For those in much need of a reminder, let me begin with this disclaimer:
Compton is a real place.
It exists today and will be there tomorrow. Real people with real stories live in this city that author it’s living history. World renowned artists, athletes, politicians, organizers, authors, actors, beautiful people and possibly your next president all reside within this city. I’m making a point of what I hope to be the obvious because there seems to be two distinctly different interpretations of Compton that we’ve come to acknowledge in these United States. The first being the largely undiscussed city of Compton, CA located in lovely South Central Los Angeles. The second, and rather problematic interpretation, is a fantasy world that seems to exist largely in the minds of white folks. It projects itself solely within the confines of spaces like fraternity houses, suburbs, bars, and clubs, and goes by many names and expressions ranging from Wiscompton to “Southside” Malibu. This world is largely shaped by the glorification of life in cities like Compton and embodies the fascination white America has with the circumstances imposed upon people of color.
Residents of this imaginary world are often identified by, but not limited to, the following expressions and actions:
“What’s gucci my n—-!”
*High fives followed by awkward daps and chest-bumps*
Excessive use of the word “homie” or “dawg”
Claims he/she/they are from the Southside of [enter white suburb]
*That awkward moment when someone shakes another’s dap*
Putting “B” in front of every word…even those that don’t start with “C”
Rocking clothes only appropriate in an early 2000 Cash Money music video
The continued use of the word “ghetto”
These and other expressions can personally trigger the hell out of me because I know from where they are derived. White America has both an obsessive fascination and utter fear of all things considered “hood.” Being that Compton’s pop-culture identity is almost exclusively known for its gang culture, in many ways it’s become the image of their cultural misconceptions and often among the first place that comes to mind when they think of the hood. With a simple twist of their fingers and tilt of their cap, white folks can exoticize the danger of blackness in the United States while simultaneously demonizing abstractions of identities like my own. Much like a Halloween costume, it’s fun to be Black, but only for a few hours out of the day. However, these nights, like a bad joke, have ceased to end and what we have left is a year round celebration of a trademarked, pimped out parody of Compton that has nothing to do with the physical city and its people, and everything to do with the fetishization of danger and Black death.
I witness this regularly at the University of Wisconsin Madison, where I attend school. The Urban Dictionary defines Wiscompton as, “Where da homies be at. Located between Chi-town and Canadia.” Used in sentence: “Where u at n–? I be frontin wiscompton holmes.” Here, the home of what some call the Wiscompton School of Bidness, legendary basketball coach, Bo Ryan can even twist his fingers absolved of judgment and throw up what’s problematically known as the “Dirty Dub.”
During these past five years on campus, I’ve been called racial slurs, only to have their racism excused on the amount of alcohol they’ve consumed. Others have reached in my car, and some even tried to open my door, simply so they could dap me up for reasons I can only assume to be my Blackness. My sentiments when confronted with forced efforts of validation and mimicry from these folks looks a lot like this, as I often find myself too exhausted to correct their ignorance and am forced to remove myself for my own self-care. Some days I am able to avoid these spaces. Other’s I am not.
Often, I find myself stumbling across sites like this:
Other days, like this:
Why else would someone broadcast to the world in large greek letters that they live in a trap house? Or pay an additional $30 every year to “pimp” their licence plate? They hear about the struggle and find it entertaining. They want to claim Chicago, dress Brooklyn, and speak Compton, so long as they don’t have to live it. In the darkness of the night, we watch them say n—-, freestyle rap, drink 40ozs, and rock Jerseys, gold, and Tims throughout the night, only to remove their masks and reclaim their privilege come sunrise. They’ll religiously recite Trap Queen and Future lyrics but won’t rep a Black Lives Matter t-shirt. I mean, why would they? Black death fits so well into the lyrics, news clips, and policies so many of them support, and sells just as well as modern day slavery (Black incarceration).
When I see folks who’re obviously not from Compton proudly flaunting its name around, I don’t interpret it as an appreciation of the city. If the extent of their knowledge about Compton doesn’t exceed past its pop-culture identity, then the only significance those seven letters means to their limited understanding is the city’s gang culture. This is where the intent of their imitation lies; in the exoticism and risk of it all. White folks will dress and act like Black people, profit from their mimicry in television, movies, clothing, and music sales, and will turn their back to support policies that disproportionately kill people of color, accumulate privilege, and perpetuate slave labor. Black death has always generated profit in this country and will continue to do so as long as cities like Compton are fetishized and misrepresented.
Blackness is not something one can wear like a shirt, and how we define ourselves does not belong in anyone mouths but our own. If I can’t be myself because my existence is supposedly threatening to you, then what gives you the right – or the want – to crudely imitate me. Coming from a mixed Black kid from Leimert Park, Los Angeles [Crenshaw and King to be exact] with family from Compton and a deep love for hip hop, in my twenty two years of existence, I have never repped Compton in any sort of capacity out of a respect for its people and culture. Even with its many direct influences on my upbringing through family and friends, the amount of black in my wardrobe, and the hip hop culture that influenced my surroundings and perceptions, I know better.
With that being said, when did it become acceptable for a person of any culture from any city other than Compton to wear those seven letters? You don’t just rock a Vietnam Veteran’s cap because it’s cool and vintage. For similar reasons, it’s disrespectful and destructive to claim a unique experience that isn’t yours. Consider asking yourself if you would wear your bright red bandana or “Straight Outta Wiscompton” t-shirt on Brazil and Wilmington. When Dr. Dre started the “Straight Outta Somewhere” promotion, I’m sure Baraboo, Wisconsin wasn’t his intended audience.
Compton, or any other city like it, is not a fashion statement. It’s a city with an immeasurable amount of character and pride, key to the identity of thousands of people who aren’t you. When you remove or are ignorant to the true essence of a city like Compton and decide to represent it with no relationship to it whatsoever, you perpetuate a destructive fixation with glamorizing poverty, death, and an exclusive struggle unique to Black and Brown people.
Please resist the urge to appropriate images of Compton – or any city or culture like it – the next time you choose your Halloween costume, want to dress up for a party, or are binge buying things you don’t need on amazon. We can very much do without your bigotry.