September 6, 2007 — Vol. 43, No. 4
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Melvin B. Miller
Editor & Publisher

A fashion mis-statement

Now that school is in session once again, there is considerable concern about what the students will be wearing. In the past, officials have prohibited miniskirts, body piercings and gang-related insignia and colors on clothes. This year, the focus is on sagging jeans that fall so low they expose underwear.

Some towns have enacted ordinances against the style. Offenders in Delcambre and Mansfield, La., will be subjected to a fine and possible imprisonment. A black city councilman in Atlanta, C.T. Martin, would like to impose similar restrictions there.

As might be expected, the American Civil Liberties Union has been on the side of the teenagers, who insist that they have an unlimited right to choose their style of dress. However, opponents argue that exposing underwear violates the indecency laws. Any court case would probably be decided in favor of the youth as long as no skin is bared.

This is a classic coming of age battle. Youth must do something to challenge the authority of the older generation, but sadly, few seem aware of the price they must pay. In an age when respect is so important, a young man attired in baggy jeans summarily loses the respect of many adults.

Back in the day, it was common for African Americans, regardless of their level of education and income, to disport themselves with extraordinary dignity. Even if their language was ungrammatical at times, it was never laced with curses. And their clothing, especially for the ladies, was somewhat demure.

The members of the Nation of Islam still adhere to those standards, and they have the respect of the whole black community. The law will undoubtedly permit young blacks to wear the baggy jeans look, and their peers might admire them for it, but educated and professional African Americans will never see them as dignified and deserving of special respect.

A losing strategy

A major task of elected legislators is to promote the economic development of their constituents. In Congress, there has been considerable debate about the earmarks that inflate the budget. In state legislatures and city councils, politicians often withhold support for programs unless there is assurance that the interests of their supporters will be served.

However, such matters do not seem to concern African American elected officials in Boston. Black enterprise did not benefit substantially from the $14.6 billion Big Dig, the $875 million Boston Convention and Exhibition Center or the $178 million Boston University biolab. Successful participation requires a more cooperative relationship with other politicians.

For example, black politicians lost out on the biolab because they adamantly opposed its construction. Their assertion was that it imposed too great a health threat. They proffered scant substantive evidence in support of their position. A recently released report by the National Institutes of Health (“Feds’ report says BU biolab safe for S. End,” Aug. 30, 2007) indicates that assertions about the danger from lethal pathogens are greatly exaggerated.

Clearly, opposition to construction of the biolab in the South End was a mistake. If African Americans are to prosper, they must quickly move away from the predilection to be a victim. It is time for higher, more assertive standards.


“Hey man, I thought we wuz stylin’.”

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