Give Up the Ghost | Revelations | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Give Up the Ghost

Hill District activists are quite capable of thinking for themselves, thank you very much

I wake up in the morning and look outside my window: Is Sala Udin there? I stumble to the bathroom sink and look up into the mirror. Is Sala Udin there? I carefully squeeze the bottom of the tube of toothpaste. Will Sala Udin seep out onto my toothbrush?

Everywhere I turn, everywhere I look, everything I hear about is the ghost of former Pittsburgh City Councilor Sala Udin.

I meet with my elected officials and ask them to join the "Raise Your Hand! No Casino on the Hill" campaign. They hound me to disclose my connections to Sala Udin. This despite the fact that I have launched campaigns on my own, having previously organized a national campaign on behalf of victims of the Tulsa race riot and massacre of 1921.

A June 3 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette piece, meanwhile, named me as part of an "Udin guard" -- taking part in "the latest tug-of-war over the soul of the Hill."

"Mr. Udin was the quiet nexus of the group," the P-G says.

Sometimes I wonder if Sala Udin is even a real person anymore. Was Udin actually our former city councilor, or just a figment of my imagination? Has he somehow gained the power to shape every young person's and minister's minds, especially among Hill residents? Does he have dastardly plans to take over the city, ruin the life of his council successor, Tonya Payne, and ensure that all of his political rivals have hell to pay?

I suppose this would be funny -- and, indeed, it is -- except for the fact that it's just so insulting.

I am a member of the post-post-civil-rights and black-power era, also known as the hip-hop generation. But, contrary to popular belief, we do not all sit back and watch BET and MTV with uncritical eyes, we do not all ingest "gangsta rap," and we do not all wear our pants at the cusp of our lower butt cheeks, or dress like video vixens. But a lot of people, apparently, know nothing about us. They are so cynical they think there can only be one way we might actually be active in our communities: because we're ordered to do so by the ghost of a man who once served as our city councilor.

Do I know Sala Udin? Of course I do. So does just about every Hill resident who knew him as our councilor. But did Mr. Udin orchestrate the organic campaign that is arising now, a campaign born of residents' frustrations with city neglect masked as "development"? Was it his idea to oppose officials who used a casino's ties to the Penguins as an excuse for encroaching upon our neighborhood?

If you must have it spelled out for you, the answer is "n-o."

We are not puppets, we are people.

Imagine me at 10 years old, walking to my bus stop every day, passing by empty lots filled with trash, condoms, drug needles and streets with no name -- as well as three huge parking lots filled with cars of people who don't live anywhere near me and whose daily bucks don't contribute anything back to my community. They can park, play and party here ... but they can't pay for anything here.

It's carelessness. It's callousness. And it's also over.

Over are the days where city officials and their "corporate eye for my neighborhood sky" friends can engage in benign neglect of the Hill District, or other poor and/or African-American neighborhoods. Over are the days in which we suffer silently from their outward disregard and our inner disrespect.

And to think that's all just because Sala Udin might say so is ridiculous. It's insulting to the heart that beats inside of our bodies, to the eyes that see the egregious manner in which our communities have been handled ... and to the spirit that compels all of us to seek higher ground.

We might know or be related to some of the people whose drumbeats make the same noise. But that speaks less to how we interact with one another than it does to the conditions that shape us all: racism, classism, sexism, poverty, inhumanity. And even more importantly, to the forces of hope, dedication and self-determination.

Analyze that and spook out that ghost -- if you can.

Dr. Goddess Says: Boo!

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