Thursday, January 10, 2008

...Then You Must Have That True Religion

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I was in Harlem several weeks ago to speak at the Apollo Theatre about my old friend Art Blakey. Later I wandered around my hometown, which was once a beautiful and organic community. It is hard to get there now: no New York taxi driver will take you. If you take a cab out, it's a gypsy cab, with a dark driver, unlicensed.

The houses on 125th Street are boarded or sealed up, as are the houses along each avenue. The people in the streets, on stoops, in alleys or before a -- somehow -- fugitive bar.

Around 123rd Street, an enormous luxury high-rise is going up. The people of the neighborhood have scrawled, in white paint, on the walls of the construction site: Where will we live? For Harlem is an exceedingly valuable chunk of real estate and the state and the city and the real-estate interests are reclaiming the land and urban renewalizing -- or gentrifying -- the niggers out of it...

Each generation has had to look out on this dangerous and lonely place and try to invest it with coherence -- striving to make it my home. When I was young, the world was White, everywhere, forever. But it is certainly not White in the same way for any young black person today.

-- James Baldwin, "Whose Harlem is This, Anyway?"

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