19 April 2001
To: Cincinnati City Manager John Shirey, Mayor Charlie Luken, FOP President Keith Fangman and Police Chief Tom Streicher
From: Your Negro Tour Guide
Re: Let My People Know
You had to see this coming.
Knowing, as surely you did, that Negroes here had been in a deep, languorous and stupefying sleep since we burned Avondale in the 1960s, you must have known that, once we woke up, we'd be irritable.
I am confident you knew we'd be hostile as hell, and we'd wake up swinging through a niggerbitchfit. Surely you were not — collectively nor individually — so ensconced in your own white sale slumber that you were blind to our storm front thundering down Vine Street like a twister across a Kansas plain.
You must have at least smelled its very nearness.
I will afford you each the benefit of the doubt when I tell you that perhaps, well, just maybe, you thought you could pass off another incident of police misconduct, City Hall's nonchalance and infighting, Mayor Luken's fear and denial and everybody's general malaise as just another day at the office.
But black folks, see, we've got sore faces. Both our cheeks are bruised, we've turned them so often. There are no more House Negroes, and we no longer subscribe to plantation thinking gleaned from years of listening to your plantation lullabies.
We want answers.
We demand them.
Oh, I am sure you'd like a few answers of your own.
Like I am sure you'd like to know why seemingly innocent people — hot dog vendors, store and bar owners, motorists — were snatched up, abused and trampled during the ensuing melee after Officer Steve Roach shot and killed Timothy Thomas.
You're wondering why you had to resort to curfews and talk of bringing in the National Guard. You want to know why all the attention from national and international media?
Your answers lay in the rows of disenfranchisement, the centuries-old layering of class, race and gender strata, the racial profiling, myopic attitudes and substandard training of police and the paternalistic society you've masturbated into a foaming-at-the-mouth monster.
These are the sick and diseased rows you have sewn: Rock-throwing, name-calling, vandalism, hatred, depression, oppression and stereotyping are what your crop of crap has reaped.
And now, sirs, where are our answers? And let me tell you that we do not want to be placated, patronized or demeaned. Tell us the truth. We yearn for truth like water for chocolate, because rioting and looting is the worst of us. It is the least of who we are, and it negates and shames the royalty from whence we came.
I did not attend or participate in any of the rallies, marches, prayer circles or rioting. I did not trust myself. I did not want to be shoulder-to-shoulder with other like-minded black people, inhaling identical anger and exhaling twinned frustration.
For me your curfew was an opportunity to embrace myself with reasonable calm, away from the yelling, cameras, hysteria and histrionics. During that time I turned to two of my favorite men — God and James Baldwin.
In The Fire Next Time, Baldwin quotes W.E.B. Du Bois: "The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line. A fearful and delicate problem, which compromises, when it does not corrupt, all the American efforts to build a better world — here, there, or anywhere. It is for this reason that everything white Americans think they believe in must now be reexamined.
"Color is not a human or a personal reality," Baldwin wrote 29 years ago. "It is a political reality."
And God, in his faithfulness, made a covenant with Noah and promised no more flooding. Genesis 9:15-16 reads: "Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant I have established between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth."
An old Negro aphorism sums it up. "God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water, the fire next time!"
Let us know something, gentlemen. We need more than Monday through Friday/ nine-to-five/water cooler healing. We need faith. We crave truth. We demand justice.
Do not leave us to this current wretchedness.
Show us a sign.
Kathy Y. Wilson, Your Negro Tour Guide ([email protected])
cc: Cincinnati city residents