Standing in line at McDonald’s Monday, I noticed a teenage boy who walked behind the counter, grabbed a cup and served himself a drink. Apparently arriving for his soon-to-start shift, the young man came around to the customer area and seemed to be waiting to talk to one of his co-workers.
He was dressed as most teenagers his age are these days — fly tennis shoes, black socks, dry fit shirt, Beats By Dre headphones and calf-length shorts pulled down below his butt. I’ve become rather ambivalent to how young people dress and it’s not my place to say anything, but the pants below the waist thing just makes them look stupid.
And then a funny thing happened.
A UPS driver who was finishing his meal and putting away his tray came over to the young man and whispered something. The young man pulled his pants up and apologized to the man. A few minutes later after the pants had fallen back down below the waist, an elderly gentlemen standing beside me got the young man’s attention and said, loud enough for me to hear at least, “Pull your pants up, young man. Have some pride.”
Again, the young man obliged and respectfully apologized. He didn’t even appear to have an eye-rolling, begrudging compliance. He was respecting his elders.
While obvious to some of you, it’s fair for me to point out that all three men in question here were African-American. Typically, I don’t think race has anything to do with stories I tell. But this time it does.
A white person would never say something like that to young white man. I even pointed out in the story that it wasn’t my place to say anything. Perhaps I feel that way because the young man was black and I am not. But even if he were white — and I’ve seen plenty of young white men dressed the same way — I wouldn’t have said anything. I would have just rolled my eyes (at most) or ignored him (at least).
But these two older, black gentlemen care about how young, black gentlemen represent themselves. They care about their community. They know that history or circumstance already works against them, why exacerbate the problem by letting young people give society more reason to pile on?
While what I noticed was a distinct difference in their race versus mine, it made me feel more proud to be a part of the same community as them rather than different.
I envy those two older men. They have a more pronounced sense of community pride — or perhaps it’s racial pride, but I don’t wish to confine it that way — than I. I also envy the younger man. Because he has a community looking out for him.
Here’s hoping we all see and appreciate that more, regardless of what color we are.
April 1, 2014