Power: the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events. While this is the dictionary definition, power can be viewed in several different manners. Michel Foucault took a different approach on this concept by developing his own theory on the phenomenon of power through his observations on subjects ranging from school discipline to administration systems.
A writer named Jonathan Gaventa described Foucault’s work stating it “marks a radical departure from previous modes of conceiving power and cannot be easily integrated with previous ideas, as power is diffuse rather than concentrated… Foucault’s unique was miles apart from many orthodox perspectives of power; his idea was that power is everywhere. Power was not created or held by any institution or person. It was and is a phenomenon. It lies in every corner of our nation and world, disguising itself as what most deem common. Diffused into society, it blends in and cements itself into our lives. While many do not even notice this power dynamic implanted in our system, it is very much alive and well.
The exemplification of this phenomenon is exemplified through many different scenarios, however, this research will focus on the street gangs and gang culture in a metropolis setting. The power and status of gang members will be examined through their appearance, revealing a relationship of domination and submission, expressions of this power scheme. This power scheme is present in the internal structure of many gangs. In many urban street gangs, the “average age of gang members 17-18 years old” according to Howell.
Due to the turnip-shape of many gang structures, there are many in this age range, however, there are still “OG’s” as they as sometimes referred to. These are usually older gang members who have dedicated their life to the gang. This divide between a regular gang member and an OG is a matter of appearance because of this age difference. However, they are viewed differently. A former gang member said “I had to meet the OG [original gangster]; I had to offer money and respect because respect is the number one street rule. This difference is in regards to respect; OG’s get a lot more respect by members and the community because they have proven themselves already. Another gang member commented, “You don’t challenge the gang leader. The cardinal rules are discipline and allegiance to the leader, so when he says you play by the rules and you have to put the group before yourself, then you don’t ask any more questions. ” They are the unquestioned leaders and are viewed as the heads of these street gangs. This image they create yields a dominant position With this power and respect, it persuades many youth to join gangs.
This leadership entices young individuals to join gangs because of this charismatic and respected personalities of the OG’s. Sanyika Shakur describes his encounter with Tray Ball who was “quickly becoming a Ghetto Star. A Ghetto Star is a neighborhood celebrity known for gang banging, drug dealing, and so on. ” As they walked down the street, he “took their looks as stares of recognition and respect. ” Shakur admires Tray Ball because of this and it can be seen that he looks up to him as he is about to join their gang.
The way Shakur describes him is that everyone saw Tray Ball that way. The people in the neighborhood and his fellow gang members respected him because of the image he had created for himself. Tray Ball had become a dominant figure because of this respectable and charismatic appearance. Also, as an emerging leader, he was in charge of some aspects of the gangs. In a survey, many gang members said “they sometimes expressed a sense of relief that the gang had a strong leader and older members who established rules, enforced discipline, and rewarded conformity to the gang’s norms.
Respectable and mature leaders were who they looked up to because they created what the gang was. They were responsible for the gang norms, their turf, and the members. They gained their respect in that way and therefore earned a position of dominance. It is proven that OG’s or leaders in gangs have dominance in the gang structure as well as in the community. However, there are other physical aspects that contribute to this power. Appearance, in recent and ancient history, has been constantly used as a symbol used to signify the status of a person.
A wellknown emblem of royalty was purple. Sociologists and historians alike have concluded “purple had a high prestige value” in many western aristocratic castes of society. Goblets, crowns, and many artfully crafted items incorporated purple with the intent of legitimizing the authority of the monarchy. These “symbols of status [were] necessary for strangers and passing acquaintances to place and appraise,” giving respect to their sovereign ruler. This recognition was necessary to empower the aristocracy, further separating them from the common folk.
Purple was the means to this end and while royalty for the most part has ceased, the idea of symbols is present in modern times. In 1966, Jack Cooke named his new hockey franchise the Los Angeles Kings because he wanted his new hockey team to “take [on] an air of royalty,” ultimately creating a logo integrating purple. What this proves is the nature of perception. Mankind is bound by our own perception, stemming from our experiences. The way we see the world is dictated by our senses, namely our eyes in this case.
What we see is what we deem reality and by changing and manipulating what we see, it is easy to change our perception. In this case, purple is molded into a color for the royalty because the establishment made it this way by plastering it on attire and entities of the crown. The commoners became used to this symbol, and it was intricately woven into society after many generations; it became the norm to see purple and the crown intertwined with one another. Even after hundreds of years, it is ubiquitous, a motif that has yet to seen its end.
This pervasive insignia proves perception is an integral part in determining the status of an individual; this idea can be extrapolated to gangs and their appearance. Aspects of clothing are used as a means of branding an individual with gang member status which creates a relationship of domination for gangs and submission for society. For example, the Bloods and the Crips of Los Angeles wear specific colors; Bloods brandish red clothing or accessories while Crips sport blue clothing or accessories.
A Texas Chief of Police stated “clothing style and color are strong indicators of gang affiliation as they indicate to everyone in the gang lifestyle the allegiance of the wearer. ” In regards to these Los Angeles gangs, local individuals are able to identify these features and register whether gang members are from the Crips or Bloods. Locals know not to wear these colors when in rival gang territory because of the possible endangerment if confronted by rival gang members. Tavin Price, a mentally disabled teenager, became a victim because of the colors he was wearing and the place he was in.
The situation was that “a man hassled Price over his shoes: red Chuck Taylors. ” Shortly after, the man shot and killed Price. “The carwash [was] on the dividing line between two rival gangs” and “police believe that the color of the shoes may have played a role in the shooting. ” This induces fear in the community and creates an environment where gangs rule; many are scared because of this constant violence. Therefore, those who wear red and blue rule their turf with little opposition or resistance from the community.
Ultimately, this yields a system of domination and submission where the gangs dictate what others wear. If they refuse, shootings like Tavin Price are a likely result. These colors act as the symbols for this domination as it conjures up images of violence. While colors are one way to distinguish whether an individual is a gang member, there are other marks of affiliation as well. For example, a study found that “footwear indicators [of gang membership] include British Knight tennis shoes (the B. K. hought to represent ‘Blood Killer’)”
The Crips have been known to wear these as a symbol of their whose side they are on. Researchers have also found that “even schools that require uniforms, gangs use clothing to identify allegiance. Certain buttons left unbuttoned, pockets turned inside out, or a collar turned up in a particular manner can be used to identify gang affiliation. ” However, all of these aspects of clothing are utilized to make it abundantly clear who they are; they want people to know they are apart of a gang.
This use of clothing to incite fear further proves the significance of perception; the clothing is just one avenue of creating an image. While clothing is one symbol for dominance, accessories also play a large role in intimidating the public. Certain accessories worn by gang members are an attempt to rouse fear in the public. The most known example of an accessory would be a firearm. Researchers discovered that “guns are carried partly for kudos and status, partly for protection and partly for instrumental uses such as robbery.
Gang members carry firearms because of its multiple purpose. When they are in their own neighborhoods, they use it as a status of power. When they are confronted, they flash it as a form of protection. And when they are in need of money, they use it as an instrument to carry out a robbery. As the underground market provides them easy access to guns, it is no wonder why gangs and guns are naturally intertwined. This proliferation of guns in gangs have led to adverse effects. A study found that “in New Orleans, between 35-55% of homicides are classified as gang-related.
In Chicago, an estimated 80% of homicides are gang-related. ” These metropolitan hubs have seen gun violence skyrocket as guns have become part of the gang culture. This fact coupled with the violent nature of gangs contributes to the fear of the community. People are scared to go outside because outside is the gang’s turf and there is no guarantee they won’t shoot you. The power is literally in their hands with a gun, and this leads to terror and submission by the population in gang turf. Most do not want to risk their lives when gang members have guns in their hands.
Another accessory is the bandana. Utilized by Hispanic gangs, “the moco’ (snot) rag [is] another optional item of stylized dress. It [is] folded lengthwise, tied around the forehead and meant as a form of intimidation. ” This deliberate threat is to prove a point; they want to be seen as dominant. This intimidation factor is utilized to guarantee a position of dominance for the gang members, while keeping the civilians around them submissive. While both of these items are deemed accessories, they have a large impact of creating a dominant image for the gang members.