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By Mark Anthony Neal | @NewBlackMan | With thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)



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 building.


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.


Before #BlackTwitter: The Stoop and Desire for Public/Private Space

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