Monday, May 19, 2008

Definition of gangster

Now, I've been reading a fair bit about gangsters in the United States because I'm going to write what is more and more becoming a psychohistorical fiction than a straight up crime novel. Or maybe I'm just being a pretentious ass about that. But in doing the investigation I've really come to the conclusion that the term "gangster" is deeply racist.

You'd think that it wouldn't be, that any person in a gang would be a gangster. I mean, I will right here acknowledge the definition of a gang is a pretty blurry concept in a lot of areas. Many "legitimate businessmen" are involved with "gangsters" and many "gangsters" own "legitimate businesses".

It's part of every MBA grad school in America that you have an outside man - a person not formally connected with your business that can do the things you can't do in order to help your business. So, when a "legitimate businessman" uses an outside man (say, a ruthlessly unscrupulous private investigator) to dig up dirty on a business rival and drops evidence that could ruin that person's life or marriage off to that person with unstated hints about accepting the business deal - that's just business, right? I mean, no joke, that's a standard business practice. Perhaps its legality is tenuous, but how is that any different than a couple of gorillas going into a place of business and saying that the owner should take out an insurance policy because it would be terrible if there was a fire in his nice store. And that's not even talking about the specific connections that people in a great many businesses need to have in order to get things done. In Las Vegas, where I'm from, all the big owners of all the big casinos, and definitely all the owners of the little casinos, have connections with a number of organized crime figures. Yet . . . those businessmen aren't ever called gangsters, despite for decades working hand in glove with "gangsters" - helping them to steal billions of dollars.

So, all the time these books will focus on people with Italian or Jewish names as the gangsters, but the people with the Anglo names that are equally part of the criminal activity won't be called that. Indeed, I can't think of a single "Anglo gang" - gangsterism in America seems to be defined by some sort of ethnic identity. You can have an Italian gang, or a Jewish gang, or a black gang, but a non-ethnically identified white gang? Nope. It doesn't happen. White kids don't do organized crime. When they behave the same way as gangsters, it's just called business.

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