aturday Serena Williams showed the world a side of Southern California life that I’m really surprised anyone was unaware of, given how pervasive it once was in music videos. After she won the gold medal in the women’s singles match, she reveled in her success and the freedom that comes with being one of the world’s greatest athletes in history by getting out of Wimbledon character and into the thug life. She showed the world her crip-walk, prompting an announcer to say, “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before.” She gloated while she did it, looking up at her sister Venus for affirmation, because well, when you’re showing off, you want to make sure that the people who matter to you most are looking. At least, that’s how I dance.
Before you get all C. Delores Tucker on me about that, let’s remember that a lot of America’s dance forms were created by outlaws. The bourgeoisie — while awesome, I’m sure — doesn’t exactly go around creating hip global dance forms in its spare time. Take breakdancing — which has become so mainstream that it appears in commercials for Fortune 500 brands — for example. It didn’t come from “The Cosby Show,” people. It came from New York’s ghettos and was heavily influenced by South Bronx gangs.
Let’s also remember, as Clifton Yates said over at TheRoot.com, the Crips aren’t the only outlaws who’ve exerted cultural influence over Olympics viewers. So has Hitler, who started the practice of bringing in the torch.
The man responsible for one of the most horrific and destructive acts of genocide in human history created a tradition that to this day is still one of the most televised events on the globe.
I’m able to separate a dance created by a gang from a reign of terror created by a gang, just as I am able to separate a torch ceremony created by a Nazi from a concentration camp created by a Nazi.
I assume that the commentators who are feigning outrage over Serena’s ‘excessive endzone celebration’ are able to do this also. What I think really bothers them is seeing Serena find new ways to refuse to submit 100 percent to the cultural norms of Wimbledon. Crip-walking in that setting is an act of rebellion. Her performance said once again, “I don’t give a damn what you think about me. I set my own standards.”
I learned to crip-walk the way I learned most other cool California-isms, after moving there for college and living there for 11 years. I don’t remember who showed me, but I remember the feeling of mastering the timing necessary to pull off the dance. A few friends of mine did it when we were acting silly, but we also recognized that it was a dance that expressed pride, even hubris. It’s the perfect way to celebrate an achievement like running a Boston (winning all 13 books) on someone in spades.
It’s also a good way to show solidarity with the gang. Yes, solidarity.
I disagree with gangs’ short-sighted approach to making money and I think the violent ones should be locked up and when I have information for the police — I call them. (Stop snitching, my ass.) But I also get how the conditions of oppression that our communities have been subjected to create gangs.
I have been fortunate enough to receive what only a small minority of children in America do — a first-rate education that has given me options — but I don’t hate the people who haven’t. I’m still holding out the hope of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers that our street gangs can be politicized and become partners in the black liberation struggle. Meanwhile, I extend the olive branch and pay them homage with a bit of crip-walk.