Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Bastards of the Party

I caught about half of a remarkable documentary, Bastards of the Party, made by a long-time member of the Bloods gang in South Central LA. Cle "Bone" Sloan had renounced the violent gang life, and the documentary was his attempt to make sense of how the gangs came to rise in his community, and perhaps show a way out of the cycle of violence.

I have heard in the past about gang members coming out and talking about trying to do some good in their communities, and they always struck me as exercises in hypocrisy: how can you affiliate yourself with violence and say you want peace? But Sloan, I think, is the real deal, because he is spending at least as much energy trying to communicate to other gang members as to the rest of us "civilians." And he is extremely honest about his own ambiguity.

At one point, he says (and I'll quote him as best I can), "I understand what's goin' on with the Palestinians. It starts out bein' about land. But then it's your uncle, your brother, your homeboy's son who gets killed, and after that it's not about land, or turf, or money -- it's about the man next to you who you loved, and who's now dead. And you just act out of that. And when there's no justice system that will work for you, no one else who's gonna care . . . how can you let go of that? It's like, treason." He tells of how one of his friend's sons was killed: "The police told me, one of your homeboys was hit, he's on the street around the corner. It was one of the twins, but they didn't know which one it was, and they needed me to tell them." And as the camera pans slowly over baby pictures of the twins in their mother's lap, and then picturs of happy twin teenagers posed in basketball uniforms, you start to feel the tragedy yourself. And he shows you, with obvious conflictedness, just how hard it is to choose peace: "If I met up with twins' killer today . . . I wouldn't embrace him or nothin' . . . but I can say this, I wouldn't kill him." But you can tell that it crossed his mind as a real possibility, and that's what makes it real.

He also had some good insights on the psychology involved in gang life, especially when it comes to names and identity. He condemned the use the n-word, (and forgive me, I'm not afraid to write it myself but don't want to get censored), "We gotta get that out of our vocabulary, because it's dehumanizin'. It's always, 'Give me your wallet, n-----', 'cause it don't make sense to say, 'Give me your wallet, brother.' " And he pays special attention the street names: "I tell you this, if we want to stop this right now, we need to stop givin' our kids these street names. They say, 'This is my Lil' Monster' or 'This is my Lil' Bone'. No. Give 'em a first name and last name, their right name." And before the credits roll, he pays tribute to nearly a dozen people who were featured in the film, nearly all of the dead or in prison for life. As their pictures roll across the screen, their street names fade and are replaced by their real full names.



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