Disrespect In “The Streets”

Euro-Americans continue not to treat Black Americans with a sense of fair play; continue not to respect them; and continue to show no significant ability to engage in African Tradition type harmony or unity. These factors, present for almost 500 years in the Americas, have caused many Black Americans to “copycat” European disrespect practices and caused practically all to be hypersensitive (“like a raw nerve”) to displays of disrespect from anybody in general and Europeans in particular. Meanwhile, the African definition of Disrespect was replaced—either by more profound versions (as the Slaves properly feeling disrespected by everything having to do with slavery) or by diluted and polluted versions. For example, in the 1970s Black “Street” youth had “Respect” at the heart of their code and loosely defined it as being treated “right” or granted the deference one deserves (Anderson, in Ault—Race and Ethnicity, p203). Yet, the racism and self-defeating Slave Survival forces they faced were so overwhelming as to make unclear to them what constituted “Disrespect.” To lose respect in the ghetto is to be “dissed” (disrespected) and disgraced—the “kiss of death” to ones self-image. Being “Dissed” is to have ones system of values attacked. Attacks for some occur when another violates ones space (e.g. wagging a finger in ones face); for others, someone continuing to bother them by violating their boundaries when asked not to; and for still others, the lacking of a deserved honor.

“Street” youth take personally this lack of respect and therefore place “Respect” as an almost external entity that is hard-won but easily lost. Whatever “Respect” they have requires constant surveillance as part of the guarding process and an “Emergency Brain” mindset that is ever ready to defend it. The way of life in “the Streets” seems to be aimed at gaining, enhancing, or maintaining respect—or at least to not lose it. The Code provides a framework for negotiating respect. Ones clothing, demeanor, “the walk, the talk, and the look” are designed to deter transgressions. The model “Street” youth originally followed is primarily that of Europeans—whose issue of “Manhood Respect” requires the display of a certain amount of violence to convey the message of being able to take care of oneself. Mainly through television and videos Black “Street” youth learn that “might is right,” “toughness is a virtue,” and similar European social meanings of fighting. Adults of the “Street” subculture perpetuate this by such comments as: “Watch your back”; “Protect yourself”;

“Don’t punk out”; “If somebody messes with you, you got to pay them back”; and “If someone disses you, you got to straighten them out.” These promote the building of “Nerve”—i.e. striving to be at a “no fear” state of mind. In other words, to these delusional youth the clear risk of violent “life or limb” destruction is preferable to being “dissed” by another (Bailey, Manhood p217). Since “Respect” is so scarce in the ghetto, there are continual “dog fights” in the “Streets” to either grab as much as possible (mainly by “Bad Dudes”) or to prevent losing the Command Appearance of “manhood” (by “Decent Dudes”). Nevertheless, the bigger picture is gang rivalry, with destruction coming from such old-fashioned conflicts as: “I got to teach you a lesson” or “somebodydone-somebody-wrong” killings— perhaps over drugs, a girl, or some ill-defined type of disrespect. Any rival who violates the gang’s unwritten rules with disrespect has to be made an “example of” by punishing with such cruelty as to attempt to intimidate any would-be rule violators. However, evil actions only make for outrage in the kin of the member “taken down” and in this way a feud may start—and some continue indefinitely (e.g. “Bloods vs.

Crips”). The aspects of disrespect and “make an example of” are direct transfers from how slave owners dealt with the Slaves and how today’s courts work. Both are signs that Euro-Americans racists have set up effective self-generating models whereby they can still control a segment of Black people without being physically present.