There is nothing quite like a moment of clarity.
The second reason why Birkhold’s statement was important
is that it helped me look at another article with a clearer set of eyes.
For the past couple of days I have been e-mailing with Barry Michael Cooper,
the screen writer of New Jack City. Birkhold learns this and says,
“Ask him for a copy of the article he wrote in the Village Voice.”
“The one that New Jack City was based on?”
“Yeah, that one.”
So I get it this morning and I can’t believe it.
I realize that HIS PIECE and it the complete antitheses of Meredith’s.
It was published almost EXACTLY 20 years ago, on December 1st, 1987.
And it is about how young Black men in Detroit
were killing each other the way folks drink Kool-aid, reflexively.
The distinction between Barry’s and Meredith’s piece, is that
Barry provided the historical context in which the murders
in Detroit were taking place.
He mentioned how in 1943, this countries bloodiest race war
up until that point took place in Detroit.
34 people lost their lives, 25 were Black,
and over 1000 were wounded. (But wait. What about the
Tulsa Race Riots?)
“If you failed to inspect the political underbelly of the community
during that period, a riot in 1967 Detroit would have seem
outlandish….Detroit was one third Black, and
Blacks made up a substantial portion of the workforce.”
All these folks, with these good jobs, needed doctors, and lawyers.
The 1967 riot in Detroit changed everything.
Barry asked, “Why didn’t Detroit recover? “
The Black and White middle class left and the ones that
remained installed gates and bought guns.
He answers writing that,
” Conventional logic doesn’t force the city’s political
power to admit that the bounty of the 60’s wasn’t equally distributed.
Conventional logic doesn’t scream out that the riot wasn’t why Detroit
unravels. It merely burned away the facade that had hidden
Detroit’s invisible society, the invisible underclass.”
Upon reading these words I realized that the Oakland, Jersey, Philly murder
rate served the same purpose.
And for that matter so did Hurricane Katrina.
They serve as events that burn away the facade.
Barry describes the precursor for all the Black youth killing each
other in ’87 when he describes “how 30 year old man, John Leroy
was shot by a National Guardsman at a roadbock in Lycaste street.”
in Detriot 67. And now we find ourselves in ’07.
Leroy is barefoot, and chest down, bleeding profusely;
he looks like he’s treading concrete.”
So, pre-riot the Black working class the Black Elite flourished.
Post riot. Not so much.
Reading it, I heard Birkhold’s words in my head saying, “if you don’t
provide the historical context for a current situation, you risk making it
Why is it that when writers talk about Oakland, Jersey,
Detroit, Philly, that white flight, black flight and factory job
flight and just garden variety racism is either NEVER mentioned
nor meaningfully considered and analyzed?