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Independence Nevermore:To Live Free and Die in the Not So Great Society July 4, 2010

Artist Faith Ringold Story Quilt

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.”

"When Blacks Take Over America"- Racist Com

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.

Furthermore, ravens seem to symbolize impending doom.

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.

From Chicago Tribune

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?

Photo Chicago Tribune. Police in riot gear after Thursday's Taste of Chicago Fest

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:

To this?

“Unfortunately the answer is YES,” quoth the Raven nevermore.

Autograph Letter Signed,



12 Responses to “Independence Nevermore:To Live Free and Die in the Not So Great Society”

  1. SYD Says:

    I am so sorry to hear of your experience, Afrocity.

    But please keep telling your story!

  2. yttik Says:

    Welcome back, Afrocity.

    I knew Obama was going to make things worse, but I can’t quite explain why. But one problem is that change comes from the top down, that leaders lead, they set the tone. Obama is not talking about a “new day in America,” he’s saying, “they bring a knife, we bring a gun.” He’s very adversarial, he’s creating divisions and intense partisanship. Anger and frustration is spreading across the country and not just in the black community. In spite of his soaring rhetoric, he doesn’t lift people up. He demeans us and makes us feel bad about ourselves and our country. People need to see the potential for a brighter future, they need to feel some pride in themselves and in their country.

    Instead of take down that wall, rescue those hostages, or put a man on the moon, we got oil gushing into the gulf, never ending unemployment, and a couple of wars nobody is sure if we’re going to ever win. It’s soul crushing.

  3. Joe Brown Says:

    I was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago. When I was growing up there in the 1950s and ’60s it more closely resembled Mayberry than “the hood.” My mother still lives there but I rarely visit anymore. What is going on is insane, but no one seems to want to stop the insanity.

    Oh, I sure the so-called black leaders want this madness to stop, but they really don’t know how. After all, they are in the protest business, and you can’t protest your way to self-esteem and self-reliance. Part of the problem is related to your dust-up with your white dogwalking friend. You seem to be embarrassed by the act of another black person and what a white person thinks of it. I think we as a people subconsciously are afraid to deal with a lot of our problems openly because of what whites will say when we air our dirty laundry. It doesn’t matter, however, because our dirt is out there on the news and in the newspaper.

  4. liontooth Says:

    Afrocity, your white friend was totally out of line. Your friend had this one incident that day with that black gun guy and all of a sudden black gun guy represents the entire black population?

    I can understand his being pissed at the time and his initial knee jerk reaction. You were very wise to call a time out and let things cool off.

    But seriously, he’s walking a yapping dog and some guy WHO MIGHT HAVE BEEN AFRAID OF BEING BITTEN, says something RUDE and your friend goes off on him? Ok, Maybe the dog was yapping and had your friend already extremely irritated
    by the time he met the gun guy. But your friend doesn’t see that he overreacted?
    I’d personally have been worried more about your dog then trying to prove something to some stranger on the street.

    I think your friend owes you an apology.

  5. Tiny Says:

    It is impossible to speculate on how anyone was feeling or thinking. However, it is clear that both sides were in the wrong. Calling someone a MF is an overeaction. Making a blanket statement about black people is an overeaction.
    It is just one of those things that happen in the heat of the moment. Let it go Afrocity……
    God bless.

  6. gs Says:

    1. I interpreted the incident with your dogwalking friend the same way as liontooth did; I didn’t see it like Joe Brown did. IMO probably your friend made some sweeping racial remark that generalized to you. If you valued the relationship, you were wise–liontooth’s very word crossed my mind–to control your emotions and postpone the discussion. Per liontooth, I hope your friend had the grace to apologize later.

    2. The preponderance of material in the “When Blacks Take Over America” cartoon looks like white racism, but the cringing behavior of the two whites is consistent with what a black racist might concoct. Some of the uniforms remind me of Japanese stereotypes in American WW2 propaganda. Something for everyone…

    Maybe depicting the defeated whites as craven is how the cartoonist inoculated his work against being adopted by white supremacist organizations.

    Cartoonist Robert Crumb has also drawn “When Jews Take Over America”.

    3. 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…What I do not understand is why having a black president entailed the unraveling of any civilized state of “black Chicago.”

    That’s an obvious point now that you mention it. The liberal media haven’t been mentioning it.

  7. yttik Says:

    The story about Afrocity’s friend reminds me of when I was teaching my son to drive. We were heading to an unpopulated area so he could take over and some women pulled out in front of me. No big deal, but my son exclaimed, “F-in women drivers! Why do women have to be so stupid?” I didn’t show Afrocity’s patience, I practically drove up on the sidewalk to throw him out of the car. That boy was actually lucky I didn’t continue to drive down the sidewalk and chase him all the way home.

    • afrocity Says:

      That same friend says women are stupid drivers too. That we buy cars that are too big for us and cannot parallel park.

  8. afrocity Says:

    I was trying to be reasonable. If someone lives in a place where blacks are responsible for most of the murders going on…then I think it is only natural for people to draw a conclusion.

    I think it is impossible to be 100% prejudice free. Do we voice our prejudices??? Not most of the time. Yes I have bad thoughts about others but I try to keep them in check.

  9. roofingbird Says:

    This is such a great soliloquy, Af!

    As a white person, it would never occur to me to use that phrase. I might say “some people!”. “Or some people’s children!” Were someone to say it to me, I would be offended that someone expected me to collude in that way of thinking, even if meant as a joke.

    As a woman, stuff like the women driver’s bit does come up-mostly recently with my husband, when he is trying to get my goat-especially if I have been blogging longer than he would like. He means it as a joke, but since it is also a manipulation to get me off the computer, it isn’t quite the funny, he pretends, nor am I laughing.

  10. jbjd Says:

    Before I became a mother, I loved living in the city. Then, as the white mother of a black son, I would have chosen to remain there. Instead, we moved to the racist suburbs, where people assumed kids of color had been bused in to achieve integration. Because my beloved son felt secure he would not be shot in a drive-by.

    AC, I cannot imagine what life must be like to witness so much death.

  11. EdithH Says:

    Maybe, it’s the economy and the loss of “maker” jobs, worthwhile jobs that provided dignity, structure, and, if not always a sense of purpose, at least a sense of having contributed. These were the jobs that offered a livelihood as people migrated from the farms to the city from 1900 on. They reached a peak in the 60s and their loss, which started in the 70’s has been accelerating ,especially since 2000. Search for Michael Gross’s article “The Lost Decade” from Nov 11, 2009. All jobs are not created equal; I don’t see from where the good jobs will come, in the “New Economy”. This is not anyone person’s fault or anyone party’s fault. It is a confluence of a lot of forces, some that are outside our power to control, that come together and compound each other to create a perfect storm of economic damage.
    The loss of these jobs hit men, especially young men, hard. The impact on men and damage to society is addressed in one of the Ralph Gomory (IBM, Sloan Foundation) videos on YouTube. I don’t remeber which one in particular; it might have been of “Does America Need Manufacturing” or the one with Michael Lind at the American Enterprise Institute. Note that the Manufacturing video is a year old and its concerns have yet to be addressed.

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