Same Ol' Song

"Each day I say today won't be like yesterday, but it stays this way today and everyday." --Alana Davis There are some things worth telling, some songs worth singing. Some Negroes headed south

Jul 26, 2001 at 2:06 pm

"Each day I say today won't be like yesterday, but it stays this way today and everyday."
—Alana Davis

There are some things worth telling, some songs worth singing.

Some Negroes headed south the afternoon of July 20.

Judging by their dress, they were soon to take their places at the Coors Light Stadium Festival.

There is new-money gaudiness to the uniforms donned by Negroes who go to the festival and all its after-parties and events.

Apathy requires a look and a soundtrack.

The bass line holding down the bottom is the surreal juxtaposition, in mainstream media, of surges of turmoil and splashy spreads on the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) touring the city.

It is the dry-docked nightmare of bullet-ridden black lives competing for space against a white man's wet dream of honor, money and patriotic glory.

So Carmaleetta Rose keeps vigil over Devonte Williams, her 2-year- old son caught in the crossfire of another chapter of Wild West gunfire. The street keeps percolating — like acid reflux.

Seventy-eight gunfire victims in 60 violent episodes.

It therefore makes little sense to be luring and touring the five white guys of the USOC Evaluation Team to and through Cincinnapathy. But I guess the motions must be gone through: The flow charts and packets have already been printed up and paid for.

Despite the glaring absence of diversity in their midst, the USOC delegates will hopefully see us truthfully wilting in our inability to live peacefully in this broken-down jalopy version of diversity.

We've got a race problem. We don't deserve to host the Olympics. When I was growing up we couldn't have company when we misbehaved or mistreated one another.

The fracas has left us mumbling and stumbling around. During the weekend I noticed many of the white folks I encountered made great strides to let it be known they are not racists and that racism sucks.

That's all well and good, but such confessions are fraught with anxiety and punctuated by nervous laughter and overblown, exaggerated anecdotes.

And someone keeps turning up that damned music.

I was one of three panelists Saturday at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) discussing race, identity and nearly everything else in and out of conjunction with "Adrian Piper: A Retrospective." I navigated Ujima revelers to get to the CAC. I ignored the Gap Band's "Burn Rubber" blasting from speakers. I fought off the urge to splurge on a fish dinner.

By the time I stepped inside the cool interior of the CAC, joining the 30 or so others who'd shown up, I felt weighted down. I looked out a large window overlooking Government Square, converted then to the faux busy-ness of an African market.

Beside the window are Piper's enlarged and grainy photos of smiling black faces covered by her ticker tape, stream-of-consciousness phrases typewritten in red spilling across countless grids.

On the street below us, music played so loudly the words became distorted.

I stood in silence feeling separated and alienated from black people, like one of us was a traitor.

And the same "Apathy Anthem" kept playing, its needle stuck on the chorus of "What do you want from us? It's somebody else's problem."

Meanwhile mainstream media kept spoon-feeding us images of shiny, happy Negroes (though noticeably fewer than in years past). Even the dip in numbers was explained away.

As I tried to catch the tune of the song, it dawned on me that Cincinnapathy has morphed into one big groaning public relations machine.

From the banner in the window of the Garfield Suites chirping: "We're glad you're here!" to Ujima-Cincibration Event Coordinator LaJuana Miller's perpetually face-aching smile squeezing out subliminal messages, all the way to placid, greeting-card editorials attempting to shush the malcontents, we've slipped into damage control at warp speed.

The Apathy Singers joined voices in a refrain of "What's the big deal?" as out-of-town Negroes were quoted saying either they didn't realize what had been going on here or they weren't about to be kept away from their Aunt 'Re 'Re.

One Michigan woman even went so far as to say she'd heard about our mishaps. She ticked them off like a grocery list. Riots. Police shootings. Curfews. Now "something about a boycott," she said.

"But all we're really trying to hear is Aretha," she told a Cincinnati Enquirer reporter. A big chicken wing to you too, lady.

The weekend was over. The visitors went home. Streets were swept and barricades were removed.

Suddenly, the song was deafening.

But maybe it's a sound only dogs can hear.