Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The white problem

"America doesn't have a black problem it has a white problem." That was a line in the seventies. That was the time I first went to New York, to the States, the early seventies. I stayed with a friend who lived on the edge of  Spanish Harlem, just down from Columbia. "You'll be OK till eleven, that's when the junkies get up." She was a cool character, but she still had four locks on the door.

 I was back from five years in Kosovo, and still all for Brotherhood and Unity as the Yugoslav Communist Party put it. That meant that as I wandered round New York I made a point of asking directions only from black citizens. In the subway, on the crosswalk. Most seemed surprised, probably from my Downton Abbey BBC accent. Two I still remember: a young man from South Carolina, in a bright purple shirt and cowboy hat. We walked along for about three blocks, just talking, having fun and then I had to do the white liberal thing, bring up some pious statement about black and white and he looked down at me, and just faded away, into the crowd. The other was a teenager, playing basket ball. I'd landed up in some back street, and called over to the group. One boy came across, looking at me through the wire. His directions were: "Keep on walking, keep on till you see people who look like you."

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