Don’t Tell Me That Clothes Don’t Matter

August 1, 2013

My friend Jay Smooth is an insanely insightful commentator on race and society, and in this video, he hits an absolute home run. His putative subject is a comment made by CNN anchor Don Lemon, but he’s really taking on a larger issue. What does it mean to say “pull your pants up” to young black men? What is the real meaning of “respectability politics.”

Jay makes what I think is an incredibly incisive, cut-to-the-heart argument that when we (the privileged, whatever our color) say something like that in the context of something like the Trayvon Martin case, we aren’t actually trying to help other people. Our concern doesn’t lie with “the youth of today” or “single mothers” or whatever. We’re trying to help ameliorate the pain that we feel when ignore the needs of other people. And we’re trying to do so by laying it on them.

Bravo, Jay.

All of this insight drawn, by the way, from our attitudes about droopy pants. So don’t tell me that clothes don’t matter.