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"Matchstick: A Meditation on Harlem".

This piece was written to speak to the function of intersectionality in negotiating a geographical space--in this case, Harlem. Given the history of issues of race, class, gender and "red lining," I wanted to use my observation of a specific moment, tied to a racialized incident, to demonstrate the difficulty in maintaining traditional moral and social positions--such as "good" or "bad," "right" or "wrong." It was interesting to me, for example, that the protest described below was on a Sunday morning, a time when black folks traditionally would not take to the streets and in a space that would even be considered (for some) profane. The "sacred," therefore, is called into question, albeit in the name of justice. Beyond this episode being "what I saw," I am interested in thinking about the position from which I saw it, and the reality that Harlem, as a character, continues to hold her own sticky position.

"A tree can make 10,000 matchsticks... But a matchstick can burn down 10,000 trees."--Anonymous There is a rally going on in protest of the Trayvon Martin verdict on 125th Street and Morningside Avenue, right in front of the MM Beauty Supply Shop, which is open for business on Sundays. Clients attempt to pass in and out, but protestors are blocking the entrance as if it is Zimmerman's home, garnishing sloppily written signs duct taped onto splintering sticks.

The protestors are all women, and white, and long-haired, and mostly heavy-set; they are outraged. They hold declarative signs--penned with blood red markers--in the faces of elderly, black church ladies, who are wearing bedazzled white hats, opaque stockings and neatly pressed, pleated white skirts.

One of the white ladies is wearing a gay pride button and I imagine that Trayvon's opinion of gays may have been similar to his suspicion of "creepy ass crackers." But that's a profane thought on such a sacred occasion.

There is a tight-fisted, brown-skinned woman trying to get into the MM Beauty Supply Shop, but her path is block from every direction by the protesting white women. When did all of these folks occupy Harlem anyway, and stake a claim, and name a protest, and drive a point home on Sunday morning?

And wasn't Trayvon right--that it is creepy to not be able to buy hair in your own neighborhood because someone decides to transgress and clog up entrances?

Because, the truth is, we all have a Trayvon, and we may even have an attitude that ours didn't make the news.

Black, male bus drivers honk their support of the white women as they drive by. One white woman gives a driver the black power sign.

A little, black-skinned boy brushes past a white lady and knocks her raggedy sign to the ground. The duct tape peels away and the sign falls from the stick. Her brows furrow and her mouth turns downward. She throws her hands up like, "what the...

If you squint, he could look like Trayvon. He looks at her fretfully and keeps riding.

I get on the bus. A baby is crying. A woman in an elaborate orange hat moves directly across from the baby, leans forward, and stares at it. Its cry simmers, then softens, then stops. She smiles and moves back to her original seat. be damned, I think, looking at her. A shaman.

There's all kinds of magic in Harlem. It can be tricky: playing with matches that know how to strike on their own.

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Author:E. Kerr, Audrey
Publication:Cross Currents
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2013
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