Once upon a time, my father’s family lived on the South Side of Chicago.
Grandpa Harry and Grandma Fanny had their little house on 88th and Clyde, a squat brick home built in 1950 with a back porch and a spotless kitchen.
Uncle Paul, Aunt Frances and Barry lived on Luella, not far from Grandpa Harry.
And Uncle Harold and Aunt Evie lived with their children, Adrienne, Michael and Bruce in expansive, grand old apartments overlooking Lake Michigan along the South Shore.
Harold and Paul had both been soldiers during WWII, married young, and came back home. Harold was an engineer, so he started a heating/air-conditioning company that installed systems in many buildings in Chicago. Paul (1921-), veteran of Iwo Jima and the Battle of Leyte, worked as a plumber and electrician. He is still alive at 99 and lives in Woodland Hills, CA.
In 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., there were nationwide riots. And the stores on the south side were burned down and looted. And my grandfather’s new 1968 Chevy Impala, parked on the street, had its antenna broken off by a vandal. That’s when everyone sold their houses and moved up north to Rogers Park and Lincolnwood, North Lake Shore Drive, Deerfield and Highland Park.
Because they were safe there.
There were federal investigations by the Kerner Commission, whose findings were released in 1968, to get to the root causes of rioting from 1967, the year before. And they found, (surprisingly!), that segregation, poverty, discrimination, poor jobs and broken families contributed to unhappy lives.
After every insurrection, after every march, after every episode of mass looting, there comes a vow to move forward and make certain that this time, this time for sure, these events will not happen again.
So the streets in major cities were renamed Martin Luther King Jr., and on television Norman Lear created “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times.” And Hollywood and the media proclaimed that justice would reign over all the land. See the diversity!
And then there is a reaction, a call for law and order, new laws for harsher sentencing, new reforms for welfare, and progressive ideas to rebuild the cities (Brooklyn, Venice, South End Boston) by making everything safe for tech and shopping and historic renovations, and guess who will be removed again?
Giuliani is the king. Love what he’s done! This city is the best it’s ever been. We’ve been through 9/11 and now we are never going to be down and out again!
Who gets shot and who goes to fight the wars and who dies in the streets and who dies on the battlefields and whose population is dying today of Covid-19 and why is it always the same answer?
Why is it still terrifying to drive through the west side of Chicago before you reach Oak Park and tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses? Who lives there and who kills there and who suffers there? It’s always the same answer.
Let the looting and fires and protests begin! America don’t you see what’s going on!
You are violent by custom, and this is another type of violence. How dare they smash shop windows and steal what isn’t theirs!
Estimated U.S. military spending is $934 billion. It covers the period October 1, 2020, through September 30, 2021. Military spending is the second-largest item in the federal budget after Social Security. Source.
That works out to about $2,838 per person in the US. Or about $236 a month for every man, woman and child in the country.
We aren’t even at war. But you could argue we are always at war.
People of pinker pigmentations are again woken up and made to face the suffering of some of their fellow, darker citizens. And every year the same old story is retold, just with new clothes, new celebrities, new movies, and now, a new hashtag, #oscarsowhite or #blacklivesmatter.
And a silent majority, one whose all-white room I sometime inhabit, deplores criminality, violence, and looting; and I’m locked in there in that all-white room; I can’t get out, because I like the all-white décor that tells me that some people are violent and barbaric and have the wrong values. I feel better about myself, in that all-white room, knowing I’m law abiding and that should be end of the discussion. I’m suffocating in there, I can’t breathe, but I am relaxed in my self-assurance and high self-esteem.
Because if you get in trouble you are a troublemaker.
Where I came from is some of who I am.
I grew up in 1970s Lincolnwood, IL and there were no black people other than domestics who worked in people’s homes.
In 2017, Lincolnwood was racially composed of 57% whites, 30% Asian, and 6.2% Latino or other. I didn’t see a mention of African-Americans.
There was once a way to run away from troubled places, and seek refuge in a safer neighborhood, but I think we have run out of hiding spots.
They have come to Beverly Hills and Buckhead and Santa Monica, and they is us.
In 1992, I worked in the Polo Ralph Lauren mansion on 72nd and Madison in New York. There was no social media, no Twitter or What’s App, only rumor.
So as Los Angeles burned, New York City trembled, and rumors of mobs attacking Herald Square and other locations were falsely spread. There was not mass violence or destruction in New York City, that year, and it remained largely in Los Angeles, mostly, infamously, in South LA and Koreatown.
The Polo Store had wooden doors with glass windows, and the security guards pulled the cloth window shades down. They turned the lights off, and we all went home around 3pm on Friday, May 1, 1992. I walked through Central Park in my linen suit and back to my little apartment on West 96th St. to sit in the air-conditioning and wait out the troubles.
Until this past week I thought we lived in a new time of toleration and nobody was that angry and the times I saw horrendous videos of police brutality seemed the exception and not the rule. And I lived, because I am allowed to do so, in a bubble of wishful thinking and fantasy, in a country that mistreats others but not me.
I thought Barack Obama was the pinnacle of we shall overcome.
And I was wrong. Dead wrong.
I was naïve.
I’m protected from the injustices perpetuated by a system designed to give me a boost up, a feeling of betterment, because others are down there, and can’t be as good as me, no matter how spectacular they are, by virtue of their inherited DNA.
That’s really the truth. Because you might have an MBA, or be the CEO of a company, and if you go running as black you might be shot dead. So why bother to be the best if your country already decides you are the worst? That is the quandary of racism, it rips down the individual to a category, incarcerating her within a foul story of failure.
It takes a remarkable concentration of effort for the protagonist to overcome her role as the demon in a bad fairy tale.
Like an Obama or Oprah or any father or mother of color in North America.
We are at a point that is not only about the murder of the man by copper knee in Minneapolis.
There is the small matter of our chief executive, a corrupt ignoramus, who came to power, by questioning the birth certificate of our black president.
We are sick, we are unemployed, we are uninsured, we are scared.
We were kept home, kept in fear, brought out in mask, and indoctrinated to wash hands. We stayed home and got our groceries delivered, and got a check from the government, and some people got sick, some died, and the nation looked in vain for a leader who could not lead, a savior who could not save, and today we are waking up in the wreckage of our homeland.
A virus still stalks the Earth and lives in our saliva.
When Los Angeles was at its richest and most prosperous, three months ago, there were 100,000 homeless. And that was permitted, by the leaders, the citizens, and the public.
When Los Angeles was at its most diverse, the whitest among us drove our children to school districts that were majority white, and our morning and afternoon traffic was largely made up of children riding to and from whiter schools with their parents.
And that was toxic and unjust, racist and unfair, blatantly racist. When you think about it. Public schools where no children walk to school. Public schools, not of neighborhoods, but of magnets propelled to collect like particles to adhere with.
And what have we done to change education, health inequalities, housing shortages, racism itself? Because it all circles back to race when you ask people where they want to live or go to school.
We have an invisible problem right before our very eyes.
Our feet stand on blood-soaked soil. But we don’t see under our white sneakers.
We are striving to succeed, we want our children to succeed, but what is personal success if our nation is a failure?
So many marched, that way this week, holding up signs: impassioned, motivated, angered.
It was a religious fervor of moralism sweeping the country.
But nothing has changed, really. Stores are burned and looted, cops get down on their knees, mayors and governors call for a new dawn of tolerance and kindness.
The new plate glass windows go up, the tags scrubbed off the buildings, and surely Oprah will find a new heartwarming book to promote by a young black author.
Instagram will black out, and hash tag, and celebrities will proclaim they stand with the oppressed and the hated, and vow that a new day is here.
And new laws will get passed. And everyone will listen to great podcasts about race and police. And eventually the marchers will not march. They will go home, or get jobs, or go back to school, and the national hibernation will end, and the fast, furious ambitious race to get more for me will resume.
The next time someone dies unjustly, Our God, Lord Smartphone, will record it.
But Lord Smartphone cannot right a wrong. Only we can.
We marched that way, but we’ll live this way.