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The Biggie Smalls Way or The Great White Way
This YouTube video is amazing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWm7Uw78epQ
Watch it for beautiful images of a Fort Greene corner, not far from the Bed-Stuy border, and young folk gathered around the late and greatest MC of all Hip Hop time: Mr. Biggie Smalls.
The grainy images compel a wave of nostalgia to rise out of my heart. Where have all the cyphers gone?
Truth is, that could never happen today. I live in Fort Greene, just up from where the video was shot. Our neighborhood has become so gentrified now, and White folk have been displacing Black folk who have lived here for a lifetime, sometimes for generations. Police have been ticketing young people for sitting and talking quietly in an open playground after dark and stopped young African Americans as they cross the street on the way to the train. I've seen it. I've talked to the cops about it. They say they have to do it. Orders from the top, it seems.
Two officers once told me they might receive a call that 30 Black teenagers are in the park selling drugs. They know a call like that is bogus, but they have to respond. When they arrive at, say, the playground at JHS 113, they find 3 teens talking quietly on the swings. Despite the fact that nothing illegal is going on, the officers told me they, "have to," write a ticket, as the park where the gates are always open is officially closed after dark. Silly, because historically that particular playground is an all-day gathering spot for locals, all summer long.
Old-timers would play chess or checkers, teen boys would play ball, children would play on the swings, and parents would watch and talk as little ones would run through the sprinkler. To ticket teens who gather in this safe, beautiful, community space is a smack in the face of all of us who have been here in Brooklyn for any amount of time more than a decade. A smack against those of us who called this space home before the aggressive displacement began.
Now, that park is dominated on good-weather weekdays by Black women caring for White babies. Instead of a place where our young people express community, it has become a place where our young people are criminalized.
It seems fear of a Black planet has created a clear shift in the sense of community, of what constituted community. Integrated economically and racially, Fort Greene has always been a microcosm of the real America. Not the America of gated communities for the rich and special projects ("just another word for experiment") for the poor, but a place where Black, Latino, Asian, and - yes - White, lived together across class lines.
That video on YouTube is archival footage, something from another era, even though it looks like it was shot in the early 19990s, maybe more recently than that. It captured a scene impossible to even imagine happening now. A group of African American youth gathered to spit rhymes in front of a bodega? Please. The po-po would be on them in a New York minute.
Shame. Because I'm ready for the next Biggie to rise out of Brooklyn. But with the level of displacement going on, I can't see that scene, that exuberant expression of art and community and the wild funk of youth.. and love... ever happening here, in this now thoroughly gentrified neighborhood, ever again.