The temerity of allergy season to try to steal Covid’s moment is astounding. As a black person I try to look as healthy as possible during this crisis yet people still leave the aisle when I walk through the grocery store. Then I sneeze and people are horrified. It’s only after many microseconds have elapsed that they realize sneezing isn’t a symptom of Corona virus, however, the CDC says that it can be spread through saliva. They walk briskly away from me praying that I have not infected them and I can’t help but to feel sorry for those poor racial profilers. And no, contrary to recent national media coverage leading Americans to believe that every black person is a walking respiratory disease, I don’t have Covid 19 but I do have seasonal allergies—BADLY. I sneeze. I snot. I sniffle. I get pink eye. It’s very unsexy but not at all deadly.
I’ve had allergies since I was about 9-years-old and it isn’t going away but—GOD DAMN! I really wish it would disappear this Spring. I have a global pandemic to try to steer clear of. I can’t be cough sneezing while another jogger is passing me in the opposite direction on a trail. One moment the man is enjoying his essential daily workout as ordained by Governor Gavin Newsome, and the next moment he thinks that I may inadvertently give him an airborne virus so he runs off the trail so far into the brush that he almost hits a tree. And it’s so rife with irony that as children growing up in the south, my parents had to get off of the sidewalk and walk down the middle of the road when a white pedestrian approached them and now the whites do the exact same thing for us. I suppose one could call that progress—well if it is then I don’t want it. Having hay fever is hard enough but to give white folks another reason to be afraid of me is just too much. I don’t know if this is truly a result of “The Rona” or if this is how they always felt but now they are somehow justified. Or perhaps maybe racism is the pandemic beneath the pandemic. No amount of hand sanitizer or surgical mask could ever prevent the spread of racism. They would never shut the country down to deal with it either. Even though it’s killed more Americans than Corona ever will and continues to destroy our potential at an alarming rate.
I sat in Eastmont Barbershop for hours as a young boy. Looking out of the window while waiting on the best fade in town. I stared out onto 73rd and Macarthur Boulevard at all of the Cougars and Mustangs, Chevelles, Novas, and Cutlasses that were coming from the carwash on 90th and Mac and gearing up to hit the Foothill strip. They would rev their engines up until the 73rd light finally changed then they’d peel out down the block. This was back in the 90’s when the Foothill Strip was two lanes and everyone who had access to a car from all parts of the town would ride it every weekend all the way to Lake Merritt. It started right there on 73rd and Mac. 73rd and Macarthur is the gateway to Deep East Oakland going one way and the start of the Foothill strip going in the opposite direction. It lay right in the center of the largest black community in Northern California. It’s a major thoroughfare. It’s important. And now as of yesterday morning the whole block has been burned to the ground.
As I look at the changing demographics in the area right above Macarthur Boulevard and to a lesser extent below it I suspect, no I know, that it’s a blatant case of insurance fraud. A few blocks down on 77th and Macarthur there were also a few businesses that were burned under mysterious circumstances. Someone is reaping the money from this destruction while local children must endure a neighborhood that looks like present day Damascus. These building will remain burned out until enough white people move into the neighborhood. Then they will buy it and then this community will go the way of West Oakland, the way of Brooklyn, the way of Brixton, and the way of D.C. And all things poor and black will be shipped off to a suburb 50 miles away.
To love a ghetto as much as I love mine may seem oxymoronical to an outsider. I love the way we struggle. I love the bluntness and the humility of hood life. I love the pride of the people even though it is far too often misplaced in street corners and cars and gang signs. I love the blackness. Much more significant and perhaps much more telling, however, is this fact: I love my hood because my hood is all that I know. I’ve gotten degrees and come back here. I’ve gone around the world and come back here. I’ve taken a chance with a woman or two but always I’ve come back here. And now as I look at 73rd and Macarthur the only thing I see is my childhood all aflame and my heart in ashes. The invaders have made their move and indeed they have left their mark.