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Racial Matters

Only Eddie Murphy Could Make Inner-City Racial Conflict So Funny

Black comedian Eddie Murphy made a triumphal return to Saturday Night Live a few weeks ago and revived some of the characters he played when he was last on 35 years ago, including Buckwheat and Gumby.
 
But it was his reincarnation of "Mister Robinson's Neighborhood," the takeoff on Mr. Rogers, that probably drew the most laughs, especially this monolog within the sketch: 

 
Mister Robinson (Eddie Murphy) tying his shoes: "My neighborhood has gone through so much. It's going through something called 'gentrification.' Can you say, 'gentrification,' boys and girls?  
 
"It's like a magic trick. White people pay a lot of money and, poof, all the black people are gone." 
 
"You know where the black people go?" Pause, as Murphy looks wide-eyed, and prepares to deliver his punch line. 
 
"They all go to Atlanta!!!"
 
The crowd loved it, in large part because the joke is over in less than 30 seconds, which is about as much time as most whites want to think about such unpleasantness as poor blacks being displaced by well-to-do whites in old city areas of New York, Baltimore, San Diego, Washington, DC, and others. 
 
Back in the early 1980s, when Murphy launched his takeoff on Mr. Rogers, he was doing jokes about "white flight," which in a sense is the flip side of gentrification. Instead of whites moving back into the city to displace blacks, back then blacks were crowding into white neighborhoods, and whites were fleeing, often to the suburbs. 
 
It all began in the 1950s and 1960s, when blacks who were part of the Second Great Migration from the South, were pouring into northern big cities. Whites felt threatened with the prospect of not just living among blacks, but living among poor blacks. While the whites feared crime, they also feared their property values would decline. The South Shore neighborhood of Chicago, where Michelle Obama grew up, saw some two-thirds of its white folks flee during the decade 1960-70.
 
In Chicago, the mass exodus of whites, and eventually of middle-class blacks, led to the rise of mostly black street gangs that to this day continue to raise havoc via shootouts that claim young blacks kids and teens as victims. 
 
My novel, Gouster Girl, is about the trauma of racial conflict and the white flight that took place in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago in the early 1960s. It's told through the eyes of an interracial teenage couple in love, and when you read it, you'll begin to understand why so many whites and blacks don't want to spend much longer than the few seconds Eddie Murphy devoted to the subject of inner-city racial turnover in "Mister Robinson's neighborhood." 

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