From opposite sides of a Chicago bus route, one can see two very different Americas. One side of the route ends in the north side “Gold Coast” Neighborhood. Home to the city’s elite, the Latin School, the Chicago History Museum. The other ends on the west side.
As I sat watching the #72 North Avenue bus parked outside the window yesterday, I was overcome by memories of my mother- again.
It was the bus route that brought me from the ghetto to the peaceful lakeside where I could forget I was a black girl who lived in a neighborhood where children did not know their fathers. I would watch white moms and dads pushing children in strollers, buying cotton candy and wonder what life was like for them when they left the park. At the end of the day, mother and I would ride the #72 back home alone. Just a single mother and her child. I would sit in the front seat next to the driver. “Someday I will live and work here”, I told mother. “…where the white things are.”
“What are white things?” she asked.
“White people with white jobs and money. Nice apartments, museums. I want a white life.”
This momentary glimpse into the past took my mind off the speaker in the seminar I was attending. I did not hear him. I only saw the fountain and the #72 bus sitting at North Ave. and Clark, waiting to take mother and I back home. My lip curled when I knew I was back in the present. She was now dead and I was sitting here in this room. The white life. The job, the apartment, the friends and I had somehow left her behind to take the #72 bus home. This time without her daughter. My brown limbs could not move to join her. Here, the bus –an innocent bus waiting in the layover circle became a distinct vehicle for my guilt and shame at never confronting my mother about doing something about her life during her final years. I let her stay on the bus while I got off.
Although I intervened on several occasions, I was rebuffed and told “You do not understand what it is like to be really black now that you are educated,” she told me one day in the year 2005. “Like that stupid Condeleeza Rice and Colin Powell,when blacks get up- they get uppity…They don’t want to wash clothes by hand anymore or drive buses. Then they join the Republican Party and think they are white people. they black fades from their skin more and more each day…Colin Powell don’t look black anymore than Strom Thurmond.”
To appease her I smiled a bit.
“He don’t!” she continued throwing her hand. “Neither does his wife. People forget who they are and where they’ve been. You get a nice car and don’t realize you are black until someone puts sugar in the engine and you can’t drive anywhere because your engine is all messed up.”
According to ghetto urban legend, sugar in the gas tank was a trick often played in inner city neighborhoods during the 1970’s. A person, usually a Black or Latino man would buy a nice car, say a shiny long Cadillac with white leather interior. Like many people who are proud of new material possessions, the owner of the car would drive around and around the same block over and over again so his neighbors could see his new found piece of colored American pie. A car is not the whole pie mind you; just a tiny sliver. But when the highlight of your life hinges on winning the lottery or surviving an accident at the drill bit plant during third shift, you will settle for the sliver.
The sistas would hang around the car as the doting owner massages it with car wax. By the end of the calendar year, the car was responsible for at least three separate pregnancies. Unfortunately, then as nowadays when you have a new iPad, people get jealous. Things that you are enamored with should stay in your pockets and inside the garage. Bruised manhood is the only remedy for a braggart Cadillac owner who gets too much attention from the ladies. His reward. Homespun 100% green with envy Dominic sugar poured in the gas tank. The ghetto moral: Forget who you are and we will mess up yo’ car.
The modern day equivalent of my mother’s sentiment about uppity and forgetful Black people was expressed by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) when she made a derogatory reference to Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas during a recent public appearance.
All of these stubborn, rigid ideas on blackness have in a sense collectively poured sugar in African American identity of Clarence Thomas and other prominent conservatives of color. Amongst liberals, Clarence will never be allowed to ride the bus back home. He lives where the white things are. Banished in Black history to the prison of collective amnesia and ridicule.
The same fate obviously will apply to Republican National Committee Chairman, Michael Steele.
From this article in the Wall Street Journal
Steele Says He Finally Met Obama
May 1, 2010
By John D. McKinnon and Susan Davis
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said he finally got to meet President Barack Obama on Saturday, at a VIP reception at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. He got his picture taken with Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, as celebrities such as Alec Baldwin milled around.
President Barack Obama makes humorous remarks at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
At last year’s dinner, Obama poked fun at the slightly nerdy Steele and his sometimes awkward attempts to seem cool.
“Michael Steele is in the house tonight. Or as he would say, in the `heezy,’” Obama said last year. “Wassup,” he added, making a hip-hop-style hand gesture. “Michael, for the last time, the Republican Party does not qualify for a bailout. Rush Limbaugh does not count as a troubled asset, I’m sorry.” Steele just stood in the audience, laughing, and clapped his hands.
A few days later on NBC’s Meet the Press, Steele insisted there were no hard feelings.
“That was just good love between two brothers,” he said.
UPDATE: In his remarks to the crowd, Obama gave a shoutout to Steele, calling him “Notorious G.O.P.”
Engaging with the facts surrounding the history Democratic Party have never been easy for my fellow African Americans. Did my mother ever know that the Republican party was the true anti-slavery party? I doubt it. I never knew until I reached college. Perhaps I needed the comedic honesty of African American conservatives such as AlfonZo Rachel aka ZoNation to show me the truth as he does in his latest piece on the history of Blacks and the Democrats.
In 1992, there was no ZoNation or Afrocity. The Democrats were eternal champions of brown skin and equality. There was no other side to the historical coin. Until I met a conservative of color, some old Republican woman– an outspoken member of a Houston based Republican women’s group. She found me in the crowd one day as I proudly campaigned for Bill Clinton. I would later meet that same woman in 1995 at an event honoring Laura Bush. The old woman offered the truth but I never explored the truth any further. The old woman had to be delusional. Everything she said went against everything my mother told me. I did not want to know the truth about the Democratic Party nor did I want to understand why Ms. Condi Rice or Mr. Thomas would be proud Republicans. Dining and voting for the enemy. How could such an animal even exist?
But today, I am the animal my mother and Eleanor Holmes Norton spoke of. Through my conservative beliefs, I am no longer on the #72 riding home with mother to eat a dinner of breaded sandwich steak, canned peas and instant potatoes purchased with colored money. The tumbler of Kool Aid still sits at the table waiting for my former liberal self to return home. But I can’t because as far as they are concerned I am lost as a Black woman.
I am where the white things are.
Autographed Letter Signed,