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Indecent Exposure

Black news - commentary on indecent exposure and bansAlso that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing. (I Timothy 2:9, NRSV)

A woman shall not wear a man's apparel, nor shall a man put on a woman's garment; for whoever does such things is abhorrent to the LORD your God. (Deut 22:5, NRSV)

Throughout scripture, there are standards of how one should dress. Dress codes were in force for different occasions and for different professions. Dress codes were enforced for the priests of Israel as they served before the temple on behalf of the people. Similar to biblical clothing - there are dress standards within modern American culture such as for civil servants, fire-fighters and police officers, dental and hospital workers, restaurant workers and even delivery service folks like the Post Office and FedEx.

Last week, Dublin, Georgia became the latest city to ban sagging pants. The small Georgian town has joined the ranks of only a few other cities across America to ban this practice under its indecent exposure legislation. (Other cities include Delcambre and Mansfield, Louisiana.) The ban comes on the heels of a steady stream of complaints by the town's residents. According to the town's mayor, Phil Best, during a September 6th CNN interview, "It's time we all have a mutual respect for each other ... what a person does in the privacy of their home is fine . . . But if I had an 8-year-old daughter, I don't think she needs to be subjected to looking at someone's rear end."

Critics of the mayor's position decry that it targets a certain segment and population within the city and likely will lead a policy endorsing racial profiling. According to the CNN story, one volunteer who works with young Black men in that city said "they're the ones wearing the sagging, baggy pants." News of the growing intolerance of this type dress also appeared in an August 30th New York Times article entitled "Are Your Jeans Sagging? Go Directly to Jail." In this story a 17 year old named Jamarcus, from Louisiana, takes issue with being told what he can wear and how he can wear it. The high school sophomore asserts that it's up to the person wearing the pants. Between the cities where the ban is upheld, fines can reach up to $500 for the offence.

Despite the Times' mention of its prison origins, certain visible proponents in the Black community oppose the ban. Along with the ACLU, which says that this policy attacks certain dress styles among African American youth culture, the Hip Hop Summit Action Network director, Benjamin Chavis, (a group established by Hip Hop mogul Russell Simmons) and Michael Eric Dyson also stand in opposition to the ban. Chavis (former NAACP Chairman) thinks the ban to be offensive; "I think to criminalize how a person wears their clothing is more offensive than what the remedy is trying to do." Chavis' position, similar to Dyson, a Georgetown University Professor, appears to endorse pathology thus empowering and at the same time inflicting a crippling stigma upon an entire generation of young African American boys.

Neither Chavis nor Dyson sport the banned attire, nor am I sure that they think this attire will open doors to professional jobs like theirs. Like street hustlers posing as intelligible professionals, folks like Chavis and Dyson have been able to capitalize economically by way of exploiting of this culture, by way of economic gain. Are there some within our community that exhibit the portrait of what Jesus described in Matthew 7:9-10 "Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?" (NRSV). Are we as a community guilty of feeding our young stones instead of bread or snakes instead of fish or promoting indecent exposure instead of professionalism?

[Dr. Jamal-Dominique Hopkins is Director of J.D.Institute and is a Professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, GA. He is the author of "Ecclesiastes" in the African Bible: Reading Israel's Scriptures through Africa and the African Diaspora (Fortress Press), 2009, and "Duty or Responsibility? The African American Evangelical's Identity" in the Journal of African American Christian Thought 1 (2009). Hopkins is available for preaching, lecturing, speaking or conducting workshops or seminars. You may contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .]


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