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Monday, August 15, 2005

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: The birth of the hustle

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: The birth of the hustleThe birth of the hustle

Forty years ago this month, the black community of Los Angeles, which was nationally called Watts, blew up and a riot spread over 40 square miles. It was especially hot in 1965, and the Los Angeles Police Department had done its best to earn the hatred of its nonwhite communities.

So when word went out - incorrectly - that there had been an attempted arrest and that the cops had gone so far as to beat the black man, his wife and his mother, the community began to unhinge. Bottles and bricks were thrown at cars carrying whites. The police chief, the legendary William Parker, said on TV that the people in Watts were "acting like monkeys in a zoo." Hmm.

Maybe that triggered the overflow of violence. Perhaps not, because the people who moved through the community encouraging a riot were not residents. No one knew who they were then, and no one knows who they were now. As the riot reached its highest flame, there were Negro thugs who thought that they were going to move on up north and take the capital of California! Delusions ran as deep as the bitterness of the poor, which led to white-owned businesses being burned out. When things got completely wound up, all businesses were looted and burned and that was that.

Thirty-four people were killed. National Guardsmen rode through the community in Jeeps mounted with .50-caliber machine guns. An army of rioters was arrested, and explanations began that helped establish the race hustle that has maintained itself these last four decades.

What we saw in the rise of the race hustler was the one who speaks for "the people" and always has a program intended to reestablish in the souls of black folks all of the things that were lost during the travail of slavery and in the humiliations of segregation and racism. These hustlers, some in African robes, others in combat fatigues, still others in suits, had mouths full of theories about what would definitely uplift the Negro. True to what has become a sustained form, they provided very little of substance, but they had an ever ready sense of how vulnerable the white and the black people were to the race con, which became a bigger commodity over the years than rap.

One of the most repulsive examples of the fact that race hustling has become a nationwide phenomenon since 1965 was shown in the Tawana Brawley case.

Doubtless in these decades there have been many people willing and able to work on difficult things that take time, such as education. But little was really done that helped the community of Los Angeles, which cannot be said to be better off now than it was 40 years ago.

It is now overrun by murderous street gangs; 40% of the murders in the city take place among black people; more than half of the adults are unemployed, and too many black high school seniors read and do math on an eighth-grade level. Beyond that, many of the businesses that were burned down in 1965 have not been replaced. Empty lots meet the eye.

For many, optimism may have burned to the ground as well, but it seems that what we need now is to stockpile all of the information drawn from every successful program in public education, employment, and community development so that an actual model for the future can be imagined that will not end up in a dark room with all of the candles blown out by hot air.

Originally published on August 14, 2005

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