On this day, our country’s 234th birthday, the fate of my fellow African Americans weighs heavy on my mind. Like most summers in Chicago, this one entered the earth with a wave of violence. Brother against brother. Murder and destruction. My best friend who is Caucasian caused a black man to be put in jail a little over a ago. The Taste of Chicago was in its first day, Salt and Peppa was the opening act. People were high on the heat of summer. My friend was walking my dog for me. That dog being a Dalmatian, became excited by all of the strange people and noise. Sirens and raucous late June laughter coupled with a sensitive stomach from eating too much grass at Grant Park, caused the Dalmatian to bark at the strangers as she made her way to the hi-rise doorman building.
All it took was t “Control your dog muthafucka!” from a black man, for an argument to ensue. This caused angry words from my friend which led to the black man threatening to shoot my friend; which led to his arrest.
Just as I was rinsing off some fresh raspberries in the kitchen sink, my friend arrived in my apartment with the panting Dalmatian. I was planning for a bowl of ice cream but no one seemed in the mood.
“BLACK PEOPLE!!!!!” yelled my friend. “Stupid (expletive)….(expletive)”
He threw the police report on the kitchen counter. I grabbed the mint green flimsy duplicate copy paper. Crumbled up, the carbon writing had smudged. I saw the words “gun” and “dog” very clear. I kept squinting at the Dalmatian. She was now lying on my sofa- something that she knows not to do. Always causing a spot of trouble, I thought.
“Do you want to hear the rest of the whole story of my night from hell?” asked my friend who was still angry and breathing heavily.
Sure I wanted to hear the details. I wanted to know why he made the statement that he did about black people however, the atmosphere in the room was not one of safe waters. A recap at this point would do nothing but advance an argument on race. An argument that began downstairs in my vestibule and would end a friendship upstairs in my kitchen.
“No,” I said. “I am sleepy. “
My friend was disappointed and mumbled “But-“
I walked over to the door . “Goodnight,” I said flatly. “We will discuss the matter later.”
I closed the front door, leaving my friend standing in the hallway. Returning to the stainless steel double sink, I began to hum a tune and finished rinsing my raspberries.
All was well again.
That did not just happen I kept telling myself.
But it did and it made me feel uncomfortable. Not because of what my friend said but rather because I understood what he said. The blacks in Chicago were getting on my nerves too. Killings of young people shot over stupid, petty issues like boxes of two chicken dinners. Women —ahem, excuse me correction- I mean GIRLS with violet blue weave hair and fake neon pink nails, pushing one baby in a stroller, another on the side of their hip, and one in her womb.
One of the obvious questions that I ask myself is when will it all end. These are the people that my mother thought would do better than the older generations. In 1979 these kids were our future, now our future as African Americans is what I fear.
Yes, there are many successful African Americans today. Enough to give m friend a reason not to say the things that he did about his assailant. Enough to make me not shudder every time I see a young black mother being cursed at by black man with his baggy pants falling down his legs in the streets. Do we not dwell on the Colin Powells, the Michael Jordans, Oprah Winfreys, Barack Obamas?
I do- having the pleasure of being in a room filled with African Americans PhD’s. We chat up one another in our academic discourse while munching on Carr’s water crackers and goat cheese. Have you read such and such? Did you see that great documentary on… Our lives as African Americans in that insular, far away place called… Called what? What is that place? Freedom? Decency? Civilization? Acclimation? Assimilation? Whatever that place is, it is shielding us from the battle that rages on right outside our chamber door. Yes, I just alluded to Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, The Raven. I loathe that poem but it was one of my mother’s favorites. Ravens are black and cold- menace to society.
My heart cannot be at rest in the company of black success narratives when there is a raven sitting just outside the window. His eyes carry the images of youth violence, rape, welfare, robbery, gang warfare.
The Raven sits at the foot of my bed, resting on my 350 thread count Tracy Guild designer sheets. The Raven is there when I see other blacks at Whole Foods market. Look at all of the good African Americans following Michelle Obama’s advice. Eat organic parsnips, it is better for our kids. But what about the blacks kids who are physically fit and kill with guns and knives? No salt and battery will not cure what ails Black America.
The Raven keeps me up some nights wondering what could have been had we not sold ourselves out to the Great Society that the Democrats promised us.
“I’ll have those niggers voting Democratic for the next 200 years.”
– Lyndon B. Johnson
The Raven was at the Taste of Chicago last Thursday day night and so was I.
Firm in my belief that the festival was safe, I went to “The Taste”, purchased a roll of tickets, got guacamole and chips. When you grow up in a place as tough as Chicago, you acquire certain survival skills…Like sensing when people are packing and bullshit is about to start. The Raven flew over and sat on my shoulder. My chips looked good to him but not as good as the group of backwards baseball capped young black thugs standing by Buckingham Fountain throwing up gang signs.
Stop being paranoid Afrocity, I thought. Nervous white people grabbed their children. There were a lot of young black people and Mexicans out and…it was loud…and felt not quite right. How does this collectivity of social ideologies interact? You have the people who are here for barbecued turkey legs (12 tickets) and the people who are cause trouble (ticket to jail). Soon, my pursuit for an unbiased night of cultural interaction gave way to my instinct to survive. Afrocity still had food tickets left but did not care as she exited Grant Park. Once safe at home, I saw that my instincts were correct according to this article in the Chicago Tribune:
‘He just started swinging a knife,’ says boy stabbed near Taste
July 2, 2010
“He (the attacker) thought that the crowd was trying to jump on him and he just started swinging a knife,” Nuttall said of the knife-wielder.
As he was trying to pull his friend out of the way, Greenlee was stabbed in the lower back and fell over, Nuttall said. When Nuttall tried catching his toppling friend, Nuttall was stabbed in the forearm. The bleeding boys bolted for the Red Line subway station and headed south, where Greenlee’s mother was waiting for them at the 79th Street station.
When she saw her son and his grade school chum had been stabbed, Teresa Wilson became hysterical, more upset than either of the teenagers. Then the South Side mom became angry.
“I’m tired of Illinois, specifically of Chicago, period,” an exhausted Wilson said in a telephone interview this morning.
Wilson drove the teens to Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park.
“I really (became) hysterical. Bobby was a little more calmer (than me), stronger. He was like ‘Mom, stop crying! Calm down, I’m okay,'” she recalled.
Both teens were treated and released with minor stab wounds. Wilson’s son was resting at home, recovering from a 2-inch laceration to his lower back.
Nuttall said the teens, who became friends at Joplin School on the city’s Southwest Side, had no idea who their attacker was, or what started the fight.
Relieved that their sons weren’t seriously injured, both mothers were still filled with regret.
“I shouldn’t have let me child (go),” Nuttall’s mother, Patricia said in a telephone interview. “I didn’t know it was going to be like this. This is downtown, all the security and police officers down there…I’m just glad my son didn’t get hurt worse,” she said.
Wilson, who returned to Chicago 10 years ago, said she’s seriously considering leaving again, believing the city has become overridden with crime.
“Anytime you think you’re going to an outing, you have to damn-near expect something to happen and it just makes no sense,” Wilson said.
Recognition is the first step towards healing.
You have to realize that there is a problem.
For the first time I will admit something to my readers. While I did not vote for Barack Obama, I at least thought that the violence amongst those in the African American community would subside after his election. I especially and desperately wanted this to be true for Chicago. But like Edgar Allan Poe, the Raven is a realist.
Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” may have equated short term gratification for blacks and long term benefits for Democrats. But nevertheless, we signed up for it as a race.
I understand that.
Having a black president does not entail overnight brown-skin success stories.
I can understand that.
It does not eradicate every ounce of racism from country.
I can understand that…Asthe late Senator Robert Byrd so “eloquently” demonstrates here:
What I do not understand is why having a black president entailed the unraveling of any civilized state of “black Chicago.”
As I saw my people scattering about State Street with the policemen in riot gear.
I thought, is this what it has come to? Another 1968?
Another Los Angeles? Is this what Crispus Attucks took a bullet for during the Boston Massacre? So that blacks in America could go from that:
“Unfortunately the answer is YES,” quoth the Raven nevermore.
Autograph Letter Signed,