Monday, June 14, 2010
Harlem On My Mind
Walking through Harlem, during the am rush hour does strange things to my mind. I find myself looking at people, people who look like me, who have aspirations, dreams, bills, family, and favorite tv shows as though we have little in common. I find myself subconsciously, or consciously counting the number of men who “look” like they are on their way to work. It’s fairly easy to discern that most of the women are going to work. They stride by purposefully, mostly casting a cursory glance towards me. Some have on their game face, a mixture of hesitance, and angst. Unsure of whether I will greet them with coarse language, or whether I will trouble them for their phone number. Usually there are processions of men on the corners, any corner. They tend to overlook me, perhaps because I do my best to not be seen. I want to move unnoticed biding my time till I leave. The bigger question as we all board the express headed for wherever we are headed is where are we going? And is there a “we”? Prior to moving here I had some fairly set ideas about Harlem, and those who inhabit its many buildings. Never let it be said that black folks do not have class struggles.
We all compartamentalize and stigmatize each other on a daily basis. Either through what we would call profiling, if it was done by someone other than us, or by gathering, what we believe to be empirical evidence in support of a previously held opinion. However, as I move through the “community”, a word I would like to come back to at a later time, the dearth of men who “look” like they are heading to an “office” is startling. Yet, there are tons of women who appear to be headed to an “office”. Office, the paragon of American virtue, corporate America. The women move through this space by entering the front door, be it support staff, management, and upper management. Meanwhile the men come as messengers, UPS, FedEx, USPS, or any number of various concerns employing the muslce of the working class black man in New York. The dynamic is jarring, alienating and disconcerting. Recently I was on the train, I was dressed natily on my way to an appointment, mind you I am unemployed. As I was standing on the train, next to me two men, both black, wearing New York Housing Authority shirts with accompanying badges, were exchanged in a friendly yet passionate discussion about the recent Mayweather versus Mosely fight. Being an avid fight fan myself I was enjoying the banter back and forth, the expressing of various opinions on skill level, charisma and entertainment value. From time to time they would look over at me, as they did I found myself nodding in agreement, or expressing surprise through my facial expressions.
Next to me, another gentleman, I believe he was a construction worker as he wore a tool belt and hardhat, was also following their banter. Suddenly one of the men asked the man standing right next to me, “did you watch the fight”, startled the gentlemen replied “yes but I didn’t finish watching it I had to go to work”. It was ony after they quiried the construction worker that one of the men asked me if I had witnessed Mayweather’s virtuoso performance. I explained that I had, and I began to explain why I thought he was the superior fighter. At that moment I felt a certain communal spirit, a sense of “we”, a sense that there is something that “we” all have in common, whomever that “we” are. At the next stop I exited the train and to be honest the feeling of goodwill carried over into the rest of my day. I thought about this interaction and how rare such interaction is when I am out and about in my new neighborhood. I consider myself able to interact with many different people, yet somehow in Harlem I find many locals unwilling to allow me entry into their conversations, or their interactions. More often I interact with whites in Harlem, and on occasion with African immigrants or friends who live in the area. If the richness of New York lies in the interconnectedness of those in the respective neighborhoods that make up the five boroughs than why do I feel deprived of this richness? To the women in Harlem, at least as I perceive it, I am yet another nuisance, or another uppity brother who “looks like he dates white women” or on a good day “the college brother”, to the men I do not exist, I am foreign, someone with whom they share nothing. What if anything do we, men of color, existing in the same space, in the same time, have in common? Perhaps we are post racial and those thoughts are but figments of a proud but tumultuous past and my destiny lies not with those of like color but with those of like