I’ve seen people mention cultural appropriation and about how this is all about what sells$$$. But what I think is missing from the conversation is the history of Compton.
During the Great Migration, hundreds of thousands Black people migrated out of the South into the cities of the North and West in hopes of WWI & WWII jobs and to get away from crazy white people in the South. They were sad to find out that America was racist from sea to shining sea and there was just as much discrimination in their new homes as there had been in the South. In L.A., Blacks (as well as Asians, Mexicans and Native Americans) faced harassment and couldn’t go or move into certain neighborhoods/areas. One of the areas they couldn’t move into was Compton.
Back then, Compton was a suburb of L.A. and it was the white “suburban American dream”. It was completely white. However, as Black citizens and lawyers (particularly Thurgood Marshall) beat formalized racism in the courts (i.e. Shelly v Kraemer and Brown v Board of Education), new Black migrants set there sights on Compton.
- In 1955, Blacks made up 17% of Compton’s citizenry
- In 1960, Blacks made up 40% of Compton’s citizenry
However, that didn’t mean it was integrated. Informal policies upheld by the majority White population (realtors, businesses, school officials, politicians, everyday citizens, etc.) maintained segregation. One of these informal policies was violence. Black people were harassed and abused by the LAPD and white gangs like the “Spook Hunters”. There was literally two Comptons… one Black, one white.
People like to romanticize the Civil Rights Movement, but they forget there were a lot of scary race riots across the U.S. in the 60s as well. The government decided to enact programs to fix income inequality. White people got angry and the racial tension that
wasis always there began to bubble to the surface. There was lots of violence. One of the most violent riots was Watts Riots.
Watts Riots (August 11-15, 1965)
The backdrop: Race relations were strained all over in the 1960s, and Los Angeles was no exception. Growing tension between blacks and whites and between police and civilians added fuel to the fire.
The final straw: A white California Highway Patrol officer pulled over and arrested a black man for driving drunk, but the growing crowd of witnesses soon turned antagonistic. The mob grew angry, and when the CHP officer wound up arresting the man’s brother (also in the car) and mother, full-flegded riots broke out in the Watts section of town. Fires, violence, and looting were rampant for days, and the riots would be the biggest in L.A. history until those in 1992. The National Guard eventually came in to help. At the end of the spree, 34 people were dead, more than 2,000 injured, and almost 4,000 arrested.
Rather than doing the right thing and ridding the city of its racism, white Compton residents decided to just abandon the city. This phenomenon is called “white flight”.
The development of the freeway system made it easy for whites to travel farther away to the suburbs, further instigating segregation. Blacks soon overcrowded the South Central area of Los Angeles, eventually boxed into an area confined within the largely uncrossable borders of the 110 and 10 freeways and Pico Boulevard.
As America’s economy shifted from a manufacturing base to the service sector in the 1970s, many jobs left Compton. This is really when Compton enters into a decline.
By the 1970s, the area’s density and shortage of manufacturing jobs increased crime and branded the black communities - even including more affluent and middle-class nearby neighborhoods like Baldwin Hills - as one large, notoriously violent enclave.
By the 1990s, the mere mention of the name Compton had become so toxic that the nearby southern California suburbs had the city of 100,000 erased from their maps. Its schools were crumbling. Drugs were rampant, and street-gang tensions had escalated into what historian Josh Sides describes as “a brutal guerilla war.” The city became the U.S. murder capital, per capita, surpassing Washington with one homicide for every 1,000 residents—and the details were numbing. In 1989, a 2-year-old was gunned down in a drive-by as he wandered his front yard; a 16-year-old was shot with a semiautomatic weapon as he rode his bike.
And this is the climate under which Niggaz Wit Attitude emerged. Their violent, aggressive storytelling reflected and brought attention to the deterioration of Compton. NWA spoke out against the notorious L.A. Police Department. They went multi-platinum and ushered in a new form of music, gangsta rap. All this was in spite of the fact that radio wouldn’t play their music and MTV wouldn’t play their videos. The FBI even sent them a letter trying to censor them (apparently they didn’t like “Fuck tha Police”). It was the emergence of NWA that crystallized “the image of Compton as a defiantly violent ghetto,” an image the city is decades later still trying to change.
Two decades later, Compton has a new lease on life. The community is still poor, and unemployment is more than twice the national average. But the number of homicides is at a 25-year low, slashed in half from 2005. There are fewer gunshots and more places for kids to go after school. Alongside the liquor stores and check-cashing stands are signs of middle-class aspiration: a T.G.I. Fridays, an outbreak of Starbucks and a natural-food store. Along the way, blacks became a minority in Compton, which is 60 percent Latino today.
And they just got a fierce new mayor. But the point is, people still live in Compton and thus their lives are impacted by all the history of their environment. The LAPD is still corrupt and racist. Regardless of whether or not Forever 21 has truly pulled the shirts, you can easily find these same shirts on etsy or on other places online. But, why would you want to wear that? Compton exists. If you’re not from there then???? It’s just very tacky.