What exactly is a gangster *supposed* to look like?

Not a rant, just something I want to get off of my chest.

I’ve seen variations of the below image popping up on Facebook over the last few weeks and something about it bugs me.

Sometimes it appears with the “pull your pants up” part and sometimes not. Either version bugs me.

This is an image, that appears on the surface to be funny, but really is just silly. The one with the pants line added really bugs me because it seems that there is a racial/-ist connotation.

White folks have long since thought that it was stupid when other people wear their pants low. These other people are often (but not always) young black men. To me, this image enables this thinking and lets people get in a racial shot under the cover of humor.

But really it’s more fundamental then that. A few years ago I interviewed Roland Jefferson and one of his answers in particular struck me (bolding is mine):

Alienation and assimilation are difficult for a mass readership to grasp unless it is addressed in a style or context that the readership identifies with. It also depends of whose alienation or assimilation one is writing about. Black alienation borne out of economic poverty and centuries old racial victimization will be a different experience from alienation in white, asian or hispanic cultures. And yet there are similarities that a skilled writer needs to be able to make the story relevant to the mass readership. By way of example, black criminal fiction is vastly different from Italian criminal fiction that is iconic in its characterization of the Mafia.

Why is it that we hold Italian mobsters to a higher standard and romanticize them and their actions? Why have we ascended these guys to the heights that they are at? Why them and not others?

Putting aside the perceived issue of race it strikes me that there is a sneaking conservatism at play in this image and what it claims to be about. It advances that age old canard that things were better back in the day.

Even putting that aside there is this silly idea that a gangster is supposed to look a certain way.

I’m sure Tookie Williams, Rayful Edmond, Sonny Barger, Danny Greene, and Lori Arnold would all laugh at that image and the idea it puts forth.

Tookie williams

rayful edmond

sonny barger

danny greene

NO ONE can deny that these five people were gangsters and had a TREMENDOUS impact on the second half of the 20th century. Respectively they: founded the Crips; introduced crack to the mid-Atlantic of the U.S.; founded the Hells Angels; took down the Mafia; introduced meth to the U.S. These were hard men, killers, and yes, gangsters.

The truth of the matter is that the secret history of The U.S. (and probably most civilizations) is written on the backs of gangsters and in their blood.

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