but they shape the mind in ways large and small. Ask any stay-at-home parent, freelance writer or invalid who has spent one too many days in baggy sweats and stained T-shirts and begins to notice (in a semi-alarmed, detached sort of way, of course) a dwindling of discipline and energy. The well-known Rx for this condition is a shower and a change into grown-up clothes, the kind with seams that may pinch the body, but can help focus the head.

Maybe they can go get a job serving at the malt shop, too! You know, right next to where Punkinhead got shot last Friday.

Until Barack Obama came along, the most visible pop culture exemplar of 1960s suit-and-tie style was the tightly-wound Rev. Louis Farrakhan. But Farrakhan, for all his former high visibility, was never mainstream. It’s no surprise that he failed to inspire a national craze for slim suits and buffed oxfords.

There’s a black man up top pointing at you. It’s not a gun.

Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor is an attorney and blogger from the great state of Ohio. He founded Pandagon in July, 2002, and has also served on the campaign and in the administration of former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. He focuses on politics, race, law and pop culture, as well as the odd personal digression when the mood strikes.
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