Black Architecture

This is a paper I wrote for a Diversity in Design Competition:

Keep Saggin- how a rapper, Lil B, encapsulates the essence of Black Architecture

Is there such a thing as Black Architecture? If architecture is defined by the built form of semi-permanent buildings, there is no such thing as Black Architecture. If architecture is defined as a mark of culture, then it can be found in sagging pants.

As a race of people, this including any person in this country feeling unable to express themselves fully, blacks have not established any new architecture. As an aspiring designer this is a blessing and curse. It shows the inherent disconnection of anything historical involving the black experience. Our history is only tied to being oppressed and tortured. As Malcolm X put it, they took our names, our religion, our language and our national identity when we came to America. We cannot go ‘back to Africa’, on one level because our racial lineage, like everyone else, is pulled from so many countries and places within and without Africa, that it doesn’t make sense. On another level, the time spent here in America has been enough to set a brand new trajectory of culture that simply does not exist anywhere except in the United States. Here is why this matters: the place we call home is the place of all of our nightmares.

So what does this have to do with design? I believe design is the mode of expression, how to physically encapsulate the zeitgeist. Understanding this, and understanding black history, a history of oppression (whether real or imagined), we can look at the ways in which culture and design sensibilities develop.

The crown of cultural expression is in the built form, architecture. It serves as the ultimate ‘permanent’ show of a freedom, a sovereignty of a community. As a people, we have not yet reached this plateau. I’m not saying black people do not have houses, I’m saying a prescribed program based on a ‘western’ ideal has always been used to develop these buildings. There isn’t free expression, it is assumptive and aligning to an overarching power structure that is not representative of a certain experience of a group of this nation.

So, what happens when the crown of expression is not achieved? Everything under it is over achieved. That is the reason our cars are coated in ‘candy’ paint, why they have 28” rims, why the stereo needs to be blaring. It is the reason our clothes are so vivid, patterned, baggy or skinny. It is why our music has so many curse words, such illusions of grandeur. It is why we have an entire vocabulary and word structure. In essence, it is loud. We are screaming at the oppression. Our expression is a response. We are trying everything we can do to say, “We are here”, in absence of a physical representation of that.

What is inherently ‘bad’ about sagging pants? You can point to prison culture. You can point to statistics about gang affiliation or crime or violence. You can say it’s not merely a coincidence. Sagging pants is the essence of Black Architecture. It takes a system of dress, and is simply about altering that system towards signifying identity. It is making something when given nothing.

The song ‘Keep Saggin’ by the artist Lil B is about deconstructing and explaining the harmlessness of the sagging pants style.

He starts the song with:

‘Keep talkin’ the past, but we livin’ in the future’

I interpret this as him saying, the meaning of sagging pants can be new, it doesn’t have to be dragged from the prison or criminal culture.

‘Got hated on with my niggas in here

But understand that shit, it's what I wear

You act like-whatever, but truth is there

Family at war and troops is dead

Feel me? Why I'm saggin I won't answer man

This is just my kilt’

‘The earth - no love - this is how I feel

Everybody tryna say I belong to this

You belong to that, we in the group with this

We gon' call you that

And we gon' act like this

You gon' act like this

You don't understand’

Lil B is being judged unfavorably for a simple fashion statement. He brings up a valid parallel about the Scottish kilt. It is just as jarring in this society for a man to wear a dress as it is to sag. The only difference is, the kilt is respected because it is worn by a sovereign people. He mentions family problems and violence encapsulating the culture he lives in. And notes that while the truth is presented of his environment, they brush it off and still judge and prejudge.

‘The door started open when my cash got right

They should've open doors for my people last night’

The only way to be accepted culturally is for your monetary worth to be significant. He wishes they would just accept the blacks for who they are instead before they attain status.

‘Live your own life and don't worry bout acceptance'

The nature of the sagging of pants is a direct affront to what is deemed appropriate for acceptance in society. Lil B advocates an acceptance within, and an acceptance and understanding that embraces differences in culture.

‘And I'm not with the rape or the hood

Going to the hood, and shit on the hood

Oil refineries, the water no good

It's a lot of love but no money in the hood

No focus man, when they come down too

Rather stay in your house, than go walk around’

He mentions the poor conditions that people live in that shows the necessity of any form of expression to satisfy the spirit. The air, water, visuals, and communal spirit, are tainted in this environment. At this point it is a show of survival, a pride in this, which makes sagging turn into a badge of honor.

‘Wear my saggy pants

I'm a keep saggin, I'm a keep saggin

Fuck that it's fashion’

Lil wraps up the song with these last lines. Sagging is simply a fashion statement, just like high heels or a suit and tie. Yet the society we live in restricts sagging from schools and the work place for its arguably false connotations. And if the connotations are true, Lil B is arguing that if you can understand the struggle, you can understand the need for expression that sagging of pants offers.

Sagging pants is a mark of culture, it is a mark of a person who can define themselves. This runs counter to the history of being black in America. The struggle for sagging pants is a microcosm of the struggle of acceptance, representation of a race in a society that it is oppressed in. Sagging pants is what the black experience is about. Sagging pants is Black Architecture.