About a Boycott
Written by Bwog Staff
In which Bwog correspondent Alex Weinberg survives to tell the tale.
A few weeks ago, I found a small postcard on 114th Street. It read “No Dew, Nor Rain / No Pain, No Gain: A Three Year Boycott of Harlem,” and it explained that the Honorable James David Manning PhD, head of ATLAH World Missionary Church on 123rd Street, is calling for a boycott of his own neighborhood in order to save it from gentrification. Suffocating Harlem’s businesses and forcing its people into homelessness will prevent it from being destroyed, according to a leap of logic that could only be advocated by a true man of God.
After perusing the website and watching some of his videos, I knew I had to witness the madness firsthand. Last Thursday night, I strolled to 123rd and Lenox for an open sermon about the boycott.
Let it be known that there is nothing like the sight of armed Black Panthers to remind you of your completely irrational fear of armed Black Panthers, several of whom had attended the event for the specific purposes of standing and looking angry. As I approached them, I imagined my poor Ma receiving my corpse in the mail. She would insist that I have a gravestone that reads “Alex Weinberg: shot in the mouth because he is a damn moron.” There would be nobody to write this article, and there would be nobody to change my Facebook status to “dead.”
Even as images of my imminent death accumulated in my mind, I kept walking toward the entrance along with the general flow of people. The door closed behind me, and now I was in the church vestibule. One thing you don’t learn in SEAS is that when a Black Panther greets you with, “Peace”, the correct way to respond is, “Peace,” not, “Oh, um. Well hello, friend.” After a tense moment, a black non-panther wordlessly took my coat and led me to a pew where I waited for the start of the sermon.
A man came on stage and said a long and hearty prayer to open. I noticed the people all around me were saying their “amens” and “Hallelujahs” and the like. I had never been in a church ceremony in my life and I felt that it would be in everyone’s best interest for me to fit in, so I began shouting and praying along with everyone else. It felt both phony and necessary, and it made me wonder if any those people who drank chloral hydrate flavored Kool-Aid in Jonestown were just doing it so that they wouldn’t seem rude.
Soon, The Honorable James David Manning PhD came on stage to lay out his plan for the boycott. “European invaders,” he explained, have long envied Harlem for its stately brownstones, spacious sidewalks, low cost of living, and ample transportation. In recent years, local residents have been displaced as rising housing demand drives up rents. In order to halt this march of gentrification, Manning wants neighborhood residents to boycott all “white businesses” and spend money only at “righteous establishments.” (He used the words “black” and “righteous” interchangeably.) People should only shop at black businesses, use black banks, and live in black-owned buildings. In doing so, the wealth created by Harlem would be kept strictly within Harlem, and outsiders would be economically starved out of the neighborhood.
Though his preservationist intention is noble and his love of Harlem undeniable, Pastor Manning’s boycott is a terrible idea and thankfully it will never happen. Regardless, his speech left me wondering whether it was even a fair thing to ask: When I left the church that night and hustled back through the gaze of the Black Panthers, I knew that Pastor Manning was referring to me when he railed against the “invader.” As a white person, I know better than to trust white people, but I still don’t think it’s wise to discount a race of people just because they happen to be the ones building condo towers. I love Harlem and I don’t mean to invade the place. I just want to stroll around, eat pizza, buy my pomade, and get completely embarrassed in streetball. Deal?