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Why the ‘Pick Up Your Pants’ Rant Falls Short

Emil Photo Again Edited 61b7dabb61239

What’s your style? Baggy pants and N-word user? Modified suburban gangsta?

We’ve had a reprise of the Bill Cosby rant, most recently by Fox News icon Bill O’Reilly, who was then backed up by CNN’s Don Lemon.

O’Reilly, who has recently made a career move by writing on the killing of Presidents Kennedy and Lincoln, is hardly a sympathetic character when it comes to his view of Blacks, diversity or on any issue of race in this country.

But since he knows all about assassination, his assassination of Black culture should come as no surprise.

His latest rant put the Black community’s problems on the “disintegration of the African-American family,” drugs and the entertainment community’s embrace of gangsta culture.

Maybe he’s just afraid of how gangsta style is being adopted by suburban Whites through pop stars like Justin Bieber?

Of course, commentators like Chris Hayes slammed O’Reilly’s views as “super racist.”

But it was CNN’s Lemon, who is both gay and a Black man who lives in Harlem (he likes to mention that a lot), who had the most surprising response.

“He’s got a point; in fact, he’s got more than a point,” Lemon said of O’Reilly, saying the Fox commentator didn’t go far enough.

“Black people, if you really want to fix the problem, here’s just five things that you should think about doing,” Lemon proclaimed.

Lemon’s five: hike up your pants, finish school, don’t use the N-word, take care of communities (like not litter), and don’t have children out of wedlock.

The list sounds sensible, and may even have a ring of truth—for a second.

Yes, you can pick up your pants, dress up better. You can wear a tie (just a fancified corporate noose for some). Essentially, you can clean up your act.

But here’s what the Don Lemons and the Bill Cosbys don’t seem to get.

Yes, all that helps.

And then what?

Most people hear Cosby rant, and say “Amen.” (I don’t get the baggy pants thing either. And it looks worse if you’re middle aged.)

But if most people just stop there, all you’ve done is scratch the surface. Picking up your pants, ditching the hoody for the J. Crew skinny suit, is all just show biz.

You’re still who you are on the inside, and you’re still the color you are.

That’s what racists really react to.

What makes Lemon’s remarks offensive is he buys into the style thing as if changing the exterior is really going to change how people treat you. That’s not even skin deep.

You want to get to the core problems of the Black community, it seems to me there’s heavier work to do than picking up your pants.

Saying “Hike up your pants” is easy. That doesn’t address real issues things like the massive incarceration of Black men in the U.S., chronic underemployment, and access to education, not just higher education.

That’s the heavy stuff.

It’s easier to address style issues and hope that, by changing our clothes or picking up our pants, the bad stuff will go away and things will get better.

They will to a point. Maybe you will feel better when you see others like Justin Beiber adopting your style.

But looking for real answers comes after pulling your pants up.

And no one ever seems to want to go much further than that.

Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist who writes for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund at

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