The Oprah people were on the phone with my mom. Someone had given them my name as an expert on wiggers. You know, Wiggers. White kids who identify themselves with hip-hop. I was an expert on that.

My mother and I were glad to hear that I was an expert on something. I had done an article for a rap magazine a while before making fun of white rap fans. The Oprah guy was on the phone trying to size me up.

Oh, I’m not trying to ridicule wiggers, I told him. Merely to describe them would accomplish this. I criticize wiggers because I like them. I make fun of wiggers because I take them seriously. Some people even consider me a wigger. I guess you could say I’m a grown up one. In fact, the very things I hate most about the Wigger, his stupid audacity and perverted desire (deeply held and deeply denied) to be down with black people–these personality defects are a cause for celebration. If channeled in the right way, the Wigger can go a long way toward repairing the sickness of race in America.

The Oprah guy thought about this for a moment. We’re trying to pick white hip-hop fans for the panel, he said. “How do you dress?”

How do I dress?

“Yeah, you know–Are your pants eight sizes too big?”

I didn’t make the panel.

Remember the prison scene in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, where a Muslim inmate asks Malcolm soon to be X if he has ever known a good white person (Malcolm thinks about it and says he hasn’t). Even a lot of whites who admire Malcolm X banished from their mind the implicit question: Would Malcolm X’s answer have been any different had he known me?

Look, none of us is born knowing the best way to live in a place as racially loaded as America–let alone in the subsociety of hip-hop. I’m no great authority myself. But I have been around the block enough to pretty much know where the potholes are–if only because I’ve fallen in them so many times.

My own thoughts about race started pretty naively. Not that anyone would have thought to ask, but for moments in my early life I must have believed that black people ruled the Earth. I owe this inverted world view to two contradictory sources.

One of these was the fashionable University of Chicago Laboratory School where I was sent starting at age two. Although more than 60 percent white, and located in the whitest section of the Hyde Park neighborhood, “Lab School” and its immediate community are a demographic blip in the middle of Chicago’s south side, the largest and most populous black settlement in North America. Minutes away are Pill Hill, the Gap, Prairie Shores, Chatham, Kenwood, Beverly, South Shore, and other enclaves of black prosperity where the likes of Muhammad Ali, Louis Farrakhan, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jesse Jackson, Carol Moseley Braun, R. Kelly, and Rashied Lynn (aka Common Sense) have made their homes.

The Johnson Publishing family, the Burrell Advertising family, and U of C sociologist William Julius Wilson all sent their kids to Lab School. The 1993 keynote speaker for Black History Month was Betty Shabazz (Malcolm X’s widow), a close personal friend of one of the parents. Are you getting the picture? Many of the first blacks I encountered were richer than I was. One of the boys seemed to come to school wearing an expensive new pair of shoes every other week–in the third grade!

Fifty-fifty Hyde Park, where I grew up two blocks from the apartment of Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor, was not all rich though. And it was surrounded by Woodlawn, Grand Boulevard, Grand Crossing, Washington Park, and North Kenwood. These were some of the most messed-up neighborhoods in the city–places so rocked that many residents didn’t know their neighborhoods had names. These were the birthplaces of Chicago’s rival black street gangs, the ones that set the pattern of gang affiliations from Kansas City to Birmingham to Cleveland for years before the infiltration of Bloods and Crips. These were the stomping grounds of Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas. The white family Bigger worked for, whose daughter he later killed, they lived–all of that was to have taken place–in my neighborhood. Before I understood the abstract powers of money, politics, and prestige, I understood the power of I-could-get-my-ass-kicked.

In the family car, we would sometimes have to drive through the ghetto–or past it if possible. God forbid our car should get stuck. From the backseat I would peer out on the forbidding world beyond the boundaries of 47th Street, 61st Street, and Cottage Grove, fantasizing about what anarchy presided there amid the wrecked and neglected buildings.

(James T. Farrell’s short story “The Fastest Runner on 61st Street,” written back when 61st was white, tells of a white gang from 61st Street spotting a black boy who had strayed across Washington Park. The white boys chased the black boy, and when the fastest of the white gang crossed 51st Street into the black neighborhhood he was killed instantly–within a block. In the logic of white Hyde Park, certain death was the only plausible result.)

And in the summertime especially, the ghetto would drive, walk, bus, and bike through Hyde Park (if they were riding double, it meant they were planning to steal yours), in search of the museum, the beach, the theater, and the affluent aura. I still remember the first time I saw a white person walking in the ghetto. “Look, look , I saw a white lady.” I shouted from the backseat. “She’s probably a prostitute,” my mom responded.

My early experience with race was more immediate than that of most whites, but the patterns were about the same. Blacks most likely to enter our world tend to be the socioeconomic extremes rather than the vast middle. Between the assimilated blacks I met at school and the aggressive ones I avoided on the street, it became easy to imagine that the blacks were the ones who had it good in America. This is more than just a harmless childhood fantasy of mine. It is a common, if usually unspoken, belief among whites.

The reason this dumb idea persists is that we are like a biker with the wind so favorable at our backs we don’t even notice our advantage. It is difficult for us to imagine what it must be like–how it must change everything–to be born biking into a head wind. We have become so accustomed to having the wind at our backs, so spoiled by our good fortune, that it seems to us a great injustice that the wind should subside, or switch directions, and blow, even for a minute, in any other way.

Nevertheless, it was their veneer of power rather than their underlying powerlessness that attracted me to blacks. I was drawn by admiration rather than pity–this is what separates the white rap fan from the white missionary. I had always had delinquent tendencies, and who could symbolize my wild side better than the bands of boisterous black boys who I and everyone I knew feared? Newspaper columnist Mike Royko once compared housing projects to beehives. Like a lot of boys, I would kill bees, and throw rocks at their hives–not because they had stung me, but because my fear of them became an excuse to unleash my own violence. I felt the same way about blacks in the ghetto. It’s lucky I was raised by liberals!

The six-flat condo I grew up in was perfectly integrated: two white families, two black, and two mixed. The apartments across the street were home to many black youngsters. But even in these harmonious circumstances, whether by parental design, personal preference, or simple habit, my playmates of choice were almost always white. For all my fascination, I knew little of black people. Even in places like Hyde Park, most whites never do.

By age 11, curiosity got the better of me. I joined the neighborhood baseball league, and transferred to Kenwood Academy, a public magnet school. Like most of Hyde Park’s public institutions, both were about nine-tenths black. (One of my classmates at Kenwood, Mike Davis, went on to become the only white student at Morehouse College.) Within a few years, the experiences I had would allow me to outgrow my first layer of naivete, the one that most white Americans, including most of the whites at Kenwood, don’t realize they are still wearing.

Midway through grammar school I made a discovery. Michael Jackson, Prince, and most of the other rock stars I stood admiring one day in the record store display window were black. From this massive insight followed others. Practically all of the wittiest, the coolest, the strongest, the most agile, and the most precocious kids I knew were black (in part this was because most of the whites I knew were unusually dull and spoiled). In the locker room, the black boys really did seem to have bigger dicks. Although it has been proven untrue scientifically, you couldn’t have told me that at the time. Next to them my voice was flat, my personality dull, my life-style bland, my complexion pallid. I didn’t yet know race was the national obsession. I thought obsessing about blacks was, like masturbation, my dirty little secret.

As embarrassing as all of this was, its importance shouldn’t be overlooked. The most promising thing about spilled milk is that it has ventured from its container. The most promising thing about the Cool White, the white b-boy, the wannabe (or to update Norman Mailer’s term, the white nigga), is that he is defying in some way the circumstances of his birth. He harbors curiosity and admiration for a people his people have stepped on. He lives by his fascinations rather than his habits, his awkwardness rather than his cool. But it is the desire to be cool that drives him. And it is this desire–not only his guilt–that blacks must use to judo some of his power away from him.

My romanticization of blacks was also a way to elevate myself. If blacks were the superior race, then by association I too was superior. This conceit, shared by all white niggas, is founded on (what seems to us) our rare ability to mingle with blacks who other whites find inaccessible. In fact, we flatter ourselves; fitting in requires no uncommon talent. The main reason more whites don’t become white niggas–instead of just white rap fans–is that getting down with blacks, like any relationship, requires that precious, ego-endangering resource: effort.

Effort is why the white b-boy, the Wigger, rather than the white liberal is at the center of my attention. The white liberal is a worthless frustration to black efforts at finding equality and dignity in America; he has never put any skin on the line and he never will. The white missionary has guts, but he also has his own agenda, whether religious or ideological. The white b-boy at his best avoids the drawbacks of both. He has the zeal of the missionary but he lacks a firm agenda. And unlike both, he knows blacks first as people, not as issues.

How thrilling it was to be the only white kid who knew that “11th and Hamilton” meant the juvenile court and detention center, and knew the calendar number, reputation, and drinking habits of the judges there. How critical it was to understand that “I’m going to kick your white ass” is not so much a threat as a test. How illuminating to eat dinner as a friend in the houses of kids who thought Hyde Park was a place to tease, taunt, and take bikes from white people (especially the ones who did their best to avoid black teenagers).

But I didn’t infiltrate black teenage society instantly. Much of my initiation came from the loose-knit bunch of kids at my school who were into hip-hop. Partly popular, partly outcasts, our interracial band of troublemakers grew up on hip-hop together.

Unlike sports or music, the more conventional ports of entry into blackness, hip-hop was a total culture. It involved art, music, sport, risk, media, teenage foolishness, mischief, and an instant citywide network of homeys. For the first year or so, most of my breakdancing and graffiti partners were white, Mexican, or Puerto Rican. By ninth grade, when breakdancing “died” and most of my white friends, after one or two arrests, had abandoned hip-hop and graffiti for drugs and skateboarding–activities I found dull in comparison–I immersed myself deeper into the citywide family of graffiti writers, rappers, dancers, DJs, and delinquents.

Imagine what an adventure it must have been for a 13 year old white kid with overprotective parents to steal and stash cases of spray paint, sneak out at night, travel all over the city (I wonder how white moms in passing cars explained me!), run from the cops, dodge trains in subway tunnels, walk alone through the projects, pick up girls at all-black dances, and commit other indiscretions for which the statute of limitations has not yet passed. And to be accepted by all but the bitterest of the blacks. I was almost instantly and undeservingly made welcome, either directly in the form of “Brother,” “Cool white boy,” “That white boy crazy,” “You black,” “You my nigga,” or indirectly, as in “Aren’t you in the wrong neighborhood?” or “What [gang] you ride?” etcetera–and all the non-verbal comments which meant the same thing.

My favorite of these was told by a white police officer who was writing me up at the 21st District: “Shit. [scribble scribble] I marked down that you were black. You must be the first white kid I’ve arrested in–a long time. Stick with your own kind if you know what I mean.” In reply to his mistake, I waited until he had left his office then tore down the antigraffiti poster hanging on his wall and shoved it down my pants.

Even now, I make it a point to walk past 61st and Ingleside on the way to the post office. That’s the corner Brent Staples, in his memoir Parallel Time, used to watch from the bay window of his graduate student apartment. I wanted him to see me cross 61st Street know that I was one white boy who he best not play “scatter the pigeons” with.

One day my Little League coach arranged for our ragtag baseball team to scrimmage against a well-trained white suburban team. Warming up, I remember feeling proud to be the only white boy on this black team, and felt certain that our raw city talent would prevail. Within a few innings, we lost by slaughter rule. It was then that I realized for the first time in no uncertain terms that black people did not rule the world.

Experiences like this fed the missionary in me. The small cruelties of elementary school cliques, if not our own families, teach all of us how it feels to be the outcast or the underdog. While some of us spend our lives escaping this feeling, and some inflict the feeling onto others a la Napolean, others take to the Gandhi role.

What began as a social infatuation with blacks and hip-hop slowly evolved into a political agenda. Sent back to University of Chicago High School sophomore year for bad grades and behavior, I found the social scene so boring and myself so out of place that I turned to loner activities like reading and writing. Frustrated by the inequalities of my two worlds, I gravitated toward what are unappealingly called “political activism” and “community service.”

My own need was to be accepted by both worlds, to change them, perhaps to integrate them; but as anyone who’s tried it knows, challenging people mainly just alienates them. Whites were the hardest to talk to. For blacks at least their goal was universally understood: they had to make it in the white world and uplift the race. This was a core value of American society and one that needed no justification.

But why should whites want to change, to climb down the social ladder? To slay their fears? To brook adventure? To become more worldly? As much as we may admire such romantic motives in our heroes (Robinson Crusoe, Tom Sawyer), we look on them as abnormal and suspicious in real life. Most of us would rather play it safe. As my grandmother says: “That’s crazy, running around in the gutter with the blacks all night. Why would you want to lower yourself running with the niggers?”

Besides, in heroes all qualities are believed to come effortlessly. The reluctant detective is dragged into the case, dragged into bed with the beautiful client. For most of us, unfortunately, adventure and discovery generally require not just risk but effort.

Where black people tend to take constructive criticism constructively and read candor as a sign of respect, whites tend to have the opposite response. Challenge is taken as unfriendly, a threat, something to be avoided. Defensiveness betrays their underlying shame. Even now, when non-hip-hop acquaintances ask me what my favorite kind of music is, I try to avoid the subject. “Everything,” I lie. I don’t want to get them going or have to explain myself.

On matters of race, I naturally found it easier to talk to blacks. As recently as two years ago, I was DJing radio shows and writing under pen names as though I were black. In one article I scripted myself as the ghost of Malcolm X who humbles an ego-trippin’ modern-day black kid for studying “stick figure history.” Another article I wrote prompted a white boy from Oxnard, California, to mail a whiny letter to the editor complaining about my antiwhite sentiment.

Such extreme views had to be tempered with an opposite extreme view: blacks are stupider than whites. I don’t recall the first time I thought that, probably pretty early on, and often times I still imagine pseudoscientifically that it is true. Usually the view is based on an observed instance of black stupidity, but I could pretty much rationalize it out of thin air, or even contrary to the facts at hand. My mind wants to believe in hierarchy. I am unable to imagine equality, unable to love blacks without simultaneously hating them. The same mind that believes a dumb black dude has the potential of an Einstein has to restrain itself from shouting “nigger” when he goes to see a brilliant black scholar give a lecture.

All that shit those great racial healers talk about just doesn’t click with me inside. It is with this schizophrenic mind that I, and to some degree all, Americans try to forge for ourselves a sensible opinion on race. Usually it doesn’t work. One of my first racial causes–imagine this!–was to dismantle black people’s stereotypes of me. The wind at my back, I actually believed that I was doing black people a favor by showing them I had rhythm. Why couldn’t these blacks–the few who wouldn’t accept me–wake up and realize that I was down with them?

The main way I expressed my down-ness, it turned out, was to dis anyone who wasn’t as down as I was, especially anyone associated with house music, R & B, the Fresh Prince, any one at all except for the hardest of hard-core b-boys. Hell, I even dissed them. At age 14, when, as Dres of Black Sheep says, “I dreamt I was hard,” I initiated a battle with Orko, one of the kings of Chicago graffiti, a quick-witted Jheri-Kurl writer who was not much bigger than me physically but four years my senior and straight out of jail. The battle turned nasty when I defaced a rooftop with a suggestive message about a certain female family member. “My mama just died!” he shouted when he finally caught up to me, catching me off guard long enough to apply a coat of spray paint to my face. The color he chose, beige, almost perfectly matched my skin–a sharp reminder that I was not just any graffiti writer but a white graffiti writer, from a good home and with a fraction of Orko’s problems.

I learned this lesson slowly. It was during a phase when I was trying to analogize the black experience in my own experience. Around the time of the Orko incident I had changed my graffiti name to Jew 2 and begun wearing a Star of David medallion. Jews had been oppressed too, hadn’t we? And wasn’t Israel right next to Africa? My short experiment in contrived cultural chauvinism (being a Jew was not, after all, a big part of my daily life) ended one day after gym class in the Kenwood locker room. I was on friendly, if adversarial, terms with Abnar Farrakhan (son of Minister Louis Farrakhan), one of the coolest, toughest, and most intelligent kids at Kenwood. One day Abnar started talking shit about Jews, basically to get a rise out of me. I called him nigger, basically to get a rise out of his father that night at the dinner table. We got in each other’s face and he body-slammed me.

The next summer, community service programs had channeled my aggression into a more enlightened scheme. Instead of battling black kids I would educate them–not on math or science, you understand, but on themselves. Their music, their history, their politics, their culture, and their problems, which always fell into three conveniently demonizable categories: racists, sellouts, and suckers–none of which included me. Like the black who assimilates into the white world, my mission was to blend in and defy the stereotypes of my race. The only difference was, where white culture was built on black people’s backs, black culture was built on white people’s scraps. I was the President of General Electric mailing his $35 pledge to Greenpeace.

All the while I was so preoccupied, as all explorers are, with my own experiences that it took a long time to notice some basic insights about how black people see the world. Not that they think as a group, but there tend to be patterns.

I was going deeper into the ghetto, later at night, for longer periods of time, and more and more frequently alone. How was I able to do this when in integrated Hyde Park, my own neighborhood, the blacks were already so hostile? Weren’t the blacks in my neighborhood just the tip of the iceberg? Weren’t blacks in the ghetto far more angry and violent toward whites, just as the whites who lived in all-white neighborhoods would terrorize any black family who tried to move in? Hadn’t I just been lucky–a special white boy?

For the first few years I thought so. But after a couple of times getting into fights with black dudes in Hyde Park, and given the lack of static I encountered in the ghetto, I began to wonder. The only time anyone had ever fucked with me in the ghetto was when I was waiting for a bus at the 55th & Garfield el station where a lot of whites catch the bus into Hyde Park. It took a long time to occur to me that the reason these guys had fucked with me was not because I was in the ghetto but because it seemed to them that I, like all the other white people who wait at that bus stop, was trying to get away from the ghetto.

Where once I found black behavior offensive, I finally began to see that it was in fact defensive. This insight was corroborated from another angle when I went to hear Abnar’s dad, Minister Louis Farrakhan, give a public speech at the Nation of Islam National Center on 73rd and Stony Island. From a crowd of maybe 20,000, not more than five to ten whites. While the people sitting next to me cheered furiously when Farrakhan spoke against the white man, more than one of them–the very same people–made it a point to be friendly to me, shake my hand, and call me “brother.” And because I had to leave before the end, the FOI security guard who escorted me to the door put his arm around me and asked me how I liked the speech.

The reason for the apparent paradox was clear. Even the most militant blacks don’t hate whites individually just because we’re white. They have a double consciousness. They believe, as Farrakhan says, that white folks should be regarded with the same suspicion as snakes: not all of them are bad, but you don’t want to go around picking up snakes to try to find a good one. So when someone makes antiwhite generalizations, black people know to interpret it correctly as hyperbole, the hyperbole of someone who is tired of biking into the wind. White people, however, take the rhetoric literally. It becomes their excuse for not bothering to become one of the few whites who militant blacks don’t hate.

And actually, considering the powder keg that this country is, I would say Farrakhan is a moderating force in American race relations. Yes, he’s an extremist, but a lot of people are ready to hear something far more extremist than what he’s actually saying. I don’t think he abuses the demagogue role. For all we’ve gotten away with, and the desperate situation of some of his followers, we ought to feel lucky he isn’t declaring an all out war Long Island Rail Road style on white America.

In general, black aggression toward whites is not so much about hating whitey as it is a reaction and an attempt to overcome the humiliation we continue to heap on them. As with any relationship, people need to be met on their own turf, understood on their own terms, and respected for who they are and what they have to offer. To be black is to feel used, unappreciated, condescended to, to be told you are ugly, stupid, abnormal, inferior, violent. This result is accomplished just as effectively by ignoring, avoiding, or patronizing, someone–or someone’s entire area of the city–as it is through active mistreatment. This is as true in the relationships between the races as it is in the relationship between two people.

Simply because I went alone to hear Minister Farrakhan, because it was in a black neighborhood, because I took the bus, listened carefully, and clapped when I agreed with him (sometimes even when no one else was clapping–OK, I admit that was kind of rude), it seemed to make the people sitting around me think I was OK. Had I gone to see Farrakhan as part of a group, or waited until he was speaking downtown or on a college campus, or had I gone much further in displaying my disagreement with some of what he said, no doubt I would have been received differently.

Yet these are the very circumstances in which most whites encounter anti-white sentiment: not in a black neighborhood, not by themselves, and not with a basic respect for the speaker. It is this invisible sense of turf, along with the wind at our backs, that so few whites perceive the importance of in race relations. This is why many of the most begrudgingly antiwhite blacks in America are not downtrodden slum dwellers but successful blacks, educated and living among white people.

But anyone who thinks I can tell you the secret formula to manipulate and get accepted by blacks will be disappointed. Black people have been conditioned to see through you and more than likely they’ll snicker about you later or call your bluff outright if they’re feeling courageous–oftentimes even when you are most convinced of your own sincerity. Earning the trust of a wide range of blacks–not just the friendly and servile ones–means turning your world upside down. And that’s on top of taking risks, having good intentions, commitment, a sincere interest, and an open mind. It’s a weeding out process that few of us understand, much less get very far with. Perhaps it is comparable to the initiation process of blacks into white society.

The most common ways whites seek to become initiated–by having black friends or a black-oriented talent–are by themselves flimsy. Attitudes about the ghetto are sometimes a good litmus test. Asked why he didn’t venture into Harlem, an aspiring white rapper from lower Manhattan said he was going to wait until “I get famous and people know who I am, then it’ll be cool.”

Whites who don’t need costumes or gimmicks or hip-hop to hang out with blacks, do so because they put black people at ease, not by some superficial trick but because their basic respect for and familiarity with their culture shines through in all the subtle ways that you can only understand from experience. One of these subtle ways is that I won’t reveal too many specifics to a white audience who will use this kind of insight as we have always used it–to manipulate blacks rather than to repair our own sick habits.

Just because I have gone further than most whites does not mean I belong to some special category and deserve to be judged as anything other than the white boy I am. I was, after all, born biking with my back to the wind. If after 11 years I decide to swing a U and retrace my path going into the wind for a while just to see what it’s like, it does little to even my personal score. For a long time I denied this, creating an intricate mythology about just how down I was. If you’ve been reading carefully, you’ve noticed that I still have that impulse.

But at least now I think I’ve pretty much come to terms with what my place is. Rather than posturing about the pros and cons of affirmative action as a government policy, I make it my personal policy. Rather than waving signs, “fighting racism,” and attacking “sellouts,” I merely spend money in black-owned businesses and work for real-life causes such as the careers of my black friends. I no longer need to dress as a b-boy. Unlike two of my close white friends, I have not become a rapper. Rather than writing as though I myself am black, I work collaboratively with black writers. It took a long time for me to begin to comprehend what Tarek Thorns, my classmate at Oberlin College, refers to as not stepping in people’s “cultural space.”

American white boys like me have our own space. It’s a pretty nice space, too, keeping in mind that the average earthling survives on less than $2,000 per year. Unhampered by bad health, perilous psychological hang-ups, immediate violence, money hardships, etcetera, I am able, more so than 99 percent of the world’s people, to do what I want to in life.

This happy circumstance has come to me, in an important sense, because of the misfortune of others, and relies on my continuing ability to exploit my advantage over them. That is the reason why I am getting paid to write about hip-hop, while the people who taught me about hip-hop are in jail, dead, or strugglin’, scramblin’, and gamblin’. This isn’t something to fight, to feel guilty about, or to sit back and be thankful over. It is merely a moral debt. There are many moral debts in the world, and one of mine is to black America, with some individuals bigger creditors than others. (I might mention women, the involuntary poor, Native Americans in the broad sense, open homosexuals, and others in this world whose lives have generally been made difficult by white boys such as myself). This is not a burden, something to get all martyred out about, and it is not a joke. It is merely my opinion. If I never repay black America in my lifetime I will have gone unpunished for a permanent theft.

So what is the proper place of whites? I’ve been toying with this question for more than a decade now, yet I am still so far from being a model white person (as far as I’m concerned, even if such a description is proper, I’ve yet to meet one who can fill it). I still have a lot more to learn from blacks. I still have irrational fears of them. I still slip into degrading white ways of seeing them (one of the worst of these is when I expect too little of them). My speech and attitude still slip into caricature and invasions of their cultural space. (They’ll be happier to share their culture with us when we begin sharing our spoils, instead of always trying to take, then denying we have taken, what’s theirs.) By learning more from them than I give back, I am still accruing a net deficit every year on top of the towering debt I already owe.

Someone like me takes race so seriously that some have wondered, how can I proceed through life, play and fuss over prose, fall in love, be frivolous and merry, and do everything I want to do in life without becoming paralyzed by a million depressing moral dilemmas?

In a land that James Baldwin once described as “dedicated to the death of the paradox,” we remain at war with life’s indivisible contradictions. “I’m confused about what your point of view is,” said an editor of mine once. “I can’t tell from reading this whether you are a hip-hopper or a racist, an insider in black society or a some kind of outside sociologist. Do you like black people or do you hate them?” My answer is that I’m human, meaning that I’m complex enough to be all of these things at once. Now if only black people could get away with that.

This is an excerpt from Upski’s forthcoming book, Bomb the Suburbs: Graffiti, Race, Freight-Hopping and the Search for Hip-Hop’s Moral Center, available for $7 from the Subway and Elevated Press, P.O. Box 377653, Chicago, IL 60637.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustrations/Anthony Llewellen.