ESSAY // the southside of chicago is why i don’t vote!

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The Bus Ride

‘When I look outside my window I can get no peace of mind’
– Rihanna, SZA “Consideration”

I try to take the bus down Kedzie now. It’s a more middle class and diverse route. No one is screaming or selling counterfeits; there are less boarded up buildings. I feel like there is a lesser chance of me getting made fun of,  robbed, or shot. I have that choice. Yesterday, riding the 52A, I almost cried at the difference.


 

The House

‘Tell me what you’re willing to do’
– Rihanna, “Kiss It Better”

When my parents moved into this house 25 years ago, this was a white neighborhood. Between the divorce, the housing crisis, the house’s crises (Electrical and other structural problems), the rising violence and disinvestment in the neighborhood, my college debt, and my sick brother, my mother will never get out of it. Almost all of my grown cousins and their young children live with their parents in the house they grew up in. Just like my brother and I. We are trapped.


 

The Distance

‘Better wake up and act like nothing’s wrong. Just get ready for work.’
– Rihanna, “Work”

It takes me an hour on the bus to get to anywhere in the city with, like, a café. I’m an artist. If I want to educate at a school where I came from, chances are it’ll be in an area where gangs have risen up to replace and compliment the rule of government.  If I want to perform at a show, chances are I’ll have to travel across stretches of homeless and buildings that no one can inhabit until I get to a train that takes me to the other side of this city.


 

The Names

‘Dear Desperado,’
– Rihanna, “Desperado”

The names of the streets are taken from people who live just like us. “Indiana,” “Washtenaw,” “Michigan,”: these people currently live in areas where suicide, homicide, and failing infrastructure is high. Where a conflict that started against their will hundreds of years ago continues to kill.


 

My Mom

‘Run it back like you owe me something,’
– Rihanna, “Woo”

When I watch the news with my mother, it drives home how powerless she feels. When the TV says something about Obama recommending Supreme Court Justices, she comments “They’re never going to let him do that.” in a way that is resigned and matter-of-fact. When a man is sentenced to hard labor in North Korea, she blames him first for not knowing “how it is.” She has no faith in the system, though the other night we got into our traditional argument about voting. She says she does it because she feels like it’s her duty to those who died for it. I asked her what about the blacks who died to be free altogether.


 

My Dad

‘You needed me,’
– Rihanna “Needed Me”

When I returned to the Southside for the first time, I eventually ended up working with my father at the United States Postal Service. I quit two years later, after 8 seasons of waking up before the sun. It was a corrupt, dysfunctional workplace. I felt very demoralized there. When I quit to be an artist  it was a shock because it doesn’t make sense – especially as a black person from the Southside – to leave a job where they offer free healthcare and vacation time,  things we call “benefits.” No matter what, black people tell me, I should have stayed there. My dad likes to say “The Post Office isn’t for everybody.” A lot of people say that there; he’s worked there 30 years.


 

My Job

‘It’s pulling me apart this time; everything is never ending.’
– Rihanna “Never Ending”

My job isn’t to be an artist or a black person. It’s to be alive. I want to move into science by the time I’m 30, five years from now. I want to code, I want to cure death. I just want to do cool stuff with this big working brain of mine. I want to understand feelings and the universe, I want to feel normal and safe. Out here, walking home, looking for food, my job is to not get killed.


 

Money

‘Must be love on the brain! That’s got me feeling this way!’
– Rihanna, “Love on the Brain”

The President of this country is a black man who came into his political own on the Southside of Chicago. Perhaps the most critically and popularly acclaimed entertainer of the 21st century so far grew up here. Chicago is one of the richest metropolitan communities on Earth and my mother lives in constant fear of losing her sons.

Don’t leave me stuck here in these streets.

Voting is to recognize and support a kind of power that no one should have. It’s the power the Northside has over the Southside: money.  How long would it take money and the government to save this ghetto? Who and how when so much of every industry is designed around the Southside existing this way? The food companies, the school systems, the prisons, the tax collectors, the real estate agents and banks + the policymakers they invest in. How long until we could enter those buildings? Give the fresh food rotting in dumpsters behind restaurants right now to people who are hungry? How long until progress would reach the mentally ill on the bus rolling, rolling, rolling by my house at 9:36 AM, March 17th? How long til the prisoners born in a place like this could be free? Everybody has to go to work in the morning to make more money, when the heck are they gonna be able to stop and save us? Why are black & white people shaming me for empowering my self in a way that isn’t based on corrupt systems?

We are here and we are better than this!  If no one has told you today, let me be the one to say: don’t vote, it’s okay. we can make another way! 🙂

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