Writing about Newark, N.J. is always a profound thing for me, even when it’s something as small as that Root Q+A. As I’ve said before: Newark is its own ghetto, not the ghetto section of a major American city. (So if you sing and dance, you gotta cross the river.) Standing for it is not like standing for, say, more historic places like the southeast ward of the District of Columbia or Harlem or the Southside of Chicago or most of Detroit. The difference is (white) people care about those places (or at least acknowledge they exist!) because they are major parts of a larger, prestigious white whole. Because of that geographical, historical and cultural fact, your very relative, conditional worth in those areas is already assumed. Newark, in constrast, is only worth, say, a major book if (and only if) The Washington Post discovers something it finds interesting, or a privileged white boy wants an adventure in order to understand something.
So when a native who has privilege and talent chooses to work hard to earn the respect and trust of and, subsequently, status from people who have none of the third and never will, it’s significant. Folks in my home ghetto don’t get rewarded for serving each other. (No one even sees them, because, as part of the New York City metropolitan area, they live every day in the shadow of the most prestigious ghettos in the world. Quite an oxymoron, I know!) And when those Newark servants die, they don’t get remembered by The People Who Remember. They only get loving memorials by folks who, from the outside, are themselves not deemed worthy of memory.
DECEMBER 1st UPDATE: I enjoyed reading this.
AUGUST 2015 UPDATE: Glad this is online.