The Desecration Of Harlem

Adam Powell was tremendous, at first. Eventually though, over the years, he confused his political survival with what was good for Harlem. Charlie Rangel was also wonderful, in the beginning. He, we, everyone had such high hopes. The shame is, when he had no power, he did the most for us. Now he has power, but no judgment. He’s lost his common sense.

[Notes From The Frontline]


Birds are singing.

Young people are strutting their stuff. Hooray, at last, it’s spring!

Sunday is Mother’s Day! So, watching young moms and their kids out strolling on 125th Street, it’s hard not to reflect fondly about your own mother and all the other patient and wonderful women who helped all of us to make it this far.

As a child, observing my grandmother, it was the hard work she put into making chitterlings, as much as the pungent smell associated with the preparation, that left me hesitant to try this dish that old people seemed to be so crazy about. But, once I did, wow! What an incredible treat. It’s amazing how our ancestors learned to make masterpieces out of nothing; to triumph so completely over adversity.

“You have to clean 20 pound, to end up with five ”, explains one of Harlem’s greatest cooks, Norma Jean Darden. “The mess, the stench, the tedious effort to clean pig’s intestines, rendering them not merely edible but delicious, can be arduous to do and hard to watch, but it’s so worth it! ”

Miss Darden left out the one thing she knows the most about; the knowledge necessary to properly season this down-home delicacy. What is skill in a great cook, has its political counterpart as well.

Take local politics as an example. Community boards are democracy in its purest form and democracy is a lot like chitterlings. The outcome at any community board relies a lot on the quality and prowess of its leaders.

City Councilmember Inez Dickens’ dexterity at political manipulation is certainly uncontestable. After all, just look at how easily she maneuvered Community Board 10 into reversing their unanimous position on the 125th Street rezoning. By the time of the City Council hearing, her wily handling had caused, “We oppose it without many, many significant changes!”, to become, “ We support the proposed re-zoning with the compromises fought for by our council representative!”

Across the span of history comes Frederick Douglass’ prescient cautioning , “ Authority concedes nothing without a demand”, that one oughtn’t to negotiate by giving anything up, before you’ve gotten something of great value in return.

And, just what do Ms Dickens’ vaunted compromises amount to anyhow?

“Not much!”, contends long time Harlem activist, Sophie Johnson Charles. “ Imagine, in our neighborhood where we have such need! Here low income people could easily fill 1,000 times the existing housing stock, if only they could afford it! What do a measly 200 affordable apartments out of the 3,000 they‘re planning to build, mean to us?”

Seen from the vantage point offered by this resolute 92 year old, Dickens’ gains seem to be no more meaningful than Senator Hilleary Clinton’s recent gas-tax holiday “proposal.” Respected economist have roundly dismissed this idea as pointless pandering of the lowest order.

“That’s because Dickens’ politics, like Clinton’s and Rangel’s, represent the old order of doing things!” complains a CB10 member, who fears pay-back if their name was used. “You heard the applause at tonight‘s board meeting whenever speakers said that Inez must go, right? Well, on Monday, 50 people picketed her fundraiser at Melba’s Restaurant. I was inside and it sounded like 500 protesters, even with the music blasting.”

Adam Powell was tremendous, at first. Eventually though, over the years, he confused his political survival with what was good for Harlem. Charlie Rangel was also wonderful, in the beginning. He, we, everyone had such high hopes. The shame is, when he had no power, he did the most for us. Now he has power, but no judgment. He’s lost his common sense.

Most all middle class ‘Negros’ have this tendency, to eventually believe once they own a house and a few stocks, that what’s good for them and their clique, will trickle down, somehow to the rest of us. When it doesn’t, that’s supposed to be our fault; because we’re not as hard working and enterprising as they are.

Thank God too; I rejoice that I was raised so that I’d rather starve than to get ahead by being a slum-lord, or to make the dirty deals that she and these other ‘Black leaders’ make against us.

For lots of people ‘never again’, means little or nothing. You’ve read before about my disgust over segregation in New York. Nowhere is this worse than in the media.

If you read The New York Times, you know as much as you might wish, about Black sports figures, Hip-Hop stars or the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Yet, check out their architecture or fashion magazines, their Food or House and Home sections and we are invisible.

Clearly, the antics of Black people might be entertaining; we might jump and sing well, but we have no style.

On the public radio station, WNYC, if you listen to ’serious music’ or tune in at 10 PM you can hear us loud and clear on Evening Music, or News and Notes. But as for prime time listening, forget it! These precious hours, from 10 AM -2 PM are owned by two middle class, middle aged, Jewish Brooklyn natives.

Notwithstanding a keen rivalry, so similar are Brian Lehrer and Leonard Lopate, their callers frequently mistake one for the other. When one had a child, so did the other and quite often they interview the same famous guest.

What suffers are Black and Brown people who are not newsmakers. If the Atlantic Yards debacle warranted 15 shows, Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion, like the 125th Street’s rezoning, merited just one each.

Even Harlemites calling in to suggest that the assault on Harlem, the assault on Brooklyn and the Village were all related, was of no use since Brooklyn callers were given preference to make the segment more powerful.

Because they’re white and secure, this pair have a distinct outlook that’s usually contrary to that of most Black New Yorkers. Their assurance that Mayor Bloomberg is doing a grand job, under the circumstances, their disposition to give authority figures, including the police, the benefit of the doubt, comes shining through, despite a common pose of detached impartiality.

Do we expect too much to imagine people capable of empathy? Could whites logically imagine what it might be like to be stopped routinely by police for no apparent reason? Would they remain calm and polite throughout the process? What if the officers were not in uniform and behaved in a menacing way; what then? Worse, could they really stomach a mostly Black police force periodically shooting numerous shots and killing unarmed white youth?

Council Member Dickens’ fundraiser, featured nearly as many police officers as demonstrators. Gallantly, at the close of festivities, they escorted her to her car in a cordon, past the excited greetings of her concerned constituents.

Only two nights latter, at Wednesday’s community board meeting, no mention was made by the council member’s liaison of this unprecedented protest.

Instead, the audience were told of Dickens disagreeing with the Sean Bell verdict. Nice; right? Except, just ask yourself, “Where was she when Councilman Charles Barron and others were being arrested to show their genuine outrage at the verdict’s injustice?”


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