Under the Black Flag

Up From Knavery

I recently attended a jujitsu tournament in Newark, New Jersey, a 15-minute train ride from New York City.  I had been to the Newark airport before but never entered the town.  It was quite a revelation.  I walked up the main thoroughfare, named after Martin Luther King, Jr., and saw only black people.  The solitary white man I encountered was a hobo, who asked me for a handout to catch a bus.  Newark was a city bloated with squalor, oily storefronts, dilapidated tenements, vacant courtyards, and trash-strewn lots.  Young toughs loitered about, glaring at the odd white man among them, but somehow I never felt threatened.  Others just went about their business—it was a Saturday afternoon—and the squalid stores were filled with shoppers.  I noticed a lot of toothless older men with vacant looks hanging about.  It was a depressing scene straight out of a John Steinbeck novel.

The good thing about martial arts is they are color-blind.  A kick in the head or an arm bar is no different when applied by a white, oriental, or black man.  Having crossed into the heart of darkness, I talked about it with a black friend of mine who was competing in the tournament.  “Welcome to black America,” he said with a wintry smile.

Then my Japanese-American coach joined in the conversation and took no prisoners in his argument that blacks had only themselves to blame.  “All...

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