Of Hair Weaves, Short Sets and White Flight

I'm one of those schizophrenic Negroes. I simultaneously loathe and love this time of year each year. Likewise, I simultaneously loathe and love my people this time of year each year. And it's f

I'm one of those schizophrenic Negroes. I simultaneously loathe and love this time of year each year.

Likewise, I simultaneously loathe and love my people this time of year each year.

And it's for the same reasons: Every year, the last weekend in July brings out the best and worse in us. It always reminds me why I love my black self and my black people. It also reminds me why my black people sometimes make me recoil, aghast at the parade of hair, cars, outfits and the outbreak of violence in pockets of bored hangers-on.

The last weekend in July makes me laugh at who I'm not, who I'm from and every gradation of what I could be if I weren't someone else. It shows me our potential to make and generate income, to be creative, to be soulful and Soul-filled. To just be black — that is, to just be ourselves.

Why?

It's the weekend of the Coors Light Stadium Festival, or the Jazz Fest as we old-schoolers still refer to it. And with it comes the Ujima street festival.

Translation: Whitey hightail it out of downtown before sundown! You might get caught in the crosswalk with a dozen or so extravagantly dressed black folks! You might lose your way and have to ask a faux African vendor for directions!

Talk about culture clash. This is the one time here where the lines of race and class are so clearly drawn that once the sun sets on Friday, downtown Cincinnati looks more like Baltimore, Washington or even Harlem.

It's a blackout with all whites out.

Why is that? Are we that frightening? I mean, it's not like we're not downtown every other day of the week.

Oh. This just in. This is Cincinnati. We're not en masse every other day of the week like we are during Jazz Fest. People come from Indianapolis, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Toledo, all parts South and on and on.

I can seen why white Cincinnatians would be squeamish, trying not to stare and look so, well, out of place and so, er, white.

Think of how otherwise bland and work-a-day most black Cincinnatians look. Black women have tame hair and wear boring P&G Barbie cut-out suits; black men are either staidly corporate or border on thug life with pants saggin', gold teeth shining and cornrows pulled tight.

But come the last weekend in July, black folks break out the fake, skyscraping, shellacked hair; the airbrushed nails; the almost-but-not-quite silk short sets; mirror-heeled shoes; booty-flossin' shorts; and booming systems. And that's just the men.

All of this must explain why some downtown businesses close early, why some restaurants complain about a lack of customers or why there's nary a white face to be seen.

Or maybe it's easier to shut down than to try to make accommodations. Perhaps it's easier to just be closed than to dismiss the stereotypes surrounding black folks, like the one that says we don't tip well, if at all. Why not just treat us like any other paying customers? I dunno.

Yeah, it's probably easier to treat us like Jehovah's Witnesses and pretend there's nobody home when we come calling than it is to extend a little courtesy. Let's face it, Cincinnati is no ambassador when it comes to race relations.

Who knew a little music festival could be masking so much animosity and misunderstanding? We all did.

All you have to do is think back on this weekend. In the last decade alone, has it ever passed without incident? If you're black, someone you know has probably felt slighted in a restaurant or was overcharged at a hotel. If you're white, you've probably sat at home and watched the news reports of bottlenecked traffic, pockets of violence and general mayhem.

What does it all mean? That music or no music, outside the stadium we just can't get along. The divisions are too many, and many white people don't want to stick around long enough to see if they can get along with us.

Further, any event that's so exclusively and inherently black is bound to bring out the best and worst in us. And that's cool, because we can't all be me. It's just that the worst among us make it difficult for the best among us to shake the stereotypes and move on up like the Jeffersons.

Meanwhile, the city waits, its breath bated, for this weekend to come and go. When it's over, that sound you hear is a collective sigh of relief.

And come Monday morning, street sweepers clean up our mess and white people reclaim their positions.

Last Caucasian out, turn off the lights.

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