When Do Rags Do Wrong


That’s what everybody who ascends from obscurity to fame says they want – a chance at living a normal life, without the demands and pressures that stardom brings. Plaxico Burress is the latest superstar to succumb to the rigors of celebrity, shooting himself in the leg with a gun he carried for protection against possible enemies while he was at a New York nightclub last Friday night.

It isn’t just our movie stars and sports figures and recording artists who feel this way – even Barack Obama himself has acknowledged that he too would sometimes like to be able to enjoy something simple, like taking a walk in the park with his daughters.

For those of us who do not inhabit such stratospheric heights, this yearning may come across as naiveté, or worse, be considered an act designed to elicit sympathy from the public. After all, most of us would gladly trade some of our more mundane moments for a few of their star crossed ones.

The thing that Barack Obama has been talking about lately – the danger of being trapped in a presidential “bubble”, with all communication from the outside world filtering through ten to twelve key aides who report directly to the president – is also a phenomenon that is associated with modern celebrityhood.

Guys with long telephoto lenses and a total lack of moral boundaries stalk the famous twenty four hours a day, hoping to be the first to catch someone famous doing something out of the ordinary on film because…well, because the magazines and entertainment shows who buy their work use these photos to keep our attention long enough for it to translate into increased ratings or enlarged viewerships.

These young men, from Mike Tyson to Ray Lewis to Michael Vick to Plaxico Burress, may be portrayed as thugs, hoodlums, or gangsters, but I would posit that they are also afraid of what is out here, waiting for them at every turn. And some of this yearning for normalcy comes in spite of participation in all kinds of abnormal behavior.

Like wearing a doo rag with your street clothes.

I included Ray Lewis in this list because the Baltimore Ravens star defensive player has been able to take full advantage of the notion of redemption that undergirds America’s criminal justice system.

Lewis lived the high life as well as anybody until the fateful New Year’s Eve right here in Atlanta back in 2000, when Lewis and members of his “posse” were charged with murder in the Buckhead nightclub killing that year. He was the first active NFL player to ever stand trial for murder.

This high profile brush with the law, which riveted audiences to Court TV in the summer of 2000, changed Lewis. He was found not guilty of all major charges. He ditched his “posse”. He moved his mom in with him. He began to pray daily. And he refocused on his career, leading the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl championship just a year later.

In a television interview a few years ago, Lewis acknowledged that he had finally come to terms with the responsibility that came with fame and fortune, and the constraints that it imposed on him.

So when I look at the tall, handsome, physically accomplished athlete that is Plaxico Burress, I don't see an idiot, or a career criminal - I see arrested development. The problems he has been having at home lately, speaking from my own experience, sound more like the conflicts that a young man has when he is trying to do the right thing by his family AND relive the his glory days at the same time.

The gunshot wound will heal, pretty much on its own. But this other thing, this restlessness, this need to be "in the mix", is something many of us have had to deal with by making a conscious effort to change what we are doing and what we believe in.

I'd start with that scruff on your chin, Plaxico. Just whack that thing off, because your chin is the prow of your vessel, your own ship, and right now its not headed in the right direction.

Then I'd trash the do rags, partly because you've still got a nice head of hair left that you need to show off, but mostly because there is something about the act of pulling on that bit of fabric that promotes the dark forces within you to unleash themselves, something that ofetn tells those uncivilized urges to put on an impromptu exhibition when you least expect it.

Because brother, if there was ever a time in your life to do right, this is it.

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oci said...

i agree with you completely. i just hope the giants don't drop him. clearly, plax is going through something.
i've always thought that professional athletes and other celebrities needed a "How to Deal with Fame 101" course, because it is entirely too easy to lose yourself in this shuffle that is celebritydom. i would definitely trade my bank accounts with these people, but not the fame and the constant spotlight.

Brown Man said...

They do have seminars specifically tailored for rookies that deal with personal development issues, time management, and money management, but when you start handing someone hundred thousand and two hundred thousand dollar checks every week during the season, I would imagine any semblance of authority the team has can quickly go by the wayside.

I just think that we need to look at him as a wayward human being who happens to earn a lot of money for the work that he does.

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

That was a much kinder post than a couple others I've read about him. I like that, because I hate it when a celebrity gets trashed. Everyone makes mistakes.

Anonymous said...

Um, you do know that do rags have a very practical purpose, right? They help keep lint and dirt out of rows, plaits and other hair styles; they also help the style (rows, twisties, whatver) last longer. You pretty much have to wear a do rag or scarf when you go to sleep if you don't want your style to be f--ked up in a couple of days; and wearing them when out and about isn't a bad idea either.

I know plenty of people who wear rags on the regular who hold jobs, aren't thugs, etc. I'm going for my Masters in Asian Studies and will be wearing a rag on the regular when I get my haired rowed in a few weeks. Don't crap on something that has a real value just because some who wear it are morons; while you're at it you might as well s--t on Plaxico for having tattoos or wearing jewelry, hell those things (debatebly) don't even have practical purposes and you can find plenty of peeps in prison with tattoos so they must be bad right?

RiPPa said...

Brown man, you sure you're not a preacher? I'm just sayin cuz you just kinda converted me on this Plaxico thing. Lemme run up outta here before I somehow start giving you 10% of my earnings.

Brown Man said...


This is not the "Everything Black People Do Deserves A Pass" blog.

Black people have given visual diversity too much credence. If I drove an Aston Martin, I wore waterproof tuxedos, and spoke with an English accent, I wouldn't be James Bond. I'd be that negro who thinks he's James Bond.

The diversity we want is intellectual and financial and political, not visual.

There isn't a piece of cloth in this country that confer that much power on anybody.

The reality in America is the same as its always been - dress the way you want people to see you.

If you want people to see a hooker, then keep wearing those hootchie clothes.

If you want people to see a thug, then keep wearing that do rag out in public.

And if you want people to see a man who means business, buy yourself a blue suit and get a hair cut.

Barack Obama could have "kept it real", got him some gold fronts, an earring and a black do rag, and swaggered his ass all the way to...well, maybe to a guest spot on the Flavor of Love.

My best cousin wears do rags. Used to play ball in them. Sport them around the house.

But when he was out an about, his rag was back on the dresser at home, because he wanted people to SEE HIS HAIR that he worked so hard on styling.

The doo wop boys who played in the juke joints wore their do rags in the field, or in the factory, but when they went to do a show, they took them off so people could SEE THEIR HAIR that they worked so hard to keep straightened.

My parents and their siblings actually picked this cotton I keep referring to - they wore HATS, not do rags - there is almost no job that has as much dirt and lint associated with it as this one.

I've worn stocking caps myself in my youth, but I took it off as soon as I woke up to get the line it left on my forehead to disappear, and went to school where people could SEE MY HAIR that I worked so hard to brush into waves.

So unless you are picking cotton, or carding wool, or sorting boxes for UPS in that college you are attending, I would suggest that you rethink your irrational level of commitment to the do rag.

Trust me - you can get dressed in all Brooks Brothers, down to the drawers, but you will still be black.

And beautiful.

Anonymous said...

You didn't actually address my previous posts, but whatever.

Wait, why should he have to conform to please another people's/culture's aesthetic sensibilities? Plenty of people have been stupid in the past WITHOUT the do rag. Good old OJ Simpson tended to dress more "professionally" out in public and kept his hair short and "clean" and that didn't do him too well. Its not about clothes or conforming to some visual cultural standard, its about the individual and their mentality. In the meantime, s--ting on a piece of clothing with a very practical purpose for the sake of misguided cultural conformity is wrong. Being a good, hard working non-thug negro and wearing a do rag are not mutually exclusive things, and when write articles that essentializes a piece of clothing as all that's wrong with black people then you lose a lot of good hard working negros.

Put it like this (and somewhat going back to my original post). I walked across the stage to receive my BS with an afro. I'll probably walk across the stage to get my MA wearing cornrows or plaits; might even have a do rag on. Am I somehow on the wrong path in the life? My professional barber with college experience who has a family and owns a nice house out in the burbs--and wears a do rag. Is he on the wrong path in life? My best friend with no record who works in sales and makes good money--and wears a do rag (rarely to work, but most of the time I see him he has the rag on to protect the style), is he on the wrong path?

You really are demanding superflous cultural conformity and wrongly essentializing a decent piece of cloth that has no responsibility to the actions of a stupid few who wear it. Again, might as well get angry at Plaxico for having tattoos or wearing jewlry; plenty of people who do bad things have those, right?

ng2000 said...

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