21 Chicago

Photo by Chris Knight on Unsplash

One day, Barry visited Smitty's Barbershop. He heard how black people talked about Chicago’s mayor, with a familiarity and affection normally reserved for a relative. He said their city seemed like they would always be second-class citizens before Herald. Herald had run for mayor once before, but the candidacy had a faltered-a source of shame, Smitty said that the lack of unity within the black community, the doubts that had to be overcome. But Harold had tried again, had this time the people were ready. The night Harold won, black people shared the same feeling. They weren’t just proud of Harold, They were proud of themselves. Smitty’s voice had fallen to a whisper, and everyone in the room began to smile. From a distance, reading the newspapers back in New York, he had shared in their pride, the same sort of pride that made him root for any pro football team that fielded a black quarterback. But something was different about what he was now hearing; there was a fervor in Smitty’s voice that seemed to go beyond politics. “Had to be here to understand,” he had said. He’d meant here in Chicago, but he could also have meant here in his shoes, an older black man who still burns from a lifetime of insults, of foiled ambitions, of ambitions abandoned before they’ve been tried. Barry asked himself if he could truly understand that. He assumed, took for granted, that he could. Seeing him, these men had made the same assumption. Would they feel the same way if they knew more about him? he wondered. -P.148, September 1, 2021

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