Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Things & Thoughts + Memorial for Phebus

C said yesterday that he thought I would have gone down to Ground Zero (ground zero? why wouldn't the term be capitalized given its sacralization since the ultratragedy that occurred six years ago), but I told him that while I understand the need and desire for government officials and family members of those who died on that day to participate in an official service, I personally feel the way for me to honor the 9/11 horrors and their aftermath is to remember them, in silence, and, though I didn't say to this, to consider ways that we might prevent them in the future, beginning with not getting involved in wars that help to generate more terrorism while underming the longterm health of our society, government and constitutional system, the rest of the world. Thus my post yesterday. I can remember the weeks and months right after 9/11 when I and so many others exchanged our stories of life that day in person and on the phone, how we sent emails back and forth (Samuel Delany's was one of the most memorable), how we felt relief at seeing people we hadn't seen in years, how some friends and acquaintances could not get out of New York and its environs fast enough, and then the moment came, how some of us tried to transform our experiences--or even just feelings--into art (and Ulli Baer, like others, later published an anthology of some of these earliest pieces, including one of mine); and then perhaps a year and a half later, the stories ceased being narrated, revised, exchanged, circulated. The memories were still fresh--how could they not be--and still are, but the stories of those memories, the accounts themselves, have become echoes that are still perceptible under the surface of everyday life, especially in and around New York, even if no longer so audible. But then whenever I walk down a street that was vibrant in its shabbiness during the summer of 2001, but which became a sorrow-edged row of empty storefronts in the summer of 2002, and which is now a haunt of the wealthy who ply more and more of Manhattan's grid, some of those stories, and the world they encapsulated that is certainly gone, once again buzz in my ears.


It's no news to anyone that for years New York City was browning, so to speak, except in certain neighborhoods (the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, SoHo, parts of the West Village, Tribeca, etc.), as hundreds of thousands of White residents left for the suburbs of Long Island, the northern counties, New Jersey, Connecticut, and other hospitable places near and far. The nadir of New York's image as a multiethnic, chaotic city came, I think, in the 1970s. The Blaxploitation films, and subsequent ones like Dog Day Afternoon, Taxi Driver, Fort Apache, The Bronx, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Gloria and the hilarious The Out of Towners are just a few of the films reflectiong this era of the unlivable metropolis, and there are countless others, extending well into the early 1990s, like Spike Lee's masterpiece Do the Right Thing.

As has been clear for since before 9/11 and certainly since then, that's changed. As have the demographics of New York City: there are now more White residents and fewer African Americans, but also more Asians, more Latinos (who can be of any race), and, as always, a lot of immigrants of all racial backgrounds. A while ago I posted on the falling numbers of African-Americans in New York City, which is becoming unaffordable for people of any race who aren't very rich, and as the linked New York Times article, White s are returning to and Blacks are leaving the cities noted, I imagine, for wherever's more affordable, especially during a period of wage stagnation and rising prices. The article also notes that despite the ethnic transformation underway, New York possesses an ethnic equilibrium that few other cities or metro regions in the country can boast of. Nevertheless, as more and more poor and working class people, especially brown and black ones, are dispossessed and exiled and Manhattan in particular, but Brooklyn as well becomes ethnically and economically monochrome, where will the people who keep the city running--the people who person the service jobs--live, and will the city that remains still be a draw?

It isn't only New York, though. Hurricane Katrina and its disastrous aftermath drove out a sizable portion of New Orleans's Black community, which has dropped from 67% to 58% of the population. (The city overall has recovered only about 60% of its population.) To the horror of the world and the delight of right-wing Republicans and some real estate magnates, black New Orleaneans were scattered to all corners of the country. Many of the discussions I've seen about the reconstruction of New Orleans note that there appears to be little more than lipservice paid to bringing back a large portion of the working-class and poor Black people or to creating a city that would improve their lives. The aim is to create a tourist-friendly living museum, which chunks of Harlem, the East and West Village, and many other parts of New York have become. (On a Times blog, historians Madhulika Khandelwal and Joshua Zeitz offer somewhat different, enlightening perspectives.)

More broadly, gentrification has also changed other cities, like Washington, DC, which is steadily losing its Black population to Maryland, Virginia, and more distant points. I think that these changes are cyclical--New York, as I say above, was supposedly on its last legs in the 1970s and "ungovernable" during the last years of Ed Koch's mayorship and the first two of David Dinkins's, yet is now on an upswing, and I can only wonder what cities like New York, Boston, Atlanta, and Chicago will look like, what their urban cultural mixes will be like, 1o or 25 or even 50 years on.


Yesterday I heard a radio report, later confirmed by a TV news account, that according to data from the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, over the 2001-2006 period, the rates of HIV seroconversion were up by 33% among New York men under 30, though they had fallen by 22% among men over 30. Most troubling were two statistics: first, that males between the ages of 13 and 19 constituted the group with the fastest-growing rate of H.I.V. infection; HIV diagnoses doubled for this group in the five year period. And second, more than twice as many Black men, and 55% more Latino men, reported HIV diagnoses as White men, with 90% of the diagnoses of men under 19 among Blacks or Latinos.

Quoting the New York Times's City Room blog article directly:
Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner, offered a blunt assessment of the data.

“We’re headed in the wrong direction,” he said in a statement. “Unless young men reduce the number of partners they have, and protect themselves and their partners by using condoms more consistently, we will face another wave of suffering and death from H.I.V. and AIDS.”

Dr. Frieden’s statement included statements of support from leaders of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Gay Men of African Descent and the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center.

Thoughts? Suggestions? What can we do/what can be done, especially for adolescents who are susceptible to HIV seroconversion, and probably not receiving adequate and comprehensive sexual education in school these days?


As for disturbing US news--and I don't mean the Petraeus-Crocker Kabuki-carnival in Washington, which is distressing and dispiriting, or the ongoing horrorshow in Iraq, etc.--there are few things that can top this (which I quote directly from the The Smokinggun website):

Six Held In West Virginia Torture Horror
Cops: Black woman raped, beaten, abused during week-long captivity

SEPTEMBER 11--A black West Virginia woman was sexually assaulted, stabbed, and tortured while being held captive by her white abductors, one of whom told her, "That's what we do to niggers around here." The 23-year-old victim was freed Saturday after cops responded to the home of Frankie Brewster for a "welfare check on a female that was reportedly being held against her will." When cops arrived, Brewster claimed she was the only one home, but then the victim limped to the door and said, "Help me." According to six harrowing criminal complaints, the woman, who apparently had been held for more than a week, had four stab wounds in her left leg, bruised eyes, and had been repeatedly sexually assaulted and humiliated. The woman told police that she was forced to lick Brewster's "toes, vagina, and anal cavity." Brewster's son Bobby forced the woman to eat dog and rat feces, according to one complaint filed in Logan County Magistrate Court. The victim, who is now hospitalized, was raped at knifepoint, choked with a cable cord, and had her hair pulled and cut during the ordeal. Police, who have arrested six defendants for their roles in the abduction and attack, are looking for other suspects who may have lured the victim to Brewster's home. The arrestees are seen in the below mug shots. Pictured clockwise from the upper left are Frankie Brewster, 49; Bobby Brewster, 24; Danny Combs, 20; George Messer, 27; Alisha Burton, 22; and Karen Burton, 46. (11 pages)

I did not link from the Raw Story website, whose comments section for this article evidently drew some of the nuttiest, most virulently racist people running around out there, but one person does claim that these folks had a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker on one of the trailers and another points to parallels with the Abu-Ghraib torture scenarios, which, let's not forget, Rush Limbaugh waved off as fraternity-style hijinks. Sadly and unfortunately, brutal, inhumane attacks against women, particularly Black women, or against racial and ethnic, religious, sexual, and socially different people are nothing new, but still, the specifics of these allegations were so horrible I almost could not believe what I was reading.


Phebus EtienneOn a different note, I received from several different people this notice about a memorial reading for Phebus Etienne (1965-2007, at right) this upcoming Friday at NYU. It's a divine roster reading in memory of a divine person and poet (whom I first met at NYU), who left us far too soon:

Memorial Reading for Phebus Etienne
Friday, September 14, 2007, 7 p.m.

Reading Phebus' poems are her friends Sarah Gambito, Aracelis Girmay, Joseph O. Legaspi, Vikas Menon, Dante Micheaux, Khalil Murrell, Mendi Obadike, January Gill O'Neil, Gregory Pardlo, Evie Schockley, & R.A. Villanueva

@ Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House
58 West 10th St. (between 5th and 6th Aves.)
New York City

Reception to follow

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