Privilege: In One Story (with Pictures!)

[Awhile ago, Zuzu requested a post that was originally published in June, which got lost in exile. Now recovered, I figured it was as good a time as any—and better than most—to repost it.]

Frequently, some story about some new legislation or rule or initiative to stop this or discourage that or address the horrendo plague that wev has become will elicit from one group or another charges of sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. And those charges will in turn elicit charges of hypersensitivity, overreaction, "looking to get offended," etc. from members of the privileged group so inured to their privilege, they don't even recognize it.

But along has come the perfect story to demonstrate exactly what privilege really is, in a nutshell. So to speak.

Mr. Carol Broussard, mayor of a Louisiana town called Delcambre, is set to sign into law a new ordinance unanimously passed by the Delcambre town council which will make it a crime to wear trousers that show underwear, punishable by a $500 fine and up to six months in jail. When some residents complained that the ordinance was racially-motivated, targeting blacks who wear the baggy trousers "fashionable among hip hop fans," Broussard dismissed them with the inevitable: "White people wear sagging pants, too."

Indeed. In fact, my first thought was that it was intended to target women who wear the low-slung jeans fashionable among, uh, the fashionable. And lest you think that Broussard was thinking of white people other than women, he told the AP that people who wear low-slung trousers would be "better off taking the pants off and just wearing a dress." And something tells me Broussard isn't directing that recommendation at teh boyz.

Ultimately, though, it's really the timing of the thing that speaks to privilege. You see, it was only after this

…and this

…came on the scene that passing an ordinance against showing off your underpants and/or asscrack to the world become a legislative priority in the town of Delcambre, only after the appearance of black boys' (and black-emulating white boys') underpants and girls' underpants and asscracks did improperly fitting trousers become such a cause for concern among the vapors-and-fainting-couches set. Decades of this

…in offices, and this

…in homes and workplaces, and this

…in public, just never seemed to spawn the same kind of alarmism. I don't recall having ever heard in all my days a proposal to, for example, require plumbers to wear belts, and not just the tool-hauling kind, or having ever read a hang-wringing editorial on the offensive fashion choices of middle-aged white men. (I do recall a rather amusing SNL sketch though, prominently featuring Dan Aykroyd's ass.)

Undoubtedly, there's someone thinking, "But those guys aren't trying to show off their asscracks," as if intent is a viable explanation for the difference. Thing is, if the issue were genuinely indecent exposure, and how its routine disregard hurts the whole community, as claim the defenders of this proposal, then it should be worthy of attention even when it isn't deliberate. Why never a "shirt must past your buttocks" ordinance to have dealt with the many revealed Delcambre asscracks of yore? Because it's not about white men with plumber's arse. It's about condemning expressions of (one facet of) blackness and (one facet of) female sexuality.

In a very real way, that's privilege: Getting to show your ass in public without officially sanctioned condemnation of it for decades.

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