I'm From Compton and I've Got Serena's Back

For those of us who can trace our family's roots back to those tract houses, no matter how far we go, Compton is not far away.
Publish date:
August 9, 2012
hometown, c-walk, Serena Williams

"Get outta here you're not from Compton, you went to Columbia!"

"Oh please, you grew up in Catalina, you don't know nothing about Compton."

"If you're from Compton, I'm from Cape Cod."

That last one didn't make much sense to me, but yeah, often I get my hometown credentials questioned. Seems like if it walks like a regular chick and talks like a regular chick then it can't be from Compton.

I'm not sure if it's because I don't stay "G'ed up from the feet up" or "Blued up from the shoe up," but lots of people who've only known the grown-up me can't seem to get their heads around where I actually grew up (at least partially). That would be Compton, California.

Me and a fellow Compton native throwing up the "C" and "W" at an inaugural ball for the first black president of these United States.

Sure, I look back more than fondly on the huge chunk of my childhood spent on Catalina Island. It was an elementary school-long reprieve from family in-fighting and discrimination. But my family is from Compton. My mother and her seven brothers and sisters grew up there. My aunt still lives in the house my great uncle once owned not too far from Compton's City Hall. My grandfather was a postman, my grandmother a nurse. One cousin is a local high-school principal, another ran with a local gang and eventually landed in prison.

For most of middle school and half of high school, I rode the bus hours south from 155th Street and Central Avenue (one the city's major thoroughfares) all the way down to my fancy pants private school on 4th and Commonwealth. It's farther than you think, both physically and emotionally.

Once an all-white suburb of Los Angeles that eventually gave way to middle-class black families in the '60s and then imploded in part because of the crushing weight of gang violence and drugs that typified LA's 1980s "ghettos," Compton is the geographical equivalent of the Bogeyman. The place you scare people with. The place you've never even seen.

But for those of us who can trace our family's roots back to those tract houses, no matter how far we go -- college in New York City, career in Washington or, maybe even, a gold medal in London -- Compton is not far away. It's waiting in the wings just like any hometown would be.

Which is why the faux-versy over Serena Williams victory "c-walk" is so insidious to me. So she can't rep her hood?

Sports columnist Bill Plaschke, tweeted, “Isn’t there some kind of dance done by multi-millionaires who live in exclusive South Florida neighborhoods? Serena C-walking at Wimbledon only shows how long she’s been away from home, separated from violence and death associated with that dance.”

I'm sorry, no. How much money you've made or where you currently live doesn't suddenly divorce you from where you grew up. The place that helped make you. And c-walking or "crip-walking," though associated with the Crips street gang, has long been a regular ole dance that folks from LA do. I wouldn't be surprised if one of Nap and Tab's routines on "So You Think You Can Dance" featured it.

Would it have been more appropriate if after her big win Serena started "krumping," a street dance with Compton roots that was started to keep kids out of gangs? Doubtful. Because hip-hop is hip-hop. Bad is bad. Compton is Compton. Ghetto is ghetto.

"I didn't know what else to do. I was so happy, and next thing I know I started dancing and moving. I didn't plan it. It just happened," Serena told reporters after busting a move on the court.

I think what shocked people most was the fact that happy Serena -- pure, unadulterated joyful Serena -- "reverted back" to where she came from. She could've been anywhere -- at a backyard BBQ or the biggest stage in tennis.

When I'm home (yes, Los Angeles is still "home" no matter how long I've lived thousands of miles away) I don't c-walk to the grocery store. I don't catch the holy ghost in my grandmother's church and crip walk up and down the aisles, throwing up "JC" gang signs along the way.

But when I'm away from that place, that place that was at once violent but often serene, garish but also mine, sometimes a bubble with it inside pops. I throw up a "W" when I'm happy, or a "C" when I'm especially proud. Not because I'm glorifying "gang life" or disrespecting authority.

I might have even hit 'em with a bouncy two-step when the first black president got elected because it reminds me of how far I've come and close I'll always be.