Day break in Washington DC
It was a gorgeous spring morning. Olu, my good friend, and I were free for the day. So we made plans for him to show me around North East Washington DC. I had just moved into the District from Virginia where I didn’t encounter a lot of black folks and settlements as you have in Maryland and Washington DC.
First, man must “wack”
We headed to the nearby KFC to feast on mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob and chicken wings, my most cherished fast food. With stomachs full and joyful, we pulled out to North East DC.
American the beautiful?
As we trawled from one street to the other, I was tasered by the sight of where our black brothers and sisters live in the capital of world’s most powerful democracy, a few miles from the White House which I understand their grandfathers built.
The neighborhoods were littered with all kinds of trash. Stores and public areas were graffitied. The young were attired shabbily with sagging pants and the old looked much older and dishrivelled. Children who should be in school stood in front of their residencies with their mothers looking on and lost. Decrepit old model vehicles of various kinds blasting loud music “rolled” around.
That early in the morning, some looking repulsively unkempt where already hanging around, talking out loud and soaking themselves in bottles of liquor wrapped in paper bags. Those not drinking looked knocked out, perhaps from drugs taken that morning or the previous night or they just looked so from the severe clubbing received from life in America. America the beautiful.
“Where these people born here?” I asked rethorically.
“Old boy, na so we see am o,” Olu responded and hissed in a shared agony.
Late in the evening, Olu took me back to the area. This time, it was to the red light district part of town. There they were! Women and teens, perhaps as young as 15 but looking much older due to their propensity to have big bodies, barely dressed, offering themselves for the service of the wild amorous appetite of those in the underground sex trade in the District. At the street corners were gayly dressed men commonly called pimps. They “own” some of the sex workers who you must not fool around with except you are yearning and in a hurry to join your ancestors.
On our way home, we stopped by the home of an elderly Nigerian from Ondo state who lived in the area. At the bottom of the staircase apartment complex, an individual either drunk or high on drugs coiled up on the floor. The staircase itself was a mess and stank.
“Why do you live in this part of town? I asked our host as we settled down for drinks.”
“Rent is cheap here. This is a three bedroom apartment and I pay just $500,” he said.
“But it is dangerous.”
“I know,” he responded without much care. “Shootings here are routine, even in day time. The DC Police don’t care anymore about what these people do to themselves except somebody gets killed and they are called in.”
That day’s experience and many others over a four years’ period left many perplexing and unanswered questions about the devastating effects of slavery on African Americans.
Night fall in Minneappolis.
George Floyd’s death under the knees of an unhinged police officer unleashed peaceful and wild protests movement in over 150 American cities against police brutality and institutional racism.
On Thursday June 4, Floyd received a globally televised funeral ceremony reserved for nobles. In death, a drifter found an anchor and purpose. At eight, Floyd wanted to become a Supreme Court Justice. While in high school in Houston Texas, he had his eyes in the skies. At six feet two inches tall, Floyd was a promising athlete who played American football and basketball in high school. He went on to enrol at the Texas A&M University for a degree program but dropped out.
A life of aimless drift.
From that point on, Floyd drifted like a piece of wood on a stream. He worked as a security guard, lorry driver and dance club bouncer. In between, he engaged in petty thefts, drug abuse and ended up spending five years in jail.
A frantic search for a purpose.
After spending time in jail, Floyd joined a Christian group and worked hard to find a new lease of life according to a report by BBC. But the life stamp of Third Ward, the poverty, crime and drug neighbourhood in which Floyd grew up in Texas followed him like an evil shadow. He could not shake it off like the songster Beyoncé and some others who grew up in the same neighbourhood. He drifted to Minneapolis in Minnesota only two years ago. The ongoing pandemic cut him off his last job as a bouncer. Sadly, he went back to the street. On the day of his arrest, he was said to have been attempting to buy cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. What a life!
A people trapped.
Gianna, Floyd’s little daughter while trying to process all the protests going on in the name of her father said “Dad will change the world.”
No doubt, in death, Floyd has changed his own world. He has joined the few other African Americans whose deaths at the hand of police sparked outraged although many more blacks are felled each year by black on black violence.
Will the death of Floyd change the world of African Americans in America as little Gianna believe? Drawing from what I saw in America, I am not as optimistic. Those folks are in a trap that is intricately complex to unlock. From the days from when the American Supreme Court said a black slave was 3/4 of a human being, not a whole lot has changed. It will take a monumental change to destroy the mountains of racism erected to keep blacks on the dark side of American Life. The knees of racism will remain on their necks for a long long time to come.