by Patricia Spears Jones
At the performance in February at Le Dakar, Senegalese Chef Pierre Thiam’s Clinton Hill eatery, Kim Lyons, a poet opined, unlike in Manhattan, directions in Brooklyn are vague, things are not “between,” but near or far. There’s no real single grid in Brooklyn, but rather many grids, so being “off the grid” means nothing.
Bed-Stuy, a historically black and culturally rich locale, has its moments of grandeur – brownstones just this side of being mansions; projects where gangsta style grew from boasts to monster; sudden influxes of money and whites and fear of change.
Now I live in Bed-Stuy, where I moved from once in Prospect Heights, another more diverse neighborhood threatened with mega complexes and an influx of WHO? I asked a friend who has some money, are “Are there that many rich people? Who will live in those 17 high-rises that Ratner is building? Are they going to suddenly leave their fabulous Manhattan sites for a poorly designed complex for the wealthy and the unBrooklyn?” My friend shrugged. I guess Bruce Ratner knows.
So I take in the beautiful Bed-Stuy visuals: two black guys around 10 p.m. practicing on unicycles… well, one was doing fine, the other was hugging the light box. A pretty girl in a pink two-piece and a blue hat jumping up and down at the corner of Macon and Tompkins, her mother not amused.
On Saturdays, the line of middle-aged black folks at Royal Rib House on Macon waiting for a taste of home (Southern, meaty, lots of sugar in the tea). A line of blossoming pear trees on Macon, their delicacy in sharp contrasts to the rough-hewn clothes and bad attitudes of pre-adolescents on their way to school. Black clothes on just about everyone – men, and women, old, and young – and amazing beads in the braids of young girls. The haughty hair of African or Caribbean sistas ready to market whatever they can sell. The spiky beauty of IBO Landing’s display window. The Afro-Gothik look of the Catholic church on Throop between MacDonough and Macon- the Madonna painted red, black and green.
But Bed-Stuy aural? Not so nice. As in, “Them niggas jumped him at the Chinese joint.” Or “You see how stupid that nigga is?” Or “Nigger, why you late?, Where you been? What you doing here on the planet at this time?”
There’s no affection in the word, or in the speakers’ tone, so is this now the working definition for all young, old and in-between Black black males? I know that in hip hop, all things are all okay, but you know I ain’t down with this. Nigga, nigger, all of it means lower than human and I don’t care what the commercially benefited say: Ugly is ugly and the sound of that word everywhere on all these young people’s tongues saddens me.
Like a kind of drill into the psyche, saying, “You’re worthless,… useless or … easily thrown away like the litter on the street.” I come from the “Black is Beautiful” era, and you know what? I think I’d rather go for beauty visual or sound any time, any day, anywhere, but especially here in Brooklyn.