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A letter for Harold…

January 10, 2018
Hey H,
I’m sitting in a cafe in the southside of Chicago – Ariel is taking a class at the University of Chicago – it’s an evening class, in a neighborhood we were repeatedly told was considered dubious at best, infamous at its worst – with 600+ homicides in south Chicago last year.
The campus police have all the power of the city police and according to community activists have no qualms disregarding all Constitutional aspects of the law, and indiscriminately using it on the local Black community which entirely surrounds the campus of the 8th highest ranked university in the world.
It seemed only prudent that I accompany Ariel to her first class, while she gets a lay for the land.
Of course, one minute after getting off the bus, you realize that the propaganda about this particular part of southside is based on 40-year-old data, and a sense of racism projected against the Black community that is almost impossible for an outsider to comprehend.
The old campus is stunning in that neo-classical way. The campus is totally multicultural. The bus from the subway drops you off at the campus gates. The return bus drops you at the subway station doors. There are cafes and bookstores and college-aged kids everywhere. Profs cycling home after class.
I have three hours to kill and so I sit in a cafe that’s open till 9. I am surrounded by a dozen delicious African-American dialects – as if I were in an old Blues movie, as if James Baldwin or Billy Holiday were going to appear at any moment. This is the neighborhood of Jessie Jackson and Barack Obama. African-American Studies, and one hundred years of some of Chicago’s jazz legends. Chance is from southside.
It’s as if English were now caramel, kneaded by a Baptist choir, rolled through a John Lee Hooker song.
It’s so delicious I want to have sex with it. Eat it. Smoke it.
Old 1940’s Blues is playing on the stereo. I recognize Howling Wolf. Lightening Hopkins. The rest I don’t know.
The women talk as if every vowel had a twin. The words longer, massaged, stretched.
As if the Bayou was just on the other side of the street.
They call me honey, as in “What can I get ya, honey?”
And “Sure baby, coming right up.”
“Where you from?” they ask.
“Oh my daughter can’t get enough of that Drake. I hear it’s nice there. Cold, I bet.”
“Same as here,” I say.
“Mmm, that’s all the cold I want this year. I-I tell you.”
My post-colonial understandings of the ‘other’ and my white privilege are so thoroughly laid bare when one has the opportunity to be in the space of that “other”.
What do I know about being a Black person in America? Or anywhere else for that matter.
My point of view is so stilted by my white culture media barrage I see only old black-and-white movies, museum pieces, music from before the Great Depression.
How deprived of knowledge we are / in our separations.
One Comment leave one →
  1. January 13, 2018 1:19 pm

    Great ear for dialogue Sherwood. Ya caught it good.

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