To the editors:

I casually speed-read Grant Pick’s “Speed Wash” (June 11) and then I carefully reread it and discovered that it was fraught with political and socioeconomic factors that will affect Our City far into the future. As a black man, it does absolutely nothing for my pride to read that after 1960, when Lawndale had changed to 91 percent black, that area went into decline (as opposed to thriving under the previous ethnic groups of Dutch, Irish, German, Bohemian, and Jewish).

In serious discussions with my black college-educated friends, and being unable to exactly pinpoint the problem, we have taken to engaging in thought experiments, where everything goes, including the taboo subject of whether or not biology plays a part. What I can’t figure out is, after our great civilizations in Egypt, Benin, and Timbuktu, and our postbellum rich cultural traditions in this country until around 1960, while under strict segregation and an unjust social and legal system, how can the same people now seem to be in retrogression, devolution, and social entropy? Ford Heights, East Saint Louis, Newark, Gary, and Detroit come to mind, with some urbanologists suggesting Detroit is so far beyond redemption that no revitalization should even be attempted. Or simply to close off certain abandoned areas and let them return to a state of nature. I do suspect sometimes we are an agrarian people in need of plenty of space to do whatever it is we can do without infringement on others. Perhaps our cities are not our natural habitat, as evidenced by our disinclination to engage in pursuits that cause cities to come into being. Namely, commerce, finance, industry, architectural construction, proximity for exchanging high ideals, education, and the fine arts.

As I write, I hear from another’s radio a rap song, which to my mind is the lowest possible common denominator, almost totally repetitive, and devoid of any criteria or standards that have a measurable degree of difficulty and the DJ is raving. In other words, we have institutionalized mediocrity, or to put it another way, we shoot an arrow into a wall, then go and draw a bull’s-eye around it.

I impatiently await the apocalyptic day when our people will just do it. If this seems to be a flip remark, I will point out that a clear-cut commercial industrial and technological matrix is out there just waiting to be acted upon. What I am saying is that most of the breakthroughs have been made, and while it always helps to be creative, you do not really have to invent or discover much anymore in order to bring about a viable social order. You can do it by acting on the known and disseminated recorded deeds of Mankind. Less elegantly put, you could copy or ape others. In fact, one of my favorite thought experiments is that every time I see a structurally sound building being razed, that with adequate maintenance could function for another 50 to 75 years, I wonder why the wasted black youths who stand in the corner could not be enlisted in a group to schematically disassemble the building and reassemble it somewhere in the black community. And I could never grasp why we let our black hospital (Provident) close. One would think the moment the closing announcement was made, considering our unemployment rate, that there would have been an outpouring of volunteers to donate their time to keep the hospital open remembering that medical attention, along with agriculture, housing construction, making clothes, and an electrical or fossil fuel power source are the basics for maintaining a livelihood and unfortunately all of the skills required to bring about the aforementioned are slipping away from us because somewhere along the line in the last 35 years our culture has allowed us to become dependent and a subconscious decision was made to let other ethnic groups take care of us. Any empirical observer who was in Chicago in the 50s and 60s can circulate throughout the city in the 90s and readily see that the jobs that we formerly had a lock on are long gone to Arabs, Indians (India), Latinos, Asians, and Eastern Europeans and the reasons run the gauntlet from untrustworthy, unreliable, undisciplined, refusal to follow orders, racial sensitivity to plain obnoxiousness. In a word we are abdicating our right to earn a living. The proliferation of black panhandlers around the city is a direct result of this and what amazes me is how a once proud black person who was steeped in black consciousness in the 60s and 70s can stand out on the street and ask a member of another ethnic group for a handout without a scrap of dignity. In fact it has been my observation that they tend to single out white people and omit others, especially blacks. I can’t imagine what this means.

Back in the 60s black activists were asking for 40 billion dollars of reparations for slavery. If you combine government foundations, business and private grants, and donations plus income in kind, like food stamps, medical care, housing, etc, we have easily received more than twice that amount in what could only be called a golden age of generosity.

One might be forgiven for concluding that this frenzy of giving has harmed us instead of helping us in view of the fact that it has made our initiative all but extinct and throughout Mr. Pick’s story a discerning person could almost tell that he was trying to put a gloss on a very bad situation. If Hughzell Davis’s operation is the paradigm of a success story–with drug trafficking going on nearby, unemployed people hanging out, and one of his employees boasting of having seen a dozen people killed–it is no wonder that investors are reluctant to come into the area. Taking into account the former prosperity of the Roosevelt Road strip at its zenith in the 30s and 40s, one could make a telling argument as to why a valuable tract of land is allowed in the hands of unproductive people who more or less obtained it by default. You do not have to be a city planner to see the potential for job creation income and a much needed tax base plus the bonus of the improvement in human behavior.

John Mayhew

W. North