Monday, March 30, 2009
Black Americans Are Like Newspapers
I recently visited my family in Upstate New York. It felt like an episode of “This Is Your Life”. I admittedly have a disdain/hate relationship with the city I grew up in. Lots of institutional racism, segregated neighborhoods and the combo of Blacks who were either into social climbing or the lowest common denominator behavior had me declaring at age 8 how I was moving to NYC after I graduated high school. I’d also noticed a pattern of the first born female (mom & grandma) having their first of many children at age 18. I knew that tradition was going to end with me as well, lol!
Despite the unemployment rates in NYS being high they’re nearly double in California right now. Despite parental concern I did go to NYC and loved it. As a native New Yorker we are a breed unto ourselves. Having lived in California and specifically San Francisco for the last 8 years I have to admit that I’m now a California girl (woman). You know what I mean! I’d still like to be bi-coastal actually and to do so I’m going to have to step up my game so to speak. With the average home purchase price hovering around $1M with the average rent $2000/mo I know why I may stay broke if I continue to live in San Francisco as a single child-free woman of a certain income bracket. So I may also need to change that status and be actively doing so. Which brings me to the point of this blog post.
Seeing some of the same thriving business districts and surrounding residential areas of my town of birth I’ve never considered it “home” because I had no say in where I was born and raised. The city is always building something (parking, sports arenas) yet the bulk of the areas where Blacks lived during my formative years are in near total disarray. Abandoned or burnt-out buildings litter many neighborhoods bringing the housing value down to those that are either too old or too stubborn to leave. Apparently the ones who haven’t left (like all of my friends and school mates) have moved to residential areas that were exclusively white.
There was a time I would’ve declared that “progress” but I think through a different critical prism now so I realize it’s likely the result of whites having left the area as well because it’s not “integrated” AND a look at the class status/temperament of those people who’ve remained deserves an evaluation. Not that their aren’t any well-off Blacks in Buffalo or poor whites but it always seemed geared towards affluence for a majority of whites. I used to think it was “racism” as the only cause but I think there were other factors at play. I used to say there’d be a Black President before a Black Mayor of this city but alas I was proven wrong!
So admittedly it was the combination of how the Blacks in the area did – or didn’t - wield power politically and certain aspects of my family that I find troublesome that generate this reaction out of me. I used to think it was like a rubber band or better yet, a boomerang, that no matter how far away I moved even across the pond to London some problem would force me back even though it was usually for a brief time. Like now with the horrible economy. It’s nice to see my immediately family but I am itching to be away. I need to be a large metropolitan area with diversity and more than one dominant culture to be at my happiest which usually means living in one of the more expensive cities. By the way I tried Atlanta, and no offense to ya’ll but it’s way to provincial for my tastes. I can’t live in a state that flies the Confederate Flag. I think out of all the cities I’ve lived in I may like Toronto the best but it’s way too cold in the winter. I really liked Denver when I went there for the Democratic National Convention and they are wooing Californians right now.
I was out recapping my lapsed driving skills – because you don’t need to drive in San Francisco (or NYC) but I need to be able to handle my business behind the wheel in case I end up living in a city that requires it. I noticed one of the areas surrounding the park I’d been driving in had really deteriorated. I remember as a child taking the bus through this area to attend school and how I’d always thought it looked a little worse for wear so now it was really bad. It was around 8pm and I counted six younger AA men standing around doing….what I don’t know.
Well one was sitting at the entrance of a dry cleaner that was closed drinking a can of beer. He looked rather pissed to me. I’m not sure if he was drunk (Euro expression) or angry. Two were across the street in front of another store “talking”. Three others were standing in front of the corner store. Are you getting the picture? My mother commented how these areas had only poor people left because the Middle Class had left. I responded these neighborhoods were full of the criminally-minded and being poor may play a role in the decline but that didn’t excuse the potential tinder box of danger and illegal activity displayed before us.
I was glad we were in a car because I would NOT have wanted to be a lone female out there with them. Of course we disagreed but I’m reminded of the potential dangers of people who may look like us that don’t share any of our values. One such person decided to drive out of his residential cesspool and come to ours to shoot at people…one of the victims was my second youngest brother and he didn’t survive.
I realize speaking to my mother about certain things is an exercise in futility. Generation Gap Alert!! Like how it’s time to leave the neighborhood she’s lived in for the past 25 years because the encroaching areas have become cesspools of criminal activity and having a Black Chief of Police and Mayor isn’t going to make other people bent on destruction change their evil ways. Some family that moved down the street decided to supplement their income by casing all of the houses in a two block radius and attempting robbery. My mom’s next door neighbor caught some of them standing on top of her garbage cans at 4am. Thank goodness there are still some men left in the neighborhood that paid them a visit, issued a warning and outlined the consequences for any further violations. That’s how it used to be but that’s not the way things are usually handled today.
How do I know this? Because of the idiocy of my brother’s “friends” and their stop snitching vow of silence crap the police know who murdered him but don’t have enough evidence to prosecute because none of the witnesses would say anything. It’s been nearly three years and my anger over this hasn’t dissipated. I don’t think a 21-year old college student with a job in the banking industry and an all-around sweet natured person being just another statistic of Black on Black crime because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time is something that should be forgotten. There are many such stories and not just Black men are being brutalized. So those that were protesting the shooting of Lovelle Mixon need to seriously have their heads examined.
This wasn’t supposed to be a personal essay. I was going to keep it brief (for me anyway) and speak in general tones but this is what came out. If it appears intact then I guess I decided to post it. I’m not sure yet. So why did I title it the way I did? Newspapers were once considered stalwart and venerable. Didn’t we always think there’d be a local and national newspaper? Yet from the Christian Science Monitor to the San Francisco Chronicle to the Seattle (name) they’re all folding or on the verge of collapse. I’ve always loved newspapers. It’s the tactile sensation of holding it and smelling it. The ink would bleed all over your hands.
I couldn’t wait to get to the Sunday cartoons and attempt completion of the crossword puzzles. Of course unless you were of a particular income bracket the coupons were eagerly anticipated as well. Don’t we tend to think of the Black community as a national collective of people in the struggle against white racism? That’s the shtick anyway that we were sold from those individuals who came to a very limited power during the aftermath of Civil Rights. Notice I specified Black Americans and I am referring to those whose ancestors were enslaved. We’re talking those whose family gene pool goes back starting from three generations ago and backwards. Like the neighborhoods of our youth that our grandparents lived in, those old alliances are for the most part gone.
The reality is for the majority those times have long since passed and those alliances were tenuous at best. When 70% of Black women are single and not by some “empowered” choice but because they’re holding onto these old ideas that the majority of Black men have long since abandoned it’s pure foolishness. When the majority of these single women - and by single I’m talking never married - also have at least one child then it’s not just about personal choices and responsibility. Some of these women were young girls taken advantage of by men old enough to know better or those that knew they weren’t sticking around to begin with. How can you make an empowered choice when you don’t know what that means? They’re the ones that are living in these deteriorated neighborhoods with boys that grow into angry abandoned men who have literally bitten the hands that fed them and then some.
Before anyone starts balking - yes of course there are exceptions, good men, intact families and thriving neighborhoods. Let’s get real here, though. While you may be living your life of exceptionalism, good people and cheer you may rub up against some of those on the periphery. Admit it, if you were superstitious you might throw salt over your shoulder and say “there but for the grace of God…” Or you may be living your high profile life with all its pressures just trying to swim with the other sharks. Meanwhile that periphery has a domino effect. It’s like when there’s a power outage and the lights on the block go out one by one.
There will be a day of reckoning but by the time you notice it, it’ll be too late to stop the bleeding. There are stereotypes about how certain ethnic groups are all wealthy because they make sure the entire collective is doing reasonably well by comparison to others. They have businesses that cater to their needs and are unabashedly supportive of their interests. They work with each other and hire each other. They don’t claim speaking well and being educated is a violation of belonging to that group. They don’t eschew therapy. They have thriving communities. Their men haven’t publicly disdained women from their group by touting the virtues and beauty of other groups of women. They don’t label it a “preference” when confronted about it. They don’t abandon their children. They don’t say “give a brother a chance” when they’re engaging in substandard behavior and activity. They don’t separate the women in the group by skin shade or hair texture declaring some women are worthy of praise while condemning the rest. There isn’t this disconnect where the majority of women and children are left to fend for themselves. Again this is speaking of the majority - which you can see played out over and over if you look - not individuals.
None of these things occur in a vacuum or by osmosis. It’s a mentality that is either supported or rejected and all the actions that follow are the result of that choice. This goes beyond white racism. This goes beyond the choice of a few individuals to “live their lives as they see fit”. This is a matter of survival. Some believe it’s too late for the collective and individuals who want to survive must separate themselves immediately. In the most heinous environments I agree, but there are still areas that have not deteriorated to that point yet. There are still people out there fighting the good fight. At least I hope there are.
Like newspapers will we admit there’s a serious problem and address it or will we continue to deny, deny, deny until the damage is complete and we have to sever the limbs or face sudden demise? I used to deny it even after what happened to my family. I used to think there was always a couple of bad seeds in the bunch but the bunch was a bushel and it was good. After what happened at Dunbar Village, after reading the blog Black & Missing and after looking at actual crime stats I realized those seeds have multiplied and sprouted an angry violent army of aggressors and fueled mass willful ignorance. It’s sad but you’ll get over it. It’s time to demolish the old and create something new and better in its place. Black women of quality can create quality Black children with whomever they mate with since we are the daughters of Eve. Will we stop looking through a narrow prism of choices and open ourselves to the spectrum of an entire world with as many options available to us as we’re willing to seek?