14 Jul 2011
- Written by Tony Nichelson
This quote and parable is well known, but every generation or so we have to remind ourselves of this truth. I pen this commentary as a full-grown, most-times-mature African-American male. I have the same cultural deficiencies and flaws as any other man in America, and certainly, as any African-American man.
I don’t have anything against men wearing cargo shorts or knee-length jean shorts as a style, per se. But there’s a time and a place for (almost) everything, and mid-day, mid-week, year-round is not the time… in my opinion. If one is on vacation, traveling, or home for the day after an early work shift, then almost any style of dress is appropriate (except hair rollers in public, or house shoes when you’re out of the house).
My issue goes more to the “appearance” of urban males, aged 15 to 50, and the “personal philosophy” that rings clear when the image of cut-off shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops at 9:30 in the morning says he has no particular place to be. Not only that, but the widely-recognized clothing standard of the button-down shirt with slacks, or even the “polo-type” shirt with khaki pants, is a look that my guys wouldn’t even consider… even if it was sure to open new doors for them.
There are many times when I’m in a store or at an event, and I’m “people-watching” (as my dearly departed mother called it), and I literally can’t tell the men from the women. I see grown men wearing “wife-beater” undershirts, braids, two earrings, and sagging pants showing me their underwear. I wonder to myself, “Who is this look designed to please? Is this look aimed at a potential mate? Is it designed to impress other men? Does this personal style give added confidence to the wearer in these public situations, or just say to the rest of us that, “I really don’t care what any of you squares think about me?’” Never realizing, of course, that the person standing in line behind them could be a potential employer.
The larger point must be the overall thinking, beliefs and preparation of the men who decide to adopt an image of “Thug Life” or urban machismo. In the 1970’s, the “Superfly” image dominated urban culture, and set a standard of behavior and appearance that has lasted to this very day.There are people whose only success in life was in the 1970’s, with home purchases, local celebrity status, and a social network that kept them “connected.” The popular R&B band Tower of Power had a hit record entitled, “What is Hip?” It summarized the mood and ethos of a generation. Today, the circumstances are very similar for urban men, with clothing, hairstyles, mannerisms, and behaviors among their ranks, that will likely stay with them for decades.
The reality is that our young men and boys simply must begin to be more serious and forward-thinking about their opportunities and future success. Grown men – at least chronologically – simply can not continue to wear “little boy clothes.” It’s time for these men to adopt a more sober approach to modern life, and groom themselves as men of substance would.
“Coo-Lots” and capri pants, flip-flops, bandanas, and the latest sneakers all speak to a choice of personal style, but these things simply are not appropriate for the next level of business or community engagement. I pray that we would all come to our senses, and start to teach our boys the right way to groom, and the right way to conduct themselves in public…including at school. Real men don’t wear “Coo-Lots” or capri pants when its time to take care of serious business. Now is a good time to start the process of re-training our boys, and teaching them how to recognize the appropriate time and place to act like men…and put away childish things.
(Tony Nichelson is founder of the 110 Institute and public affairs director for the Citadel-Memphis Radio Group.)