So, yeah, I grew up in St. Louis and got my principles and familial instruction from the East side of the Mississippi. I suppose I learned at an early age the realities of gang culture from my mother’s sister’s children as I lost hope in being respected as an intellectual. By the time “Colors” was released (“re” + “leased”) to a media forum my eleven year old sensory apparutus could ingest, I already had known the impact of Illinios gang culture. Although, it would take years before the white inclusive Spanish Disciples would expand into Brooklyn or Larry Hoover’s Gangster Disciples would reenact the Brothers Of The Struggle(BOS[S]) segment of the chapter by unifying with the Nation of Islam, I understood the nuance of Black urban tribal culture very well.
Unfortunately, I was not precocious enough to know exactly how accurate Dr. Dre’s words in the introduction to NWA’s second album, “Straight Out Of Compton” would be:”Prepare to witness the strength of street knowledge…”
During the nineties, an influx of western United States urban culture would infect the national cultural expression. I suppose, being in the midwest, my first encounter with the tribal step and communication device known as the “Crip walk” was from a video being hosted by Video Jukebox of the same name. The Crip walk was the apex of the gang sign with regard to tactile communication. It not only looked good, it was the archetypal ressurection of that same element that gave the bass beats of Hip Hop a feel reflective enough to be dubbed a ressurgence of the talking drums. As a teen in a St. Louis era entrenched in gang violence, the Crip walk symbolized a vehicle of pride and disrespect to anyone outside of that particular gang. As the influence of Crip culture spread, and most importantly As WC from the WC and the Maad Circle and ICe Cube’s West Side Connect Gang illustrated that movements and passion of the tribal expression, it became popular to more bourgeois and professional class of Black Americans. As young brothers such as my self succumbed to the traps of urban USA, those without such precarious realities associated the media processed urban artifacts as “Black culture”. Many, not quite understanding the bloodshed surrounding the acts, would soon embrace these impliments as entitlements concomittant of their birthright.
So, yeah, when I saw the victory dance of Serena Williams at the 2012 London Olympics after winning a gold medal, I laughed and shook my head as is popular in this digitized era. I didn’t associate her enthused movements as a political statement beckoning me to be prideful of my ethnic heritage. I had been enclosed in the tanks with the Bloods and Crips. I had seen the makeshift daggers referred to as “shanks” being pulled out early mornings during the waves of gang warfare in front of my bed daily. It didn’t remind me of how united we are in struggles; it reminded me of every brother I watched fall to gang violence. And although I am immensely proud that the younger Williams has found another historical etching for her name to reside on, those of my elders and peers that created a lane for certain behaviors to exist will never find their names regurgitated although their pain and sacrifice allow for such appealling caricatures of their expressions of honor. But whatever.
Maybe I’m taking things too serious. I am torn. In some rooms of my thinking, I am overwhelmed by the sheer influence of a culture that caused so much pain. In another cavity of ruminating, I wonder about those that swung on or shot at those that performed the ritual expression of Crip culture. Sure, it is the expression of an Afkan (Afrikan Amerikkkan) tribe…but it is also the expression of that same tribal warfare that many of us suffered in. Some have suggested that the impact of the motions are less acute among Bloods. And sure, I remember the videos showing DJ Quik rejoicing in the steps. However, I am always reminded of Fat Joe taunting B2K for Crip walking (like that was what was up). Fat Joe is an East Coast native, yet he natively understands the representation of a cultural artifact that deserves a certain degree of respect and treatment. Everyone can’t walk around with five stars on their shoulders and get salutes. Everyone can’t claim to hold doctorates. These are symbols and emblems of a culture within our society that reflect a certain level of accomplishment. I am not concerned with a Compton native that has lost a loved one to gang violence, (well, okay, maybe I am after writing that), but my main issue is that Black people don’t think that something that we have received in popular culture doesn’t become some symbol of political power in the face of a Europe that gave the world the USA flag, the Irish kelt, the Black United States of American branding, and the German swatstika. Serena Williams did that dance for her Self. She did not do it for me, nor the many brothers I came of age with that would have slapped her for doing it in my neighborhood. When Michael Phelps lit that pipe up in celebration of his victory, no one said it was,”unapologetically Anglo-Saxon.”
Crip walking after a victory, no matter how innocent, is not being “unapologetically Black,” it was just unapologetically Serena. I am not sure how her behavior works to assist or defuse the criminalization of Black urban people by doing a tribal dance reflective of criminalized Black urban people at a time when that expression is solely an expression of tribal(gang) culture. She didn’t do just a Black dance…she Crip walked. Crip walking is not a dance. I have not forgotten to capitalize “Crip” in of my usages of it in this piece. That is for a reason. Once again, Crip walking is not a “dance”, it is an expression of loyalty and dedication to a particular military operative. There is a certain level of respect and acknowledgment attached to those particular movements because they communicate a message to those who helped to initiate the movements.
I do not write this to be condemning, yet I also do not want my words to ever be mistaken as conciliatory at any point. I do not like children Crip walking around me without understanding the precise nature of their expression. Serena Williams decided to use her feet to spell out “Crip” — as that is what Crip walking is — I did not. Nor did the Afkan community. Nor is that in any way a device I can at this time condone to reflect my courage in the face of Anglo-Saxon social acceptance. Serena Williams expressed her ebullience, not the children of tribes collected into one people through enslavement and divided back into tribes called gangs due to repression.