Message to the People: Living in West End don’t make you ‘real’

May 30, 2006 at 8:49 pm

Well, Derby 2006 is over. It would seem that cruising is, too — forever. Even my young former Padawan, Phillip Bailey (now a Jedi in his own right), was unable to turn the tide in the favor of the would-be cruisers with his “balanced” and “gentle” (I call it “hedged”) essay in LEO last month.

Unsurprisingly, my rigid and clear position on the issue elicited a range of opinions. Some were in agreement that fighting for cruising wasn’t even a fight worth winning. One took umbrage that I didn’t recognize this was some kind of generative “organic” activity that should be respected. Still trying to figure that one out. One reader argued residents’ right to move freely in their own neighborhood was violated by local government. I fundamentally agree with the foundation of that particular stance, but the reality, magnitude and consequences of cruising makes the debate more complex.

This reader made other viable points, but his/her basic problem with me boiled down to the belief that I am among a group of “outsiders looking in.” He/she questioned, “Do you live in the West End, Dr. Jones? I think it’s good that you make a trip down here every once and a while, but how much can you really care about the West End when you live in the ’burbs?”

Basically, I ain’t “real”! This is an oft-heard refrain from many of Louisville’s black West End residents, and I think it’s time somebody called them on it.

In the classic “Black Power,” Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) and Charles V. Hamilton rightfully made the argument that many black folk in America suffer from three fundamentally oppressive conditions: political powerlessness, economic dependence and social isolation. Largely as a coping response to the last, certain segments of black America have bred and glorified the idea that “being from the ’hood” makes you “real.” If from Chicago, one has more “cred” if from the South Side. If you’re from the Near North Side and can add “Cabrini Green” to your resume, you’re automatically a street god. In L.A., Watts and Compton are the places where the “real niggas” roll.

In Atlanta, the SWATs (Southwest Atlanta — where I grew up) is the ultimate proving ground. (Side note: since I don’t live in the West End now, my near quarter-century soldiering in Atlanta’s Carver Homes housing project raised by an illiterate grandmother doesn’t matter.) Anywhere in D.C. outside of the Mall will do. New York minus Manhattan is generally considered a hell-hole. So, if you’re from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, whatever — you’re all right. In Louisville, it’s the West End. Subsequently, anybody from there or who currently lives there believes they can proudly proclaim, “I’m from the ’hood, kid — the streets! I’m real, yo! I still live in the ’hood, homie! You don’t, so I’m realer than you, bruh! You’re soft, I’m hard! I care about black folk more than you because I live in the ’hood (even if I’m a bottom-feeding idiot). You don’t know shit about black folk because you live in the ’burbs!”

Well, I have one word for all of you who sing this song ad nauseam: BULLSHIT! Is that “real” enough, “street” enough, “hard” enough for you?

West End provincialism is destructive and misguided in a number of ways. One, a person’s socio-political orientation is not determined by where he or she lives. Given, there are some black people who live in certain neighborhoods and avoid others because of racial escapism, but this is not absolute. It’s not even the norm! The reality is, every black person who is a minority in his or her neighborhood doesn’t hate black folk and is not ignorant to the realities of the black community. Many are, in fact, quite committed to racial egalitarianism — and work for it. Conversely, every black person who lives in neighborhoods like the West End doesn’t love black folk.

More importantly, internal racial rhetoric, which measures black authenticity along geographic lines, is not only segregative, but short-sighted and wrong-headed. Maybe if the “area-cred” champions of the West End expanded their ideological repertoires to include black people all over the city, their endeavors might gain a little traction (let’s be real — they’re woeful failures right now). Along the way, maybe they would stop exalting many of the so-called “community leaders” of the West End — many of whom, quite honestly, are little more than money-grubbing, strategy-poor, exploitative hustlers who prey on black suffering.

Then again, I don’t live in the West End — so what do I know?
Remember, until next time — you know the rest!

Dr. Ricky L. Jones is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Pan-African Studies at U of L. His LEO column appears in the last issue of each month. Contact the writer at [email protected]