What White People Do

Blood-curdling screams wake us in the middle of the seventy degree night. We call the doorman. We call 911. A lot of mother-fuckin’s shreik up the side of the building and yaw into our open windows. We look out, say, Oh, it’s Black people. Stay out of it. Next day in the laundry room we hear, A Black girl stabbed her boyfriend on our corner. On our corner? How do we know it was her boyfriend? What else would it be? Her pimp? We hear it. We repeat it. The pimp got stabbed on the corner.

We watch a crazy guy with no shoes keening mother-fuckers on the Magnificent Mile sidewalk frightening white shoppers. We say, Oh he’s that dirty Brown guy. He’s always around. He’ll find his way. We cross the street.

Before the sun drops behind the high rises on the west side we walk our dogs in the park. We notice a commotion in the bushes. We peek. Two Black men screwing. We run across the street and snitch to the Drake Hotel doorman, each of us bumbling over white words for the deed. Animals, the doorman says, Stay out of it. At the coffee shop we laugh about the out-of-town hotel guests looking out their windows at such a sight in broad daylight.

In the elevator we talk about the nice Black couple who moved into dead Mrs. Smith’s unit. We think they are so well-dressed, so articulate, not like other Black people. We wonder if they know the Black family in unit 2507. We think this. We say this.

The church asks us to fill out a Racial Equity Survey. Huh? We look at each other, look around at the hundreds gathered on Sunday morning. We see three Black people. No Black families. Do we see racial inequity in the church? How are we to answer?

We hear a Black preacher on inter-faith night. He talks about racism. Racism ended when we elected President Obama, right? We think this. We say this. To the Black 51dKjqBeeuL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_preacher. We thought the Black preacher would talk about his faith journey, but he talked about his Black journey. We lose interest.

On President’s Day we trudge down the street in our Uggs slippin’ and slidin’ on the street in front of the white church. We help a woman who falls into the fretted wrought iron fence. We use our white cuss words. Damn it, why don’t they shovel the sidewalk? Oh, you know, their Black workers hate the cold. We think this. We say this. We repeat this.

We haul old white bones onto the bus with our canes and walkers and shopping bags. No seats. A Black woman in her Sheraton Hotel housekeeper uniform jumps out of her seat, yells at two fully-formed white dudes. Get your motherfuckin asses up. Don’t you have any respect for your elders?

And we are reminded. Black people take care of us. Have always taken care of us.

 

Unearned Chicago Whiteness

I want to be a woman who is not afraid of young Black men. I want to enter the subway platform like an alley cat flic-flac’ing her cold feet into lackadaisical safety. I’m an old woman who wants to love non-Anglo words bouncing off the curve of the tunnel—ping! pow! hitting the pulse of the collective-waiting-for-the-train with differing beats-per-minute.

Imagine if I accepted Black culture the way some accept Chinese culture. I’d stop trying to colonize Black names—it’s Na’Dia, not Nadia! I’d quit harping at the Walgreen’s cashier for her gold-plated elongated fingernails—how can you hit the keys with those? I’d accept rap and hip-hop, stop changing the words or the beat whitening it all up just to enfranchise my fragile birthright. 

I’d walk down Lawndale streets, how-you-doin’, and ‘wassupin’, a welcome visitor looking for friends and food and local art. Next day I’d take you with me sayin’, meet Taneesha from poetry class and oh there’s Damari from tutoring. Hi Fam. Here’s my friends. I’d hear new language poppin’ outta my own mouth. Like they were my own words. Like they have to do when they walk white and talk white on Michigan Avenue, or else. Or else, the judge says, I can’t understand you. Speak proper English. 

We’d gather all together and go to the movies, sit side-by-side transforming ourselves into subcutaneous doppelgängers. We’d be like, oh that’s funny or Girrrlll I feel ya’. All hands would open and close on popcorn from the same bucket. Afterwards we’d crowd the sidewalk two-steppin’ to No Diggity on our way to brunch. Everyone would get served and be safe.

My unearned whiteness is a blessing: I get to go out the door without rehearsing how to react when Macy’s security guards ask to see my receipt. And a curse: A white woman cried to the police there musta been 40 Black boys down there crowded in the red line and I’m helplessly guilt-ridden when the fact gets reported as 50 later that night. And 60 the next morning.

I’m an old white woman who wants to cuddle and cry with Black children maligned in that subway—not white women’s cries regurgitating Black boy history of false accusations and lynchings. No. No. God-the-Mother cries with tears that seep under my babies’ skin cleansing them of my control, my denial of their equality, my remarks about their hair.

I thought I was once a curious woman simply eavesdropping on human nature’s racial conversations. The constant banged-out message that my beloved Chicago is the most segregated city in the country woke me to know I’ve been a gagged participant all along.

My vow is to be the old white woman waiting in that subway, with you, emancipated from the fear of young Black men.

michael-sardin
CHICAGO (CBS)–An 18-year-old is among four people now charged in a mob attack on the CTA Red Line.

A People’s History of Chicago

kevin-coval-peoples-history-chicago

Chicago poet Kevin Coval came to a luncheon of forty older adults in the Gold Coast to read from his new book, A People’s History of Chicago. This was not Kevin’s usual audience, which is young, disaffected and enlightened high school kids from the neighborhoods. After his reading, he passed out small notebooks and pencils and asked us to write a list of what you see when you walk out your front door. Then he gave us 8 minutes to write a poem.

Kevin is the Artistic Director at Young Chicago Authors, an ongoing free workshop that meets every Saturday at Milwaukee and Division. He invited all of us to the workshop, saying “we need you.”

And so the next Saturday I climbed to the 2nd floor high-ceilinged room of bare brick walls and planked floors. Twenty chairs were arranged in a circle in the middle of the room and loose, unlined sheets of paper and pencils were in a box in the middle of the circle. This is not just organization, it’s respect.

Poet-teacher Jose Guadalupe Oliverez sat on a chair in the circle and as people emerged from the staircase, he motioned to them to join him. He asked us to state our first names, age and our high schools. A group of 16-year-olds from Crane High School and their spoken-word coach, a 19 yr old poet from Calumet City, a 16 year old Lincoln Parker home from boarding school and a 20 year old jewelry maker made up the group. I apologized, “I’m Regan and I’m old. Thank you for letting me sit in.” Jose prompted us to write lists, reading various poems for inspiration about truth and lying. He gave us 8 minutes to write. At the end, each of us recited one poem.
_____________
Lying

I get on the bus
See a cohort
Where you goin?
To the March at Trump.

You go girl, he says
thinking I’m alive in pursuit of justice

Am I? I dress for the day
with buttons and banners
Tell others I’ll see you there!
Notify on Twitter and FaceBook

Then go downtown and what?
I tell others it works
to be in the number, to yell
This is What Democracy Looks Like

I write letters, make calls, send emails
Proclaiming the what and why
but then in silent spaces
I doubt.

Does my voice matter?
I tell others theirs does, mine does.

I doubt.
Will it get better?
for me
or you
or them
or us

Am I acting, lying?
What about the rest of ‘em?
Are we all just hoping, acting, lying?
_______________

Hot and weak at the bus stop I was thinking about the racism-felt poems I’d just heard from the young poets. A woman in a McDonald’s uniform came along complaining, “Where the fuck is the bus?” She asked if I had been to the new Division Street Target and before I answered, she added, “I can’t go there. They tore down my home to build it.”

I beseeched God, “when will it ever end?”