As we were walking and talking about our day, we passed a black couple. We greeted them, which is a no-no in the North. And we understood why they responded so nicely at the time. They were lost. The man asked us if he and his date were traveling in the right direction to the NJPAC, or the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. We told him no and pointed to the right direction. My honey suggested that they drive, but they told us they took the train.
It just so happened that we were going the same way, so we began walking with them thinking that this was going to be simple, easy-going chatter.
I was totally caught off guard, not expecting this shift. His tone changed and he began the all-too-familiar, New York arrogant swagger.
My guy who is from NJ asked him, "Where you guys from?" The guy turned around and said “BX” which is the Bronx, and then attempted to sway from side-to-side a little harder emphasizing his “New York ness.” Then he started to say his little jokes to insinuate his “highly cultured” New York pedigree and our lower New Jersey breed. Though I’m not from NJ or the South, I really wanted to see how far this asinine behavior would go.
So my reply, “Well, Malcolm X said that anything south of Canadian border is the South, so don’t get the shit twisted.”
Of course I wanted to say more, but in reality, I was taken aback by the circumstances.
My initial reaction was that this ingrate should be happy that my man and I went out of our way in helping him and his busted side piece, whom were heading into some darker sections of Newark.
But this coconut-shaped headed guy kept his girl giggling with small jabs that became inaudible as she huffed and puffed trying to make it up the hill.
Then it hit me. I understood why I was frustrated, especially after I heard the new song by Jay Z and Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind” once we settled at the lounge.
These folk, who are die-hard New Yorkers will never have the luxury of being “Snow Birds” or the flock of wealthy people who migrate from NYC to Florida during the winters to escape the brutal cold. They will be the ones keeping the city afloat while the key holders of the city are getting the Vitamin D they need by soaking up the tropical sun.
The other thing that this guy reignited that evening is the Northern misperceptions of the South, which is always irksome to me. It seems that the South conveniently carries the brunt of slavery and is flagged as the epicenter of racism.
This convenient myth makes idiots like last nights “New York swagger” and his busted side-piece, celebrate a lifestyle that he could never afford and promote a culture that he can never maintain, but only service. This to me is a form of insidous slavery and racism that NYers are hush-hush about until someone gets shot by the cops.
If he really knew New York, he would know that Minstrelsy and Black Face came from Irish and African-American workers who mocked black dialect and culture in New York. He would know that Irishmen continued the shows because whites paid well to see white men imitate blacks. He would know that Flavor Flav is just a descendant, as probably he.
If he really knew New York and the ugliness of the North, while the South maintained chattel slave systems, the bankers and banks of the North held the money from the labor. It was a great marriage, the North and South, until the issue of money control became a vicious war.
If he really knew New York, he would know that while people were enslaved in the South, blacks in cities like New York, Philadelphia, and the New England areas were kept under constant surveillance, were heavily discriminated against, and often subjected to mob attacks by local poor whites who felt that blacks were taking away their jobs with cheaper labor. These mob attacks manifested in the form of mob beatings, burning of black housing, and sexual assaults against black women.
Contrary to many historical “narratives” the active abolitionists of the North were blacks, not whites, who took many risks in fighting against slavery---even the risk of being kidnapped and shipped back down South. As was the case of Frederick Douglass, who had to leave America for years (and live in Europe), because his agitation in the North ignited threats that he would be recaptured and sold back into slavery.
So bad were the conditions in the North for black people during slavery, that the small communities created organizations to protect themselves.
Another fun fact for those who are representing New York is that NY did have slavery (1600s-1827). In fact, they garnered the distinction of having the highest concentration of slaves per household. This means that most households in New York owned at least one slave.
This leads to another revisionist notion. Northerners proffer that slavery was not as bad as the South, because NY epitomizes a civilized, cultured state. Nope, wrong again. In 1712, a group of enslaved men and women who were led by African-born blacks thought death was better than bondage in New York and decided to revolt.
To give you an idea of conditions during NY slaver, the excerpt below comes from a site called Slavenorth, which dispels many myths, but gives one an understanding of what is was like to be a bonded person in NY during the era of slavery.
A young slave, about twenty years of age, ... fired his master's barn and outbuildings, and thus destroyed much grain, together with live-stock. He was detected by the smoke issuing from his pocket, (into which he had thrust some combustibles,) imprisoned, tried, and on his confession, condemned to be burned to death. He was fastened to a stake, and when the pile was fired, the dense crowd excluded the air, so that the flames kindled but slowly, and the dreadful screams of the victim were heard at a distance of three miles. His master, who had been fond of him, wept aloud, and called to the Sheriff to put him out of his misery. This officer then drew his sword; but the master, still crying like a child, exclaimed, "Oh, don't run him through!" The Sheriff then caused the crowd to separate, so as to cause a current of air; and when the flame burst out fiercely he called to the sufferer to "swallow the blaze;" which he did, and immediately he sunk dead.
After that brief encounter, I could not shake the exchange of philosophies last night. For New York even has Caribbean and African people believing that they have arrived into some sort of greatness. Undoubtedly, the guy who clearly had West Indian roots took the Empire State of Mind seriously. Wonder if he’s ever even been to the damn building…hmmm…probably not.