For millions of young people, all around the world, the face of Black America (and increasingly, Blacks almost everywhere urban) is 'gangsta.'
This is seen in clothes, heard in speech, and even observed in how people walk on the streets. What we are witnessing is the power of culture to move across boundaries, and also, the power of America's entertainment empires to push these images to the farthest reaches of the Earth.
In some ways, it also reflects certain realities of urban life at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. It reflects the continuing power of Black culture to set the parameters of coolness, for to be Black in a society constructed upon the illusion of whiteness, is the ultimate degree of Otherness; the polar opposite.
But where does this gangsta thing come from?
Many would be surprised to learn that the roots of the most notorious urban gangs of the last quarter century, the Crips and the Bloods, was the Black Panther Party. In late 1969, a South Central L.A. community meeting place was set up, called Community Relations for an Independent People. The center attracted many young people, as a place to hang out, rap. As more and more youth were attracted to the center, the acronym of the center itself, came to represent those young people: C.R.I.P.s. In the early days, the uniform/street clothes of the CRIPs reflected its main influence; the Black Panthers.
In 1973, after so many young dudes joined this new set, leading members tried to steer it back to a community-service, radical orientation. They published a new CRIP Constitution, and defined themselves as: Community Reform Inner-Party Service (CRIPS). In this Constitution, these members, many of whom had come out of jail after studying the plight of their people, pledged to serve their people, instead of hurting and exploiting them. In the 'Purpose and Objectives' segment of this document, the reoriented CRIPs wrote:
We are a party [sic] thats purpose is to serve our communities in general.
Our services will be to provide therapy to social ill, guidance in
struggling to correct those ills, and love and peace for our community.
Needless to say, things didn't really work out that way.
What has spread, from coast to coast, is nihilism, anger, anti-Black violence, and the economic engine of the drug business, which is but a chemical weapon against Black communal life.
Sanyika Shakur, once a CRIP, now a Black nationalist, asks rhetorically, "Had we not begun as predators of New Afrikans [Blacks] would we have been allowed to last this long?"* He announced, in 1993, the reformation of the CRIPs into the Clandestine Revolutionary Internationalist Party Soldiers. (I doubt there will be many rap videos about those kinda gangstas!).
Every few decades, such street groups try to reorganize, reform, and resurrect themselves, but something gets in their way. The greatest enemy to such a reformation is the State, which helped destroy its forerunner, the Party.
Now, the power of media projects the most mindless image possible of such people. They are mindnumbingly materialistic, sexist, and revel in the imagery of violence against their communities. And, as our loving fascination for things expands, our caring about people decreases. Things matter. Bling matters.
Videos project, not our wealth, but our inherent poverty, for it is only poor people who feel the *need* to flash; for the truly wealthy have learned that to flash is the sign of the nouveau riche; those to whom wealth is newly acquired.
Moreover, there is a deadly twist in the lure of gangsta life; it opens the door to prison, or the grave, and feeds the containment industry -- the prison industrial complex -- the institutional descendant of slave plantations, that feeds on Black pain and Black loss.
Meanwhile, the biggest Gangsta on the planet, the U.S. Empire, gobbles nations like bon-bons; invades countries like crossing the street, and treats the Constitution like toilet paper.
Now, *that's* gangsta!
-Mumia Abu Jamal