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What is important is that we recognize the method used effectively by gangs to win over our youth. And

if one thinks that the attachment and loyalty to the gang is trivial, then one is mistaken. It is precisely

because the gangs stand ready to fill the needs of our children



Books by Louis Reyes Rivera

Who Pays The Cost (1978) / This One For You (1983) / Scattered Scripture

 Bum Rush the Page (co-editor) / The Bandana Republic (co-editor)

Sancocho: A Book of Nuyorican Poetry by Shaggy Flores (edited by Louis Reyes Rivera)

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A Review of The Bandana Republic

A Literary Anthology by Gang Members & Their Affiliates

Edited by Louis Reyes Rivera and Bruce George

By Amin Sharif


Infected with inner city disease

It’s doubtful I’ll see tomorrow

Sleeping with my sorrows

I wake up my mind unraveling

From "Inner City Disease" by Twin Poets Al & Nnamdi, Sons of Hicks (founding members of Blackie Blacks, Delaware, Chester and Philly)

The Bandana Republic is probably the most important book written on gang lifestyle and culture to date. It is filled with startling poetry and penetrating prose. The voices that crawl and stagger through its pages are reminiscent of the raw power found in much praised literary works such as Soul on Ice, Manchild in the Promised Land and Blood in My Eye. This book is beautiful in its allure and damning in its judgment of a greater society that has produced a renegade subculture of young men and women who stand by and for themselves. In form and content, The Bandana Republic represents the first multifaceted view of gang culture as expressed in the authentic language of ex-gang members, gang members, and their affiliates.   

This is not to say that there are no problems to be found within the pages of The Bandana Republic. It is precisely because the editors of this book have mined the depths of gang culture so deeply that makes this book so dangerous. If the reader is not astute, he may be easily seduced into seeing gang culture as a legitimate response to the social crisis that gave it birth. The more cautious reader will however recognize that the Republic’s unvarnished view allows all aspects of gang culture to shine through its pages without making the case either for or against it.

The title of the book The Bandana Republic suggests within the mind of the reader an association between the unstable Latin American states dependent upon one source of agricultural export and the instability found among and within the bandana wearing streets gangs of the United States. This wordplay is given depth and breath by fact that at least a few of the Latino street gangs can trace their heritage back to countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. But as strong or as weak as the association may be, this is not the primary source of the tension that emerges from the pages of the book. The Republic relies less on the conflict and grudging respect between and among gangs and their members, something wholly expected whenever this subject is discussed, and more on the themes of nostalgia, alienation, and loyalty. It is when these themes are explored with depth and sensitivity that the Republic elevates the reader’s understanding of the subject to new heights and the book becomes more than just another superficial commentary of street violence and gangs.

That nostalgia should be a theme found in a book filled with the writings of modern day gang members may seem odd to the causal reader. Yet it is from a kind of nostalgia that many groups draw their strength. We find no better example of such nostalgia than that which is perpetuated within the broader American culture. Tales of the discovery of America, the veracity of George Washington, the honesty of Abraham Lincoln-all are part of a dubious recounting of American events. In the recounting of events and deeds connected to their clique, gang members establish for themselves a parallel history that is as important to them as that learned from their American history books. Thus, in a very real sense, it is the soul of this parallel nostalgia that comes to define standards of conduct and behavior for gang members-just as the dubious recounting of certain aspects of American history produces characteristics of patriotism within the wider American society.

In the most enlightening essay found in the Republic authored by Ted Wilson entitled, “From Gangs of the Ghetto to Gangstas of the Inner City,” we are given a recounting of the how and why gangs emerged in New York. Wilson’s knowledge of early New York gangs is to say the least extensive. He speaks with the voice of authority and nostalgia of a time when gangs bopped (fought) on the streets of New York City to control their turf. Boppin’ was also a time when gangs donned distinctive apparel and “their boppin’ attitudes.”   

What makes Wilson’s essay so important is that it does for gang nostalgia what the gang members can not do themselves. Wilson’s essay not only gives an overarching perspective of the origins and emergence of New York City gangs but he connects the dots between the then and the now of gang culture. Wilson shows not only how the proliferation of gangs is directly related to the proliferation of drugs within the African-American, Latino, and Hispanic communities. But he also points out how these communities were made susceptible, by governmental efforts as well as by personal choice, to the inner city disease of gangs, drugs, and violence.

Wilson recounts in his essay that “The power structure saw and understood the force of gangs. They saw the potential of what these gangs could become in the near future.” As a counter to the potential of gangs, especially those that increasingly came under the influence of progressive organizations such as the NAACP, SNCC,  Black Panthers, Young Lord Party and the Nation of Islam during the 60’s, the government “brought in the dope.” As a result:

The boppin’ walk became the junkie nod. It was like a contest to see who could nod the lowest and longest and not fall over. They flowed in the dope and the rest was history . . . Down went the Mighty Chaplains. Down went the Mighty Sportsmen . . . The Black/Latino army gave way to smoothies, hipsters, jazz aficionados, boogies, intellectuals, and again, interestingly, some of the ex-military men who gained some clarity about who was the true enemy.

But just a new awareness of the need for social and political justice on the part of young Latin and Black youth reached maturity, the government according to Wilson “flew in coke. . . the Uzis and Glocks.” By then the  malaise sung about by Marvin Gaye had been transformed into a dirge for a new inner city disease—the social equivalent of a full blown case of AIDS infecting and overwhelming nearly every strength possessed by the Hispanic, Latino, and African-American communities. Wilson watched as:

Chaplains became Bloods and Sportsmen became Crips (on the West Coast) and El Quintos became Latin Kings (on the East Coast). Life deteriorated into a jumbo cap of rock, and females on any age became slabs of meat and were treated as such.

Wilson’s exposition is important for another reason. For it makes the point that the crisis we now face concerning gangs did not emerge overnight but over decades. It provides proof that gangs as they stand now are not necessarily an organic outgrowth of the conditions indigenous to minority communities. To be more precise, it is only when local gangs are turned toward more malevolent goals by outside forces than the mere protecting of their own turf that they become problematic. This is not to trivialize the harm that even neighborhood gangs can do to a community. But it is only when gangs move from being a purely localized phenomenon to one national and in some cases international in scope that they possess the power to infect and overwhelm society.

It is this deeply felt theme within Wilson’s essay that the dangerous gangs found on the streets of the barrio and the ghetto—but whose influence ranges far afield within a broader, whiter American society—are the result of a mixture of influences and personal choices that makes his essay so compelling. For if, as Wilson readily admits, gang members bear the blame for choosing gang culture over more conventional lifestyles, then those who flew in the dope, flew in the coke and the Glocks must themselves bear some responsibility for every act of gang violence—including the murder of rival gang members and those of innocent bystanders.

Within the solemn debate concerning the origin, growth and spread of gangs, Wilson deftly poses the question as to who truly bears the responsibility for gangs as they now exist. He suggests that the one sided answer that the African-American, Latino and Hispanic communities are solely at blame may be a form of scapegoating by equally guilty forces. It is the very hypocrisy of condemning the violent acts of gang members while at the same time supplying them with the tools of their own mass destruction that for Wilson makes reaching gang members all the more difficult. For while it is true that the new gangs may be violent and misguided, they are not practitioners of the “Eloquent Hypocrisy” employed by their enemies and spoken of so honestly of by Jesus Papoleto Melendez, one of the East Harlem poets found within the pages of the Republic. As the poet writes:

Here we are,

           The beautifully arrayed

                  Latin-Africano faces

                     of beaten, torn

                                       men and women,

                                                         some with

                                                            their children

                       Torn, from our native lands,


                                                                  as memory

                          Forced by the slick trickery

                                                           of democracy

to bow & cower

                                  to a bunch of lies


                                by a bunch of liars

It is the hypocrisy between what America promises as aptly recognized in the lines written above and what it can deliver that is the root of the alienation felt by so many Black, Brown and working class and poor youth in our country. Such alienation and hypocrisy is even more evident at a time in which the world celebrates the election of the first African-American president while anguishing over the fact there are more Black men in prison than in college.

The sad reality is that there may be many potential Obamas walking the streets of America unnoticed today. But standing alongside of each potential Obama are tens of thousands of young Brown and Black men whose prospects of success are jeopardized by poor schools, no jobs, and prison. We are, after all, a society that finds no apparent contradiction in raising generations of our children on Section Eight grants and food stamps while at the same time holding high the banner of the American Dream.

That there is a significant segment of our youth that stands ready to join a fringe movement of gang bangers speaks to a general crisis in the rearing and nurturing of American youth. The root of this crisis is a failure by America to fill the void, the most crucial needs in the life of its young people. For as Sen One puts it:

Gangs, street organizations, crews, posses . . . whatever name you choose to refer to any street group, the core reason for their existence is pretty much the same. The main reason for the creation of street gang/organizations is to provide a base for what is missing in our lives, community, or society as a whole.

The Republic makes the salient point that gangs do for American youth exactly what the greater American society has forgotten to do for them. They lavish attention on our children, give them a communal sense of identity, and challenge them to succeed in a setting where reward and punishment are unambiguous. That gangs do these things for nefarious ends is largely beside the point. What is important is that we recognize the method used effectively by gangs to win over our youth. And if one thinks that the attachment and loyalty to the gang is trivial, then one is mistaken. It is precisely because the gangs stand ready to fill the needs of our children that make them so effective in pulling them into a new social network—albeit one on the fringe. And it is because the gang is always there for our children exactly when all other sources of love and protection cease to exist that makes our children so loyal to them.  When we hear the proud proclamations of Big Kiko declaring:

Minds of Steel, Hearts of Stone,

Crip machine is moving on.

Blue Steel, Blue Flag,

Crippin’ hard, no turning back.

Raise the ‘C’ and hold it high,

Forever Forward, Do or Die.

We know that we have lost another young man or woman to the madness of gangs.

Too many times, the greater society fails to understand the depth of the loyalty between gang member and gang member. Or even the connection between gang member and leader. When a young gang member calls his older mentor “Uncle,” it is the ultimate sign of respect. Such a designation marks the subordination of family and all other social ties to that of the gang. Big Kiko’s declaration sums up all that is required of any member of a social organizationthat is to do or diegive all for the cause. It is a statement of loyalty that carries the same weight for the gang member as the Pledge of Allegiance does for the average American citizen but with more ominous consequences. 

Regrettably, it is only when gang members are incarcerated or on their death beds that they can see exactly what the price of gang loyalty costs. In an essay by King Blood (Godfather of the NYS Almighty Latin King Queen Nation)  entitled, “As I Lay in my Lonely and Cold Bed” found in the section of The Bandana Republic called “On the Count,” we hear the voice of a gang member that has come to terms with all that has been lost. For those unfamiliar with the term, to be “on the count,” it refers to the counting of inmates within a jail or prison. Conversely, to be “off the count” refers to being released or murdered within a jail or prison.  Here the ponderings of King Blood sound almost like the refrain of a plaintive Blues:

As I lay in my lonely and cold bed, with no other company than my pillow, I feel the hurt in my eyes for the troubles of today

The reader who considers this stark line knows well that a new Outlaw Blues has come to replace the interrogative Blues sung by Marvin Gaye so long ago. To the question of “What’s Goin’ On” asked by the legendary Soul singer now comes a true to the game answer by Jay the Butcher:

. . . listen to me

real close, you will hear

the wisdom of an old man through a young man’s tears . . .


You see, I live in a world where death is the test

where you got to be deadlier than the rest

it’s a dog eat dog world where the strong survive

and there are fools walking around taking good men’s lives

I only tell you this ‘cause I know it’s real . . .

If the astute editors of The Bandana Republic have accomplished anything at all with their book, it is to point the reader beyond the superficial though not ignored violence of gang members to much deeper waters. These waters may drown the reader in profound perplexity at one instance as they elevate the reader to a new revelation in the next. And as one wanders through the book coping with declarations of these bearers of colors and flags, the reader comes eventually to answer the question as to whether these new Outlaws are really our children, our young men and women or not. But if one thinks that such an evaluation will come easily, one is mistaken. For just as one is repulsed by the “inner city disease” that afflicts these young men and women, one is drawn to the possibility of self redemption as eloquently expressed by Leila Steinberg who implores the new Outlaws to:

please manifest                                       


into a new

existence . . .


because brilliance

misdirected is lethal . . .

The Bandana Republic requires all who come to it to do some heavy lifting. But those who struggle through its pages will be more than rewarded with what Rivera and George have sought to give them. Even I who  have worked thirty years in the Baltimore Detention Center and spent many months incarcerated as a teenager within its walls found this book to be illuminating.  The Bandana Republic stands as required reading for all those who come in contact with gang members.

Some years ago, Eldridge Cleaver predicted in his groundbreaking work, Soul on Ice, that a shit storm was coming to engulf American society. That shit storm was a new brand of Black and Brown activism that threatened to literally and figuratively burn down America. Gangs have the same potential.

If you do not think that this is possible, just read the words of Rikoshey Ratchet:

You are an immovable object; I’m an unstoppable force

The cataclysmic upheaval will knock the earth’s orbit off course

spinning, spinning out of control; on the event horizon of a black hole

A new shit storm is coming. We can either stand with our face to the wind or turn our backs. Rivera and George have at least warned us in The Bandana Republic  to be mindful of a change in the weather.

posted 5 January 2009

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 4 March 2012




Home   Amin Sharif Table    Louis Reyes Rivera Table

Related files: The Bandana Republic (reviews; table of contents)    A Review of The Bandana Republic (Sharif)  From Gangs of the Ghetto to Gangstas of the Inner City ( Wilson)