It’s funny to reminisce about being younger and the crazy things that we did. Youth is such a gift. There are feelings of being invincible and the idea that you can do anything.
When we were in high school we all loved the bad boys. Hell, many a grown woman loves a bad boy.
In the high school my boyfriend was a well known tagger. I don’t want to say graffiti artist because even though he was super talented as an artist, he mostly just wrote his name anywhere and everywhere he could. He tagged.
Groups of teens would get on Muni (the bus) and take out their pens. In little to no time the bus would be crushed. Tagged every which way to Sunday with colors and crew names and the rush of doing something wrong, something bad. Some of them said it was art and in a way it was but in a way it also wasn’t. It was disingenuous art at best.
Not that graffitti can’t be art because it is its own art form and it just that – art. Even crushing a building with your name can be art. I’m not sure that’s what this was. This was more like a bunch of kids getting on a bus, writing their names on it and saying, “fuck you” to grown-ups.
My boyfriend carried a knife. He pulled all-nighters and even though he wasn’t as bad as some, there was something to exhilarating about being with someone who lived on the opposite side of what is “good.” Someone who always broke the rules just because. Someone who was a little bit dangerous.
I was never that brave.
I was always too afraid to get in trouble, get arrested, or face the wrath of my parents. Instead, I was content to hang out with bad boys who did whatever they wanted whenever. I felt tougher by association. I lived vicarious through them with every swipe of their rainbow colored ultra marker across a train ceiling.
And when I got older I still liked a bad boy, the danger, the excitement of playing with fire.
Gangsters were hot. Thug life was cool. Gangta living was a style and maybe even a state of mind.
Then one day it just wasn’t so fun anymore. It was just bad boys being bad for no good reason.
It was men perpetuating stereotypes, negativity and dysfunction. It wasn’t harmless fun. It wasn’t a phase to grow out of.
Yet to this day people idolize the idea of “gangsta.”
There are “spiritual gangstas” and “gangstas for God” and “gangstas of love.” There are actual gangstas and movies were violence and bad boys are glorified to the bloody extreme.
gang·ster (gngstr)n.1. A member of an organized group of criminals; a racketeer.2. A member of a gang of delinquents.
The actual definition of gangster, the proper English version, has nothing positive associated with it. Even the urban version “gangsta” doesn’t have anything positive associated with it.
So who really wants to be a gangsta?
We do this with other words as well. The b-word and n-word immediately come to mind. Words that have a history of negativity and pain associated with them that some people try to claim as words of empowerment. Trying to, as Lauryn Hill says, “turn a negative into a positive picture.”
But are they really?
Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill. – Buddha
Words have inherent power. They have strong associations with them that are deep, and lasting and can be more powerful than we’re even conscious of. Labels that we give ourselves can be everything or nothing.
How we identify ourselves speaks volumes about how we see ourselves. It says volumes about how we want the world to see us.
Do you think you can make a negative word positive by changing it’s literal meaning?