“The lack of confidence of the Negro in himself and in his possibilities is what has kept him down. His mis-education has been a perfect success in this respect.” The Mis-Education of the Negro, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, 1933
I grew up Black, poor, and mis-educated in a ghetto inside Chicago, Ill, in the 70’s. These horrific conditions created particular challenges for both my consciousness and my self-awareness until this day. I wonder, if the Ghetto is stuck in me or am I stuck with it. Its presence fits like skin yet I know it is a social construct created by human decisions. It only exists in my subconscious, I think, well…I hope. Occasionally, its hurricane force winds toss my (fragile) mindfulness around as if it were a doll. Its depraved memoirs rush in leaving me clinging to a board. I hope against drowning from its dreadful episodes. Yet, as the tide subsides, so does the Ghetto’s harsh discrimination and sunlight reveals itself momentarily. Thankfully, I am pardon and this bring some joy, not much, but some. This is a familiarity, the nightmares and pain of the ghetto.
Who Dat Boy
In the 70’s, I lived in a Chicago neighborhood segregated and isolated by race, class, and hate. If you were poor, you lived in these isolated areas with other poor people. There was no race and class mixing, at least not from my point of view. You experienced everything through one lens, your race or class, and its culture (i.e., religion, ethnicity, privileges). There was vast episodes of intra-racial prejudice and discrimination that existed in the ghetto. In fact, it exist today as it did yesterday with similar intensity. For example, middle class Blacks wanted nothing to do with lower class poor Negroes. They conceptualized this group as lazy, shiftless, and not worth their time. I discovered this phenomenon as a child on weekend sabbaticals with my uncle and aunt.
My uncle and aunt were middle class in the 1970’s. I can say they were a bit ‘uppity’ and had done well for themselves. They were the American dream, they were what all Negroes wanted to be, well off. They lived at 9542 South King Drive, Elizabeth and Raymond Johnson. On some Saturdays, they would arrive in the hood and pick up my siblings and me for cultural reprogramming lessons. They wanted to get the laziness out of us. Teach us which fork to use for a salad and being proper. The first lesson was the ethics of hard work, my older brother and I would handpicked weeds and dandelions. In the searing heat of the Chicago’s summer we baked bending and pulling weeds for hours. I hated this exercise with all my heart. My aunt and uncle watched with judgment making sure each weed was uprooted properly or they would stare till you get it right.
Our second lesson was learning proper manners at the dinner table. Although, I hated them telling me how to sit at table or use the proper fork, I believed they loved us. I understood their love, but animosity had settled into my tiny consciousness. The hate of survival, which is the worst hate was already flourishing in me. Survival hate makes you arrogant, mis-understood, and scary. I was mad that my Uncle Ray and Aunt Tee were Black, educated, and well off; everything Ghetto occupants were not. I did love them for what they attempted to do for my siblings and me however. They taught me to never relinquished a work ethic or the motivation to do my best. I instruct my grandchildren on table manners and tell then too ‘sit up properly’. Thanks to Tee and uncle Ray.
The worse condition is being born a Black child in poverty. It is more evil than cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. Children of color (i.e., Latinos, Native Americans, and African-Americans) are not perceived, as…I do not know how to put this. Well, living in poverty seems to beviewed as a choice and thus you deserve it. This is a popular American’ perspective on urban inhabitants. You see, colored children can starve from a lack of food, education, and resources in America without a social movement. Our children are important but they are not viewed in a similar light as White children. This is no secret. We have always received less than our White counterparts (i.e., employment, housing, education). It was that way in 1970, and that way now.
I am a bit concerned saying this lest I receive the label of a racist. It has become common today, to charge African-Americans as being racists if they discuss racism. No kidding. I have inexplicably felt tension in my college classrooms when I speak about racism, and hegemony. You would think that we could have the discussion, but somehow, the subject has become taboo. So, if you violate this unspoken treaty you are a race agitator. Sadly, it has become a part of the postmodern American society routine.
I remember eating sardines, tons of process lunch meats, and canned everything (i.e., spam, corn, peas). My mother was a darling trying to protect us from the reality. While she rarely admitted it her howling for some Savior was always ignored. She like most Blacks had been sold a bill of good about a White Jesus. He will be there, yea right, I was disgusted with her relationship with this damn myth. We were poor and the Ghetto was filled with others like us. I would say angrily, where in the hell is this Jesus and what is taking him so damn long. Nothing made me more sad than the cries of my mother for this fictional character. This mythical belief creates a horrendous disorder for poor Blacks, it gives them patient. And if it is one thing you do not need in the ghetto is patient.
The people in my community essentially hated their situation like I did. You see, hate is a disease like capitalism it needs to expand to stay alive. Our neighborhood eventually went fromlivable poverty to unsustainable despair. With the subtraction of industrial jobs living condition decreased overnight. As a result, the Ghetto grew angrier and more vicious in the late 70’s. I celebrated the fact it was not always externally bad, I mean we were hard on each other at times. For example, if you received something new by chance, say like a new bike. Some of your friends were not just envious; they abandoned you for days. I mean, they disappeared from the block, playground, and the candy store’s stoop. Vanquished, M.I.A. Why? Because they hated that you got something new, most of us hated signs of progress or achievement by fellow ghettosmites. We were most happy when we all lived equally, this means as fucked-up as the other family. The pain of graduating or doing well received harsh rebukes, people would say, “Oh, you think you’re special” anybody could have done that”. I heard this quite often, or ‘you think you’re so damn smart’. I hear it today from Blacks peers behind close doors.
In our community, the most hate went to the families who had two parents, and lived in a new constructed house. My vagabond cohorts and I hated these families with all our mediocre hearts. Some of the new inhabitants had the nerves to have “good hair” and nothing was worse than having good-ass hair in the Ghetto. This would fuel more hate than anything at least that’s what I thought. However, light-skinned Blacks were hated with even more strong feelings. Who gave them the damn right to look White and speak proper, damn fake Honkie. We need to have a lynching in the hood today. Hate and the ghetto, like bread and butter, Jeri curls and juice, they lived side by side. Black history is self-hate in America. Englewood was no different, neither was its occupants.
You faced hate every day, folks charged you with ‘acting white’ or the being better than us bullshit. The constant violence changed you whether you realized it or not. You became something that must only survive by any means necessary. I do not think Malcolm X meant this shit when he said this. There are countless untold stories of stuck consciousness as a result of the ghetto. These layers when peeled back unveiled unspeakable violence because of our culture of hate. Incest, sexual abuse, rape, drug abuse, mental illness, and physical violence all resonated from hate and self-hate. We hated ourselves and covered it with manipulative behaviors. You see these things as a child and copy some of these ill-behaviors for life. You know its wrong. But hey, “If you do not tell, neither will I”. The worse secrets on earth lived in the ghetto. We are aware of our decadence but we’re afraid to reveal them. It would cause us to seek psychological help.
Hate is a blanket laid upon the consciousness, the heart, without our knowledge, in the ghetto. As a result, some poverty-stricken children have turned into hateful adults, unaware that their cognizance are corrupt. As I have discovered of my own consciousness, there are things I need to discard. Bad things, things from the ghetto, they still exist in my psyche, I am ashamed at myself. The things that are on my mental and spiritual hard drive need deleting. Indeed, it is highly likely that my mainframe is infected by ghetto malware from the 1970’s. I suggest such a thing because I lived in the ghetto too long, I caught a disease, hate.
to be continued…(Really)
The Ghetto Worst (Part 2) Upcoming…
I cannot forget entering Dunbar High School in 1976 from the ‘low end’ (i.e. Englewood). I was now attending a school with students who grew up in communities like my uncle and aunt, the nice hoods (i.e., Chatham, Morgan Park, and Kenwood). Yet, I was still dirt poor, one pair of shoes, struggling to keep my slacks up, and wondering what the fuck. I could see a difference in the students; I knew who was poor and who was well off. Growing up in poverty, you possess a keen sense of details, hell your life depended on it. Dunbar Vocational High School was a flagship institution, unlike my community’s high schools Tilden and Englewood for which I refused to enroll in either. The ‘Bar’ was uppity’. The school wassurrounded by condominiums, close to the lake, and minutes from ‘The Loop’. There was plenty intra-racial discrimination and prejudices’ bullying going on in the ‘Bar’. If you were a student not from one of those nice neighborhoods, it could be tough. Now the ‘Bar’ alumni’s get together pretending these cultural and sociological differences did not exist, Bullshit. Students from the projects and communities like Englewood were treated different. Some of us were poor and from the other side of the tracks. We felt the class divide as other impoverished Blacks has throughout our history in America…(to be continued)
Robert a Williams
- Assimilation As Assassination (redsociology.com)
- How Black Gentrifiers Have Affected the Perception of Chicago’s Neighborhoods (theatlanticcities.com)
- Leonard Pitts: Race is one of history’s dumbest ideas (sacbee.com)