Not long ago I reconnected with a childhood friend whose formative years were rugged, but TC transformed and survived. Better than that he thrived.When he left my neighborhood, he got 'caught up' with Crips in Compton. The turning point came, as he tells the story, when an older kid about to do an armed robbery put a gun to TC's head and told him to go home. The person who did it was a killer gangbanger who didn't see himself replicated in young TC. Or perhaps he did, and decided to break the cycle in a moment of clarity.
This past Independence Day weekend, I found myself in Gardena at a party that reminded me of my old neighborhood, which sheltered myself and TC from the worse parts of the ghetto, but still retained elements of influence. We knew Crips by sight and by name; they recruited us. We resisted. Yet these were people who listened to Marvin Gaye and Cameo like the rest of us. They chased the same girls, played (cheating) ball on the same courts and ate the same BBQ ribs. They whistled at the same cars, and with the exception of an identifying bandana or hat, wore the same clothes. But we were miles apart in character.
Last fall, I learned a lot about how the Los Angeles office of the FBI deals with gang members in cooperation with Homeboy Industries and Father Greg Boyle. It came as something of a surprise to understand how the FBI's was a social initiative rather than a crime fighting mission. But there was no mistaking the psychological dynamics of gang attachment, the necessary alienation from civility that is central to the identity of the youth who attaches to badness.
People like to pretend that character doesn't count and that in interactions with the larger society, nobody can tell the difference between those of us on the outside of gangs and those of us on the inside because of the Venn of 'hood life and gang life. It's not the shoes and it's not the slang. I do understand that there is a definition of 'black man' that has very little to do with what it meant 30 years ago, but is an extension of a radicalized political hostility embodied in the lyrics of the rap group "Public Enemy". We really don't have to go far to understand the basic meaning of 'Public Enemy' and "Niggas With Attitude". Is it so subtle? Can we tell the difference between Richard Pryor and the highschool kid who quotes Richard Pryor? In kids, it's generally a matter of our faith in their character. Sometimes it takes a gun to the head for the consequences to me made clear and for a permanent choice to be made. Sometimes the gun isn't friendly.
Doc takes advantage of his badge and lets his perpetrators know. He makes it clear to them that you have about seven strikes before you are consigned to the wastebin of prison culture. "You fucked up today son, I hope I don't see you again, but you chose to be here. Choose better. Live better." The attitude alone will not get you there, but cops will be around if you keep showing up on the wrong side of civility. Is it enough that attitude puts one on the wrong side of civility? To be sure, the matters of character will degrade in ways no political class is truly interested in discerning, but processing through the System takes time, energy and persistence, just as does the discipline attached to the conventions of success. Recovering Christian backsliders, alcoholics, gangbangers, gamblers and whores all have long roads. Every day there are choices to be made. Every day there is positive purpose to be fulfilled or abandoned. A lot of that gets buried in the loose bonds of colloquial black identity. A lot of people get caught up.
The political consensus is lazy and prefers not to split up that black identity. It suits certain political agendas that a convenient racial aggregation can be assumed. I saw this over a decade ago and determined to poke a hole in that circus' big top. Black Republican! The very existence forced people to consider values, to consider the character of citizenship, to consider economics and religion and lots of other distinctions that disrupt the diet of racial and cultural conformity.
It doesn't surprise me that today's Americans suffer from the calculations of hegemonic identity politics. The game is populism and the game is not being gamed. It exploits logical lacunas that might even make Orwell retch. Everybody is supposed to be in favor of 'diversity' which requires a stultifying conformity of opinion. To agitate against a particular nation is 'racist'. I needn't belabor the point to those who read and think. Those who read and think, well their company is not sufficient, and like police, their skill and authority cannot resist an onslaught of incivility in a nation of millions. The attitude of the masses keeps landing them on the wrong side of civility, and the hegemonic players keep thinking they can sustain their powers through it all. We are not only cruising for a bruising we are dashing towards a smashing bashing.
I want my cosmopolitain life but I'm not sanguine. I tend to feel very much like Bruce Wayne in Gotham City, or the Omega Man in zombified Los Angeles. Not that I am any such hero, but at least I know what heroism requires. We play chess in our own living rooms, but outside is the antagonist who only sees purification by fire. Chess is a fair fight and life is not chess. I stay on the lookout for men who would pledge their lives, fortunes and sacred honor, amongst crowds who believe such things cannot be respected. We are failing to respect the common law for the common man, and we stand on the margins of parades of power as they design uncommon laws for those who sweep the streets before them. I say it all started in the Counterculture, and now we stand on the brink of delivering the Presidency to one such Boomer, again. I am hoping that I can distinguish myself. Not that anyone in particular asks me. A capable man must watch his back.
I don't want to get caught up in the struggle for survival. I know what a decent life, even a good life requires, and I aim to pursue happiness with vigor. Sometimes a wise coward is better than a brave fool. I explain more than people want to listen. I make distinctions more than people care to discriminate. Yet I know I am splitting the proper differences, but we are all contorted away from speaking the simple truth, avoiding the streetsweepers as we must. I've never read Anne Frank yet.