The Peril of Black Mobility

Writer and activist Doreen St. Félix discusses the policing of black movement

American artist William Pope.L prostrated himself on New York City’s Broadway Avenue for nine years, intermitently. He called the performances “crawls.” Dressed in a Superman suit with a skateboard strapped to his back, the tall, thin, statistically average-looking black American man would crawl on the sidewalk as long as weather and upper body strength allowed, which never exceeded six blocks. Known as The Great White Way, 22 Miles, 9 Years, 1 Street (2001-2009), Pope.L’s drama featuring varyingly proscribed cosmopolitan movements—those of the disabled, of the homeless, of commuting black Americans—attracted dramatics from his unwitting public as well. A cameraman documented most of the odd sojourn and the reactions, which ranged in horror, boredom, disgust, delight, and confusion. One passing black pedestrian stopped, so incensed by Pope.L’s state that he nearly kicked the artist in the face.

I write. I argue. I’m equipped to analyze Pope.L generously, across disciplines and through time. There’s the artist as a darkly comic Sisyphus, some assessment of the artist’s inheritance of protest choreography, another one interpreting The Great White Way as grotesque flânerie. I choose the latter.

A topography invents a literary type. Out of the modern Western city comes the flâneur and his complicated behavior, flânerie. When the French poet Charles Baudelaire drew up the flâneur’s proclivities, the character was as much a result of Enlightenment thought as civil engineering. He observed indiscriminately, both because such was the call of scientism and because the mall’s windows were wide and clear. He walked aimlessly, because rationalism demanded an understanding of the world, and because parallel boulevards spared his puny body from traffic. He was French and white. He could always observe because no one was observing him, his purposelessness safeguarded by the warming city streetlights.

Who is the black flâneur? He or she is a loiterer. The roving that permits white fancy, white whim, white walking in our modern American cities, when observed in us and our children, reads criminal. Some black wandering the public has grieved: Michael Brown in the middle of the street, Sandra Bland on a road trip, Tamir Rice in the park, Akai Gurley up the stairs. In America’s cities, black bodies stand under many lights, and the effect is not liberating warmth, but that paranoia of surveillance. There are streets you know not to walk down for the particular threats that are built in. It’s maddening—incorporating so many fields of vision, planning so many sophisticated routes. We thought the internet as a new metropolis might not cramp one’s range of motion the way cities do, but we find the same walls erected virtually. The desire to write for black freedom more often turns into a mandate to write for white anxiety. Knowing they’re watching can foster self-policing.

However, how to explain the other black man? The pedestrian whose pride surfaced as aggression? How to explain how much I can identify with his anger? And then, how deeply I desire to walk as strangely as Pope.L?

There were times I could not make it six New York City blocks. When I was 14, I won a scholarship to attend a prestigious school on the Upper East Side. It took three blocks east, three blocks south to reach the Beaux Arts mansions from the train station. I was barely 5 feet 5 inches tall and 100 pounds; at home, my mother spooned extra heaps of rice on my plate. A white police officer whose name I should not have known stopped and frisked me routinely, commenting that I looked too old to be a high school student. That he claimed he had to pat the perimeter of my periwinkle uniform skirt, I later learned, was objectionable. Eight years later, I found myself part of a group shutting down a lecture by one of the architects of stop-and-frisk policing, former New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, at Brown University. I felt bloated with unhinged pleasure, watching the powerful man silenced by our voices.

Our cities, virtual and physical, can be repurposed. For play, for intellectual experiment, for no discernible reason at all—in the black future, we will re-engineer our public and private space. I’m aspiring to feel as big when I write as I did when the police commissioner fell silent. I’m trying to write freely, toward a methodology for a 21st-century black flânerie. As our imaginative traveler Pope.L said to Interview: “You see New York from an odd vantage point. At a certain point you hit the wall. Crawling, I hit the wall earlier. But I have so much farther to go.”

via Honor Africans / Twitter

The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

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Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

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"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

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The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

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