Cultural Perspectives on Familial Belonging
Families of Violence: Gangs and Belonging in Donald Bakeer’s CRIPS
When Mike Davis claimed that “gang bonding has been a family for the forgotten” (315), he was not only making an important statement about the social mechanisms of street gangs, but also about the nature of family more generally. Family, in this conception, is at least two things: First, a unit of communal belonging that is more open to voluntary participation than traditional notions of the biological core family, and second, it is closely connected to specific patterns of violent behavior that go beyond what is conventionally associated with familial structures.1 The potential of gangs to act as substitutes for family belonging is difficult to overestimate: As of 2012, there were almost 31,000 active gangs in the United States with an estimated 850,000 members (Egley, Howell, and Harris 1), a number equaling roughly the population of the city of San Francisco. While not all of these individuals will harbor quasi-familial feelings towards their gang, the influence of the paradigm of gang-based community building should nevertheless not be overlooked.
The realm of fiction has been exceptionally productive in imagining these possibilities of intra-group bonding and has explored the dynamics at work within street gangs in great detail. A striking example is Donald Bakeer’s 1987 novel CRIPS: The Story of the South Central L.A. Street Gang From 1971–1985 as well as its cinematic adaptation, simply entitled South Central (1992). Unlike some fictional texts that focus on a short time frame in the life of a...
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