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Column: The Self-Induced Blackness of Harlem Is Nearly Incredible

“This is the most perfect city in the world for an internal revolution, for a quick takeover by a small, well disciplined group. Even better than Algiers. And the asphalt jungles of Harlem could be your Sierra Maestra.”

In a new novel by Chicano writer Hank Lopez, Che Guevara is so quoted while attending a United Nations session as a member of the Cuban delegation several years ago.

The paperback, called Afro-6, a chilling account of a black takeover of Manhattan, is turning on more black and Puerto Rican militants than Mao Tze-tung’s Little Red Book ever did.

By blowing up all the bridges around Manhattan and controlling the tunnels leading to the heart of New York, a fanatic group of blacks, led by, among others, a Harvard-trained Puerto Rican, John Rios, succeeds in capturing the island in an operation called Afro-6.

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One of the operation’s key maneuvers is the kidnapping of a whole trainload of rich white commuters when the New Haven train stops at the Harlem station.

The book takes on a frightening possible reality by merely taking a cab across what Lopez calls the “terminator” at 96th St. where you leave “the splendor of Park Avenue” and “suddenly plunge into the squalor of Harlem.”

Whites, writes Lopez, know how to brace themselves mentally for the “‘bad bump’ at 96th Street—the abrupt and jarring transition from the glitter to the gloom.”

But to the blacks, continues Lopez, this “bump” creates “black anger and hatred more explosive than any white man could possibly image.” It creates, says Lopez, an “H-Bomb, ‘H’ for Harlem, hanging by the thread of white complacency above the flames of black militancy.”

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If you haven’t been to Harlem in some time, the first thing you’ll notice is that the white rarely crosses that “bump” anymore. Black Harlem is blacker than ever before. Physically and mentally.

A white slumming in Harlem is as welcomed as a policeman at a Black Panther meeting. Blackness in Harlem is in evidence in more ways than just the people’s skin.

In Harlem’s bookstores your choice is usually limited to black literature by blacks — militant blacks. In record shops you’ll be offered black music by black composers, performed by black musicians. In restaurants the menus contains “soul food” and in the movie houses, black pictures produced by blacks.

But the thing to remember is that all this is not for the benefit of white tourists who might be interested in picking up local color but for the benefit of blacks who everyday insist on becoming blacker.

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In Afro-6 Puerto Rican John Rios reconciles himself to the “truth” that it doesn’t make “a damn bit of difference” whether he’s American, Puerto Rican, Russian or Italian. “I’m still black,” concludes Rios.

Harlem today is saying, so be it!

After a few days in New York you start realizing that blacks are not the only ones experiencing self discovery. So-called hard hatters are asserting themselves with a special brand of Americanism. Tens of thousands of Italian-Americans last Monday filled Columbus Circle for a communal outpouring of Italian pride and outrage at the practice of equating Italians with criminals.

Puerto Ricans, Cubans and lower income Jews are more publicly withdrawing into their individual ethnic and racial shells.

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It’s in New York, then, where you start understanding what all this talk about “polarization” means. We who were brought up on the idea that “America is a melting pot” suddenly realize that the theory is a myth if not propaganda.

It’s only in mid-Manhattan where one can get the impression that America is a melting pot. You see whites, blacks, Puerto Ricans, Italians, Jews and what have you going about their business apparently in perfect harmony.

Then you realize that in hectic mid-Manhattan you’re too busy making a living to notice anyone else.

In Afro-6, when the black militants start blowing up the bridges leading to Manhattan, a woman character shrieks: “The Chinese! The Chinese are attacking us!”

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She had been too busy to comprehend what polarization can do to a country.


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