Gang signs are not cute.
Gang signs are not fun.
Gang signs are not hip-hop.
Gang signs are real, tangible signals that get people killed every day.
But to you, gang signs are Black.
And that’s what you were going for.
In early February, students in the dance group Sheba posted photos on Instagram from their performance on Feb. 6. One photo that has since been removed emerged with a group of the underclassmen in the troupe holding up what appear to be Crip “Blood killer” signs over one eye. When I saw this image, I wanted to be shocked, but this is not the first time that Sheba has knowingly displayed gang signs.
During summer term 2015, one of Sheba’s summer directors choreographed a Crip gang call into one of the dance routines. Many of the students of color in the group refused to perform that choreography, raising the issue with both of the summer’s dance directors. But the choreographer was resistant to changing the move, claiming that it fit the song’s lyrics. I personally reached out to leadership in the group to express why this was appropriative and dangerous. They assured me that they had been discussing it, and that the choreography would be removed, which it was. Lesson learned, right?
Except here we are.
Nearly 2,000 people die from gang-related violence every year. In 2016, homicide rates were climbing in many cities in the United States, and gang violence was one major cause of the increase. Gang signs are a marker for police officers as well as rival gang members to identify someone as a target. But Sheba knew this already. We had this conversation nearly two years ago.
For the members of Sheba in the Class of 2017, through your intentional decisions to incorporate gang signs into your group’s choreography and behavior, you have proven what your dance group truly cares about: presenting an authentically Black performance. Dancing hip-hop and following Black music, culture and trends shows your interest in Blackness and Black lives. Your continued use of gang signs shows your disregard for their value. What looks “hip-hop” to you in a fraternity basement performance is a calling card for death on the streets of cities across the United States. As you bring in new members and teach this behavior, you are reinforcing anti-Blackness. You are teaching and inculcating a disregard for the lived experiences of many Black people in the United States.
I see the rationalization forming at the tip of your lips: “I’ve seen that sign elsewhere before! NBA players do that all the time!” But prior knowledge dictates you understood the root of this signal. The music your group chooses to dance to, a genre that was born of gang culture, draws a clear connection between the signal and its purpose — performative Blackness.
You love hip-hop music.
You love twerking.
You love to throw up gang signs.
You love Black culture.
But you don’t love Black people.
Not once in the past four years has Sheba performed at the Shabazz Center. Not once have you, as a group, shown up for a Black culture event on Dartmouth’s campus. Where was Sheba at the #BlackLivesMatter Protest in the fall of 2015? I didn’t see you at the #fight4facultyofcolor march this past spring, either. You’ve shown a fetish for gang culture, so why don’t I see Sheba fundraising for nonprofits working to stop the spread of gangs? Or canvassing for the legalization of marijuana, a drug that currently criminalizes much of the underground economy gangs are built on?
Sheba’s desire to emulate Blackness has resulted in blatant disregard for Black lives in the process. Your behavior does not occur in a vacuum. I see you. I see your racism, and I am tired of it.
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