The first thing you notice about the ghetto is the sound. It’s loud. The black ghettos of America are urban, so you have the traffic noises, but that’s over-layered with the ever present sound of the music. The steady thumping of hip-hop, urban and soul music coming from every car, apartment window and the retail store. Then, of course, you have the people. Black people are loud, preferring to yell across a street at a friend than walk across and have a normal conversation. They even talk loud into their cell phones.
Walking down Broad Street in Newark, I was reminded of my first trip to Mexico. Walking the streets of Nogales, I was struck by the energy. People were scurrying in all directions and music blared from the store fronts in an effort to lure in the tourists. Newark does not have tourists, but it has that same sort of frenetic, pointless energy to it. The downtown is also festooned with garish retail signs advertising the sorts of things you normally associate with a ghetto. There’s a lot of money to be made off the poor in America.
On my walk around downtown, I saw almost all blacks, but there were a few Asians and Hispanics. According to government statistics, 50% of the city is black and 36% is Hispanic, but they must be quartered elsewhere. I was the only member of the master race on the street, but no one seemed to notice. I’ve strolled through plenty of towns being the only white guy, so I probably have figured out how to make it look natural. I got some food at Haggar’s Halal Kitchen and no one seemed to think it odd that I was white.
The funny thing about retail commerce in the ghetto is that it is free of the inhibitions you see in the outer world, with regards to the habits of minorities. Walking around Newark, every other shop seemed to be a nail salon. Black women love having exotic nails, so it makes sense to have a lot of nail shops, with lots of over the top signage. They are usually next to a shop that braids hair. Black women love their weaves, as much as they love their nails. In the ghetto, no one pretends this is something other than true.
Underneath a giant sign of Ras J. Baraka, the Mayor of Newark, is a store calling itself the Source of Knowledge. It must have started as an Afrocentric bookshop, but figured out why there are no bookstores in the ghetto. They added on African hair braiding and picture framing. Still, the shop is full of books, all of which are the blackety-black stuff you would associate with black nationalism. The shop fits in well with the 1970’s vibe you get walking around Newark. I was disappointed to learn that Big Mustafa was no longer around.
Speaking of Ras Baraka, I knew nothing about him until I saw the sign and decided to look him up. City Hall is on Broad Street, so I went down to have a look. They had a big banner up for Ramadan and some smaller banners for an African music festival. The building itself is quite imposing. It is not far from the Old First Presbyterian Church, where some of the state founders are buried. When I look at these old buildings, created in a different age by different people, I feel a twinge of sadness. Newark is a foreign country now.
As far as Baraka, he was not in, but going by his CV, I suspect he was at a poetry slam or maybe as a local hip-hop studio. He is an example of just how terrible this age has been on the black population. His father, a talented tenth, did real things and tried to make his race proud. Ras is a ridiculous person who would rather spend his time organizing hip-hop concerts than doing something for his people. Today, the talented tenth bolt for the white suburbs or they find ways make money reinforcing their peoples’ worst habits.
Walking around the city, I could not help but notice some very nice early 20th century architecture. Even with the grime of ghettoization, you can still feel the grandeur of these old buildings. In the first half of the last century, Newark was a booming industrial town with a flourishing downtown. This is soemthing you see in Baltimore, as well. If you tour Detroit’s bombed out districts, you see the same thing. It’s like there are ghosts rising from the rubble to remind those who look, that it was not always the way it is today.
The truth is, it does not have to be this way. It would not take a whole lot of will to fix a place like Newark. It has a great location. Install a strong man with authority to clean up the bad elements and crime could be cut in half within a year or two. The morgues would be busy, but it would solve the problem. Then you could bring in urban pioneers to gentrify the downtown and make it attractive to business. But, that would mean facing up to realities about the human condition that our rulers simply cannot face.