Somewhere in my garage, I swear to God, is a part of an original manuscript written by Sanyika Shakur, aka Monster Kody. I got this from his wife some 20 years ago. It may or may not have been part of his jailhouse writing. Anyway, he has a very intensely held belief that the very lack of men on a straight path develops in young black men a special need to prove themselves. He cites his own experience in 'breaking' young men into gang life by giving them often their first opportunity to prove themselves to older black men. His theory, which I believe firmly, is that this is a universal constant and it is how armies have always been formed, and why gang loyalties transcend social boundaries. I cannot recall what he called this idea, but it got my attention because it was not specifically racial and he made the martial parallel.
In his context, Shakur was clear that neighborhoods became artificial constructs because no particular 'set' or gang often developed leadership long enough to establish dominion over more than several blocks. Nothing that would extend, for example, as far as the jurisdiction of a high school. Gang activity, while it might range far and wide in the city, only had loyalties of short turf distances, aggravated by the fact of civilians in the mix. That made a home set even more intensely loyal. Shakur of course attempted himself to establish his own fame to span kingdoms, but that was done through murder and intimidation rather than by diplomacy and extending loyalty. In the end, he couldn't navigate it. As I recall, the isolation of the Spanish language aided Mexican gangs in this longitude and latitude whereas black gang members only had one dimension, intense stunting criminality, to establish larger influence.
The result of the crime was, of course, an antipathy to authorities and a feeling of responsibility towards other gang members, but the community itself was split by matters of loyalty and it is this loyalty that defines what black communities become when there are gangs in it.
Anyway, I've thought about this a great deal and cannot separate my sources in my head. Much of this dynamic, I have applied to my thinking about black fraternities and football as well as my own family life (I am the oldest of four brothers and was a neighborhood 'king'). I've always carried a fair bit of skepticism about calls to black unity and matters of 'the black community' through a very clear understanding of my own family's geographical dispersion and loyalties vis a vis those sacrifices my father and uncles made specifically away from their families and towards Movement activism.
It has come as a great relief to me to be rid of my own feelings of dire responsibility for the fate of 'Black America' which has come from years of thinking my way in and out and around the sorts of relationships politics, education, culture and proximity collude among dark skinned folks in this country. Blackness is a kind of Facebook, a persistent and ubiquitous yet very weak link between millions. A Facebook community is just as real, and just as fake, as a black community. And yet it is not until one suffers greatly that the loyalty to it is established.
I think of this actress who was recently in the news on a charge of public indecency and how her 'blackness' was deeply woven into her reaction to her detention / arrest. This particular moment had to be the most intensely felt part of her 'Struggle' experience but she had anticipated it all of her life through such weak links to 'the black community'. And it was clear that by her part in the critically acclaimed movie 'Django Unchained' that she felt politically and/or culturally aligned with black Americans is this mutual fog of 'The Struggle'. Yet it was obvious that in all of her life she never suffered any such 'breaking' as would be acceptable for the smallest black neighborhood gang.
As I watch from a curious distance as the vacuum of the post-Civil Rights era, it becomes more transparent to me that calls for Black Unity are more desperate than ever. And yet nobody would go to the lengths that Monster Scott Kody did for the 'shorties' on his block. That basic ritual of violent 'breaking-in' and the establishment by transgressive deeds of a death-defying loyalty is missing. People in our society don't want that, and they don't need that. And yet they desire something more intimate and powerfully bonding than Facebook. That desire will go unfulfilled as will dreams of Black Nationalism. That a particular town in Missouri is not already burned to the ground shows the scope. Nobody black in America belongs that much. And after Barack Obama and his entourage leave the White House, this will become even more stunningly obvious.