By Mark Anthony Neal | @NewBlackMan |
With thanks to NewBlackMan
Wednesday, July 28, 2015.
That it was
another place and time, is hardly the matter. It was my world--a two-mile
radius that would take you from 168th Street and Third Avenue; Forest Avenue
and 166th Street; that intersection of Boston Road (we never called it Boston Post
Road in the Bronx) and 168th Street, and St. John’s Church on Fulton Avenue
(where the Head Start was housed). If 1231 Fulton Avenue, nestled between
168th and 1969th Streets, and across the street from Bronx Lebanon Hospital was
the epicenter of my life, the stoop of that address, was the epicenter of that
Years before I knew who Jurgen Habermas
was, or was introduced to the concept of a Black public
sphere, or could wrap my head around a
global Black Diaspora connected across a micro-blogging platform called
Twitter, the very spirit of #BlackTwitter could be found on that stoop, in
front of 1231 Fulton Avenue, and many such stoops across Black America.
The “Stoop” and its country (not
necessarily Southern) cousin the “Porch” was evoked in an article in The Atlantic,
which talks about two museums projects--a planned expansion of the Studio Museum in Harlem and the National Museum of African-American History and Culture (NMAAHC), which opens in Washington, D.C. next year--that
utilize elements of both as a design features.
Architect David Adjaye, who
along with Phil Freelon
designed the NMAAHC, and is the primary designer on the Studio Museum project,
explained to the New York Times
that he wanted to “honor this idea of public rooms, which are soaring,
celebratory and edifying...between the residential and the civic, we learned
the lessons of of public realms and tried to bring them together.”
The “porch” that will greet visitors at
the NMAAHC and the “reverse stoop” planned for the Studio Museum are less about
nostalgia, but the continuous desire of Blacks in America to cultivate a
private/public space, outside of the home, but away from the scan on the
mainstream. In this regard, #BlackTwitter is still trying to find
consistent digital strategies, for the “analog” examples that the “Stoop” and
“Porch” represented, though, of course the “Stoop” and “Porch” never had the
reach of #BlackTwitter--even conceptually.
As a little boy, me and the JA-merican
Princess-turned Hip-Hop Feminist icon--spent many an afternoon dreaming of
places that our words would conjure a generation later. My favorite
memories though are of summer evenings circa 1974-1975, where it seemed the
whole building set up shop--with picnic chairs and card tables, that extended
beyond both sides of the “Stoop”.
My mother, as a Baltimore girl, with that
city’s own landscape of row houses with stoops, found a second home on that
1231 “Stoop.” We’d often wait outside until my father got home, usually after
10pm, from his short-order cook gig in Brooklyn, usually bearing treats--the
orange Hostess cupcakes for me, a pack of Winston’s for my mom--from the Bodega
down the block.
While I was busy playing ghetto games
like “Red Light, Green Light” and Freeze Tag--and sneaking glances at no longer
prepubescent Black girls doing Double-dutch--the adults, with smatterings
patois, Spanglish, and down-home speak, could be heard in the background
discussing everything from the frayed marriage of Bill Withers and actress
Denise Nicholas (where I first heard of the singer’s purported abuse), Richard
Nixon’s resignation in 1974, the financial crisis and national recession that
put New York City on the brink of default, the genius of Muhammad Ali and
whether Jermaine Jackson was really leaving the Jackson 5.
Those were the last summers that I
spent at 1231 Fulton Avenue--the very financial struggles that working class
families were experiencing throughout New York City drove my family into the
projects, and while there were courtyards and other public spaces set-up in our
neighborhood--and often to aid in the surveillance of the neighborhood--the
kind of vibrant community that I experienced on the stoop was largely lost to
me, until the advent of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Much thanks given to #BlackLivesMatter
for making #BlackTwitter a thing, but Black Lives Mattered on those stoops, a
reminder, perhaps, that even if the technology might be brand new, our humanity
and need for connection, ain’t.
Mark Anthony Neal is Professor of African & African American Studies at Duke
University, where he also directs the Center for Arts, Digital Culture and
Entrepreneurship. Neal is the author of five books and is currently researching
his next project Big Black Data:
from Analog to Digital Blackness.