Are There Any Worthwhile Arguments Against Sagging?


I got into a disagreement today with some Grown Black Folks over this anti-sagging picture. A facebook friend of mine whom I don’t know at all posted this image, and though it wasn’t the first time I’d seen it, I couldn’t let it slide without saying something – partially for fear that if I didn’t say something, no one in his circle would. I expressed my discomfort with the image, noting its implication that sagging is bad because sagging is gay. To which he responded, it implies that those who created the fad were convicts who wanted to signal they were sexually available. To which I asked why that information would discourage me from sagging. To which he replied that if I was okay “copying convicts who are looking for sex with other convicts” then it wouldn’t. For him, however, that’s discouragement enough.

… Huh?

Beyond the question of whether the historical claim is even accurate, this little piece of propaganda is wrong on so many levels. For one, it implies that something is wrong with incarcerated people. Because people in “jail” doing whatever they may do is somehow worse than people outside of “jail” doing those same things.  It also implies that receiving anal penetration is something to be ashamed of. Though the ad manages to avoid using pronouns, it seems clear to me that it is directed at men and refers to men in “jail.”  Hence, it’s not only that anal penetration is wrong and doubly wrong in jail but also, it’s worse to be the “bottom.” And not only is it worse to be the bottom but it’s also, perhaps separately, wrong to let others know you are available for sex. Is it just me or do none of these implications make sense? Why is letting people know you are available for sex a bad thing? Should we not want sex? Or should we only seek it in private with people we already know? Is anal penetration, like, wrong? Or only when cismen are penetrated by the biopenises of other cismen? I mean, seriously. Shouldn’t the concern be that people are making safer sex choices with those who also want to? Or am I missing something?

As for sagging itself – which this image is only mildly about – I have yet to hear a convincing argument against it. Is there even a way to think about sagging in the US outside of the context of respectability politics? What, exactly, is the matter with it besides the problematic, racially-charged stigma people attach to it? Or is the stigma itself the problem people want to avoid?




Jalen is a writer and DJ based in Los Angeles, California.

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  • Janet Thompson

    There is no reason to believe that sagging pants have anything to do with sexual invitation. They are an identification with the prison population, yes, but prisoners have their belts taken away so they can’t hang themselves or beat someone else with them, and prisoners lose weight because prison food is horrible, and so between not having belts and losing weight, their pants slide down. The message in sagging pants in the outside world is that we are not free, and we are hungry, and as James Brown once said, “You can’t be liberated — broke,” and we care about our incarcerated brothers and sisters. That’s the whole story right there. Sexuality is where you see it, people, and your fears (and possibly obsessions?) are making you misread the signals.

  • April

    I also think the supposed sexual connotation of sagging pants is specious, and I’m not a fan of the graphic. However, I think sagging falls under three categories of stigma/taboo:

    1) perceived impropriety regarding appearance—revealing undergarments in public is generally seen as tacky or uncouth
    2) the stigma attached to prison culture
    3) the stigma attached to styles associated with black men

    I think 3) is certainly a problem; there’s nothing inherently wrong with, say, a do-rag. 1) is basically a matter of custom. 2) to me has some justification. Being/having been incarcerated does not automatically make someone a bad or less worthy person. But I don’t think supporting those who have been incarcerated, especially those wrongfully imprisoned, to turn their lives around necessitates embracing prison culture, which is quite toxic. Because sagging is widely perceived to have originated from prison culture, adopting that style tends to indicate an identification with that culture. I think that why there’s so much push-back against sagging: to its detractors, it represents a conflation of prison culture and black culture. There is a dissonance between protesting others’ association of criminality with blackness and embracing a style associated with criminality.

    Now, rejecting sagging wouldn’t eliminate the association between blackness and criminality in US society at large—which is why respectability politics are so flawed. But I think it’s valid to question the implications of adopting a style that is still widely associated with prison culture. I think there is also an argument to be made that sagging has long surpassed those origins. In that case, however, there’s still taboo #1 (as listed above).