I’d visited Manhattan, New York in 2004. I was an architecture major, attending a NOMAS conference with four other students. On that trip I strolled through a sliver of Central Park, saw original Romare Bearden pieces in the Guggenheim, hailed a yellow taxi in Time Square, and even window shopped at Saks Fifth Avenue, on 5th Ave. Trees dawned amber and ruby foliage in the cold autumn weather.
This time I traveled in July. Trees were green. The air was hot.
I’d longed to visit Harlem ever since I recorded a walking historical tour on C-Span when I was in high school. A Harlem tour is synonymous with a black history tour. You see, in high school I had my own sort of renaissance. I discovered, studied, and immersed myself in black writers, political leaders, artists, and other historical figures. [No surprise that I also went natural (stopped straightening my hair) in high school too.] Harlem, therefore, was like a mecca to me.
I didn’t go with the rosy expectations that New York was a cultural Utopia where all races mixed evenly and existed in absolute equality and harmony. My short time near Bedford Ave. in Brooklyn proved the naiveté in that.
That said, I appreciated Harlem for keeping the dream visible, deferred or not. Harlem has mortared its history in every brownstone, store front, and public sign. I’ve been other places where, with the exception of the requisite MLK thoroughfare, the city and its residents seem to distance themselves from history and especially downplay any black American presence. In those places any celebration of blackness gets you sideways looks, like “Didn’t you get the memo that race is a social construct?”
In Harlem I didn’t feel pressured to suppress the joy I get from being immersed in black history.
I’ve noticed that people are prematurely clinging to the notion of a post-racial society. Well for groups of people, like those labeled African American, whom society has taught to hate themselves, skipping the whole self-love thing could be a huge mistake. For many blacks it seems most imperative to let other races know how much we love them, yet we can’t love or express love for ourselves without feeling guilty, feeling like we’re the neo-racists. Why is that?
We need a follow through on the 60’s revolution where it seemed we had finally arrived at self-acceptance. A dream of genuine and common self-love has been deferred. I’m still waiting to see what happens.
Here on the edge of hell
Remembering the old lies,
The old kicks in the back,
The old “Be patient”
They told us before.
Sure, we remember.
Now when the man at the corner store
Says sugar’s gone up another two cents,
And bread one,
And there’s a new tax on cigarettes–
We remember the job we never had,
Never could get,
And can’t have now
Because we’re colored.
So we stand here
On the edge of hell
And look out on the world
What we’re gonna do
In the face of what
~ LANGSTON HUGHES
With love, from Sarah L. Webb
What’s in your hand?