The anatomy of a snitch, and a community

I pass by the flowers every day and I know that in a few days they will be gone, the spot and blood will be cleaned up and the grief over the death of another young black man will soon be replaced by the grief of another one.

It's not just Seattle; it's happening all over America in small towns and large cities. There is an epidemic of violence in inner city America as the economy shrinks and more people turn to criminal activities to survive.

As these new criminal gangs and individuals are preying off of their own community, they have the audacity to tell the rest of us that we are snitches if we tell the authorities about their activities. So it's important to give you the anatomy of a snitch from a historical perspective.

A snitch was someone who told the white slave master of the person who violated the rules of the plantation. After that, he became the person who told the white authorities on the person or people who would most likely fight against racial oppression. Now he is the person who may tell the police of gang members or people who commit random violence in the inner city.

African Americans were clearly outsiders fighting for their survival, and this sense of racial solidarity was necessary for that survival. We had to develop an us-against-them mentality for our survival in the past, but now we are as close to being insiders as you can be. If you don't believe it, go back and look at the Olympic tapes.

Our relationship with America has changed, and the things we do for our survival must change as well. Outsiders are people who fight the system, but insiders are people who play the system or modify it. Outsiders are concerned about hiding their activities from the system; insiders are concerned about how to make the system work for them.

The half of the African American community that has made it economically is trying to play the insiders' game. They get an education or the training they need because they know what is required to be successful in the over-ground economy. They believe that there is a pot of gold at the end of their educational rainbow.

But a sizeable part of our communities are still made up of 16-to-34-year-old un-educated black males who don't believe they can make it inside and clearly see themselves as outsiders with the intent of making their fortune in the underground economy. They don't see education as important because the skills they need to be successful in the underground economy are learned on the streets and not in the classroom.

The jails are full of these young men (and now women) who find themselves without the skills and mental dexterity to navigate the system well enough to be successful. So they try to create an economic system of their own and a gang hierarchy to run and police it.

Every racial group in America has gone through the same process. The others went through it as immigrants trying to adjust to a new nation, and we immortalized their struggle in movies like "The gangs of New York."

African Americans are not new immigrants; we are ex-slaves who have just recently been recognized as fully human. We have just recently (since 1968) tasted the freedom to fully participate in America, and we were more traumatized by our journey than any new immigrant. We did not import any fears and anxieties from some foreign shore, ours were developed right here in good old America.

As we are on the verge of electing an African American president of this nation, we are still grappling with the after effects of who we were as we remake ourselves mentally and emotionally into whom we want to be. We have to deal with those old anxieties and accept the fact that we have a role to play in building a new America.

The snitch is no longer so easily defined because the lines between inside and outside are shifting daily. But one thing is clear, random violence on our streets cannot be tolerated. It's in all of our best interest to stop the killing of our young people.

A snitch should be defined as a person who betrays someone doing good things for the race and not a person fighting against random street violence.

A thug with a gun endangers all of us, and anyone who helps get them off the street is a hero. We can't let our past confuse our present or our future.

Charlie James may be reached via

[[In-content Ad]]