Stop Glamorizing the Hood, Please
A Public Service Announcement
You know a hood when you see one if you’ve been blessed enough to walk its walls and inhale the perfume of lighters and childhood laughs that scatter and saunter across project and affordable housing rooftops — young staccato vocals flying high by graffiti that wrestles the bricks and stucco that adorns the tenements. The familiarity that rests in the feel is warm to you. It gets cold and you cup hands or flip up the ski mask and you only let go of the lining in ya’ pockets for hand daps or blazing an L or whistling for ya’ moms to toss your keys out her window.
Because the streets are cold here.
The sounds don’t ever change. I can leave and sit on a beach in La Jolla and come back to the Chinese spot and they’ll still know my order is chicken and broccoli with white rice and an egg roll, and we’ll skip the soda because we’re watching our sugar intake today.
We’ll breeze down a sidewalk and a window rolled down while a white clean Benz will play the latest Future or Jadakiss or whoever is hot to the age bracket that has the audio jack at the time. It can feel beautiful. It can be a full summer of ball playing or the time when autumn lasted two full seasons and you got maximum usage of your Wheat Timbs before the snow collected its debt. The weed stench will follow you long after the walk-by of it.
Yes, there is beauty in this landscape. But, it is different.
Strollers feel different on the Upper East Side, I think. You wouldn’t know unless you stand next to the schools and put your ears to their chalkboards and you hear how the creak of a new charter school’s book shipments fills a class. In another place, the smell is a combination of tired teachers and double shift working parentals. Inner-City youth still get treated like tests are the real evaluation tool used to decide the level of intelligence a little one possesses.
You may watch an episode of Law and Order and see an old ass Ice-T halfway run after some young gang member and chase them into an empty bodega. And that’s real. Empty bodegas — the ones that only got toilet paper and toothpaste and old ass Wise potato chip bags — can also be storage units for some illegal drug shit. But the real scene involves a high-wire act of sneakers over telephone wires and papi inside the store doesn’t see nothing or say nothing because he has a real life family and that family isn’t auditioning via Backstage.com. That’s the real that doesn’t get captured. That is the scene that is more polarizing, and thus, less important to the media and mainstream junkies, all addicted to the flash of the porn that is inner-city strife.
Hood shit is not a thumbnail.
Or a cool meme for water cooler gossip. Bodies get caught in winds regularly. People really die here, but people also have babies and fall in love and do things in-between the birth and the casket, but still. There are too many pictures. They’ll rename your ghetto to make it pretty, but it was pretty before the Barclays, and SoBro, or before the hipsters came and named turkey sandwiches and ice creams after blocks; the same blocks where boys buried other boys and poured liquor until the bottle broke in their hands, either from the grip or the ghosts.
It is not a literary trope when I tell you these tales are not lifted from Homicide or some other book written by White hands to paint Black lives. It becomes zoo-like; the romanticizing of a culture and a people and a community. They love glamorizing hood shit. They being whoever doesn’t understand the mechanics of the politics involved. There is governance here. There are rules, spoken and unspoken.
The slight movements of hands and mouths can lead to hugs and greetings or guns and handcuffs.
Folks come from all over to witness the spectacle that is Black poverty. iPhones in hand, Instagram filters focused and firm, ready for the show. A circus, maybe. Ringling Bros. on full display — the people carted and bagged and boxed in, like fresh animals off a boat, to be watched and loved and admired from afar. Simple enough to understand: if you are not from the ghetto, and have never lived in a hood, you can never fully understand or comprehend the living behind it. To outsiders, it becomes a sideshow of sorts. The elements, comparable to carbon, to the way they are essential to the living that happens where I grew — loud car systems, young teens outside stoops getting their hair braided by a young girl who doesn’t know how grown her thighs have become. The same stoop that sits across from the building Miguel got stabbed in.
The pictures are sharp in their contrast, the way they break and bow the streetlights that still flicker, and the deli bulbs that still glimmer in those murky sewer waters that feed the curb.
There is a Mona Lisa here. It is so much more than nightly news footage bombing the widescreens. And if you get to stay long enough to live in the portrait, you’ll know what it means. But, many don’t. So they scribe essays full of big-worded prose, lamenting and wishing and wanting for the days when you couldn’t ride a train to Flatbush after 10 PM without worry of a chain snatching; they will long for the days when Times Square was still seedy and sex could be bought freely. A time when pizza slices were still a dollar. I miss those days too — when I could order a sausage with extra cheese to go and wait while playing the X-Men arcade game in the corner. I will not glamorize this, however. No. There is nothing glamorous about inner-city living, about poor living.
However, there is something gloriously gorgeous about the faint aroma of ghetto colors that float about whenever your Air Max’s kiss the corner. You post up near a fruit stand or coquito truck or corner store and look for a face that reminds you of yours. Or maybe, or maybe it’s a nail salon. Perhaps it’s the Dominican hair spot, or Tony’s on East Tremont that still gives the sharpest Caesars known to man. Half the staff only speaks Spanish, and only watches fútbol. I stopped going years ago after my hairline gave me a kiss and a farewell and me and my clippers got acquainted. If you’re lucky, you got a threading spot around your way, too, so you don’t feel so far removed or remote from those that can afford those kinds of eccentric luxuries. But, that’s if you’re lucky. Other times, it will be praying to catch the last BX 30 bus before 12 AM while it’s drizzling out, listening to the sound of rain pellets and gun talk. And it is this, the two sides of the coin that I love and loathe most, because one does not exist without the other here.
So I ask, if you come here, to a hood that does not belong to you, I want to see photos of babies being born with parents smiling at the cooing, and I also want to see the full story behind why that boy was shot in the head in broad daylight.
I need to know the stories behind them both. I need to know that both stories matter, and that neither story will be made fancier by the writer who chooses to tell it. I want to see the truth in both. We need to see the truth in both.