To me, the true point Chris Rock made in his stand-up routine (purposely or obliviously) is this:
Just as much of the world, even here in Japan, has come to fear or objectify or criminalize people of color, thanks to a media we have minimum control over, so have black people. We fear ourselves. Whether or not that fear is derived from experience or from what we’ve seen in the media, is difficult to say. Maybe a bit of both?
No one is completely immune.
Case in point: Back in ’97, I flew out to California for the first time to visit my sister in the Bay Area. (Side note: One night, we sat outside on her steps and I looked up at the sky and said, “What the HELL is that???” She looked up and said, “Huh? Oh, that’s Hale -Bopp!” Back in NY Hale-Bopp was a news story with no traction and could not be seen. Who gave a shit about a comet. But in California this shit (see below) was like THERE! I understood perfectly while those Heaven’s Gate Cult cats drunk the kool-aid then. It freaked me out, the way it seemed to be just hovering there. I’d seen shooting stars before, but this:
Anyway, I digress…
While I was there, in this elaborate plan to hit the Pacific Coast macking the mostest in the closest thing I could afford to a Porsche, I rented a Mustang convertible and drove down to LA to visit a friend living in Hollywood. Even took the PCH…seriously, you could tell me nothing then!
So, yeah that happened!
So, my second day down in LA, after doing all the Venice Beach, Beverly Hills / Rodeo Drive, Paramount Studio, Hollywood stuff, my boy Andy (a very good friend, white guy I worked with in NY who went west like most filmmakers eventually do) asked me did I want him to show me the Hughes Brothers and John Singleton’s LA.
“OH HELLLLLLLS DA FUCK NO!!” my heart screamed.
“Yeah, that’ll work,” leapt outta my mouth.
I let Andy drive so I could see the sights…and there were sights to behold, as the color of the cityscape shifted from white to brown. When I noticed we were driving on Crenshaw (a street name made infamous by “Menace…”) I swear my blood froze in my veins. I almost told him to turn my motherfucking rental around and head back towards lily white La La Land, cuz this ain’t working for me.
A scene from “Boyz” is the only thing that kept me from taking the wheel. Something Laurence Fishburne said always calms me:
It was almost a throwaway line, but not to me. It was said as Furious, his son and his best friend were getting out the car and looking around at basically the same LA I was seeing as Andy and I cut deeper into da hood proper in my open top convertible. The simple exchange went something like this:
Rick: Hey man, I don’t know about all this, Furious. Got us walking around motherfucking Compton and all, man.
Furious: Rick, it’s the 90s. Can’t afford to be afraid of your own people anymore, man.
I know it’s a movie and all, but shit, Furious was like a paragon of fatherhood to me. He was everything I wish my father was, a man I wish every Boy in da Hood could be fathered by. So his words, everything he had to say, I took to heart til this day, I mean, biblically so. (Big Props to John Singleton! You wuz robbed at the Oscars, man. Fucking Thelma and Louise, puleeezze…) So, with Furious in my brain, of course I didn’t confess to Andy that I was terrified to be within stray bullet range of Compton. I sat there in that car talking myself down from a ledge of cowardice and self-hate.
But, shit, even Andy wasn’t immune to fear (thank God). He knew better than I that there was just so far he wanted to take his white ass into Compton. And that so far was the “Welcome to Compton” sign. (can’t find the pic I took next to it) I was about a scared bitch posing for that pic, too, thinking that everyone in the vicinity was gonna peg me for a tourist, and that would be like advertising I was a mark (some of that gangbanging slang I learned from watching “Menace” and listening to NWA).
The moment revealed to me that I was a mess!
Later that afternoon after I’d dropped Andy off, guilt over disregarding Furious’ admonitions over just what I had felt started pinging me. And you know what I did right? Yep you guessed it. I drove my ass back to Compton, alone, in my Mustang convertible with the roof down, bopping my head to some gangster rap that was playing on the radio. I REFUSED to be afraid. Fuck that! I drove past that “Welcome to Compton” sign like I’d past it a thousand times on cruise control. And you know what? You probably guessed it cuz I’m still here.
But, I can’t say it was without incident, though. During my spirit drive through Compton, I decided to go to the drive-thru. Push this act of common sense disobedience to the utmost. Challenge my worst fears of my own people. Cause on every damn album, in every damn movie, there’s some mention or illustration of some fool getting jacked in the drive-thru. It’s damn near cliché.
But, there was Jack in the Box, an LA hood staple, and I’d never tasted that shit before. But as I approached the entranceway to the drive-thru, I saw some guys looking thoroughly thuggish standing off to the side looking my way, casing me, like, “damn, I’m glad we didn’t leave. Shit, there goes a mark right there! Those some busted ass rims, tho. Must be a rental, but fuck it! Better than a bust.” (An imagination is a terrible thing to waste) So, a third of the way into the turn into the drive-thru, I un-turned that motherfucker and kept going straight.
I beat myself up for a couple of blocks before I convinced myself that it wasn’t fear but shrewdness that I’d enlisted back there to save my ass. Shit, I’ve lived in da hoods of NY long enough to trust my intuition. Pretty sure Furious didn’t mean for his son to be no mark, either. Hell, even he packed a .357 Magnum and wasn’t hesitant to use it. At. All.
I spotted a Burger King a few blocks later and decided I didn’t need the stress of a drive-thru. I pulled into the parking lot, closed the roof, got out, and made my way to the entrance. In front of the door were some guys, regular people, my people, just kicking it and shit. I stepped through them with nods and shit, like Pryor in “Stir Crazy”. Probably looked more like Wilder, though.
I can’t say they exactly made way for me, but they didn’t block the way, either. So I went in. The place was packed with people. No one seemed to notice the “tourist” stamp I swore was tattooed on my forehead. I mean, there’s a certain kinda swagger and familiarity everyone seemed to have that I couldn’t even pretend to have. In NY, no prob. By the time I was an adult, I was absolutely unafraid to go anywhere…well, except Staten Island and The Bronx. (Motherfuckers are just this side of uncivilized in them outer boroughs, I’m sorry. And I only took Queens off that list cuz I went to school there, but them motherfuckers is nuts, too! Harlem and Washington Heights weren’t fun and games, either. Clearly I was not raised by Furious Styles).
I placed my order, and casually whipped out my wallet and paid for my food–to go of course. Wasn’t about to sit in there long enough for people to start to wondering where they might know me from. “He wit’ Crenshaw Mafia, right?” Nah he one of dem Crips…” Yep this was the kind of shit going through my mind as I grabbed my Whopper and Fries. As I exited, the cats by the door had gone about their business, thank god. I exhaled. Didn’t even know I’d been holding my breath.
But then I saw two of the guys that had been by the door standing near my rental, looking at it, searchingly. On my approach (which took every bit of fiber in my being to make) they gave me a once over. I’m pretty sure they spotted the tattoo.
“What up, fellas?” I said, as casually as I could, my heart racing like a Formula 1 engine.
“Oh, dat’s you?” one said, nodding towards the Mustang.
“Nah, that’s Enterprise’s,” I laughed as dauntlessly as possible, sounding like Tony Soprano I bet. Chockful of I give no fucks! “But it’s mine til tomorrow.”
“Right right right,” or something like that, the other said. Couldn’t make heads or tales of half their words. Some slang and accents are universal, but some are local as fuck, and these cats had already pegged me as very un-local. “Where you from, cuz?”
Now, some of y’all probably know there was an East coast – West coast feud back in the 90s, but fortunately at this time, it was in the way early days of that foolishness, so I didn’t hesitate to say New York. Never do whenever I venture to flyover America, which is basically anywhere but New York — to a New Yorker.
“Oh word!?” one said. He didn’t actually use those words but I could tell from his tone it was the Compton equivalent, so I’m just gonna translate that into New York parlance (if y’all don’t mind). “What you doing in these parts bruh?!”
“I’m a tourist,” I confessed. I’m always at my best when I tell the truth. I can’t lie worth a shit. “Seen y’all spot in the movies and wanted to see it with my own eyes! Figured it can’t be as ill as all that if millions of motherfuckers live here.”
“Trudat,” the other said. “It’s real over here, tho.”
“Real in Brooklyn, too,” I said.
They introduced themselves. Can’t remember their names though. Probably couldn’t understand what they’d said, or couldn’t hear them well over my heartbeat, cuz they looked like extras from ‘Menace to Society”. You know the guys they surround the fake ass actors with, to give the movie that “real feel”? These were some real feel looking motherfuckers, and I couldn’t wait to see them in my rearview mirror.
“Yo, nice meeting you guys! Protect yo’ neck out there!”
“Yo, yo, you wanna hang out, man?” one of them said…I think. “There’s this party over in…”
“I’m gonna have to take a rain check on that, bruh! Got an early start tomorrow,” I said, easing behind the wheel of my automobile. “But good looking out!”
Anyway, I got away from my Compton visit unscathed – physically, at least. But, it was clear to me that my soul was scathed. It wasn’t their fault. They were just boyz in da hood. For a long time I tried to decide if those two cats were trying to set me up, or were simply trying to bond with probably the only person they’ve ever met who wasn’t Compton-minded, let alone from Brooklyn, NY (that’s how we New Yorkers think, or used to think; everybody is thrilled to meet us! And that was usually the case, too).
I’ll never know because my fear got the best of me, fear of blackness.
Furious would not be pleased. Please be patient with me, sir
Someday we’ll put it together and we’ll get it undone. Someday we’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun.
His judgment cometh and that right soon…
Conclusion to follow: