A Tale of Two Black Cities (I)

There are two black cities sitting on the map

One named Kigali, one named Washington D.C.

Fly away Kigali, Fly away Washington D.C.

Come back Kigali, yes, come back Kigali

Come back, my dear Kigali

And sit on the map

The cities are known. One, is very well known; Washington in the District of Columbia, capital city of self acclaimed world’s greatest country. Daily, millions flock to D.C. in search of remarkable sights. Tourists are often seen navigating the narrow, exclusive parts of town;  without their knowledge, barred from sighting the real Washington D.C. Very wide open to the public are the government offices, historical sites, museums, archives, and man-made attractions. But, tourists must not be allowed to tour the greater part of South East, and parts of North West Washington D.C, or Chocolate City as its African-American majority population would rather it be called.

The hugely dilapidated parts of Washington D.C., now occupied by the descendants of slaves are – through carefully crafted invisible barriers – out of bounds to visitors. Visitors to the United States of America must not suspect or even know that Washington D.C. is a black city.  How would they know, when for the most part the important sights are placed within miles of one another in the good parts of town.  The very good transport network of Washington D.C is also known to run more frequently along the routes showcasing the “city.”

The visitors who have the guts to venture outside designated “visitor areas” of Washington D.C., are confronted with heart wrenching sights. They are faced with the realization that Washington D.C., the present capital of the now faltering Western civilization houses the poorest of poor African people.  The truth is that aside from the places surrounding the Capitol, the White House, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian and some of the affluent parts of town, traversing Washington D.C. is a most depressing endeavour for an African or  any lover of humanity.

The streets are sewn with discarded syringes, obviously utilized for the intravenous injection of something illegal, designed to numb the pain of poverty. Should one doubt the use of these syringes, casting your look upward, would most definitely bring you face to face with a stoned out person, staring at you, but not seeing you.

But before you venture, it is advisable to be armed or in the least, wear a bullet proof if one intends to go on a tour of the real Washington D.C. That poverty breeds crime, is an age long and foregone conclusion. With a crime rate of 60 per thousand, Washington D.C. accounts for one of the highest crime rates in the United States. Globally, Washington D.C. compares appreciably with some of the cities renowned for  high crime rates.

As you navigate your way through trash, trying to maintain a bold face before the heavily tattooed gang boys who stare at you ferociously, you are halted by a police tape. There has been a shooting and the street is cordoned off. It was a drive-by, two people were killed and several innocent passersby wounded.

You are re-directed through another street – a busier one – where you are confronted with the sight of several children pushing strollers with babies. Smiles radiate through your grief; something to be proud of at last. Here are young girls helping their mothers to take care of siblings; elder sisters to care for nieces and nephews; or aunties to care for younger cousins. In the midst of the desperation, death and destruction, you have found the true African spirit of brotherhood and familial attachments.

Deeply moved, you pause for a quick chat with one of the stroller pushing children.

“What is your name, darling?”

“Sharaya,” comes the response, as blue chewing gum pops loudly in three quick successions, in between rolling eyes.

“How about your little brother, Sharaya?” you ask, gently stroking the head of the baby sucking on some bright pink fizzy drink in a feeding bottle.

“Elijah is my baby, he ain’t no brother.” Startled, you stand, confused, not knowing how to take the conversation further.

Sharaya pushes her stroller on, swinging her hips seductively – the only sign to you that she was not joking about being the mother of Elijah – and talking loudly on the phone, barking angrily about child support arrears. Stretch Sharaya’s age, and she cannot be more than 13. You walk on, staring at the faces of more babies pushing their babies down the streets of the world’s greatest capital, making their way to the social security office to collect their welfare package. The men have been shot dead, are in jail, are addicted to some substance, or homeless. The females are the ones holding what remains of the descendant of African slaves together, in the United States.

Dare to take the Number 70 bus going to Silver Spring via Georgia Avenue. For this particular trip, it is advised that a gas mask be kept handy. The bus is filled with pungent odour from bodies alien to showers and deodorants. Besides you, the elderly passenger coughs violently and nonstop for three minutes, holding your hand for support. She follows it with deep guttural sounds, prior to spitting a mouth full of undecipherable substance. Half the bus is filled with homeless African-American men and women. They drop off here and there, in search of food to eat, or just to idle away at a park while waiting for the shelters to open its doors at 9: 00 p.m.   These are the uninsured people who wait to die when they are sick, because they cannot afford the high cost of health insurance in the world’s greatest capital.

Unable to bear the sightseeing any longer, you decide to drop off, and walk down a little bit closer to one of the streets off Georgia Avenue. There, you start to see sprinklings of white faces. Your environment gets a lot more cleaner and very well taken care of. Welcome to gentrification; the rich caucasian folks are dispossessing the poor Africans of their homes, their last place of refuge. The African-Americans are lured, harassed and practically told in outright terms to relocate from their homes. The world’s greatest capital will no longer be tainted by their presence.  In Washington D.C accumulation by dispossession, one of the enduring traits of capitalism is being played out in extreme detail.

Washington D.C.; the black city the world thinks it knows, but does not. The city of contradictions; filled with wealth and filled with lack; filled with knowledge and full of ignorance. Washington D.C., the city where few of its inhabitants walk the streets puffed up with pride, while the majority trudge along bearing on their shoulders, generations of crushed self esteem.  Washington D.C., a city of refuge for some, but a place of death for many.

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