Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Blasphemy & Allegory in Ben's Chili Bowl


Barack visited the now world famous Ben's Chili Bowl on U street, with the press and DC Mayor Adrian Fenty in tow. Ben Ali (yeah this is no Jewish deli, folks) has been in this location for near 50 years. Likely the longest-standing African American business in the District. It's not like many presidents have stopped by lately. The soon to be unemployed W. treated the area as if it was 1967, and LBJ was watching the Capital of the so-called Free World burn. Ben's survived, because Ben was part of the community. Now, it is a "gentrified" neighborhood. Strike that. It was gentrified. Now it's full blown reverse-Bantustan for white yuppies who allow Ben's to survive because of the local "color," "cool factor," and whispery tie to a U street that was once called "125th Street South." Where now students, lobbyists and associates at big law firms who haven't a clue who the fuck was Duke Ellington or Ella or Billy Eckstein--yet live in luxury condos and apartments named for these folks.
Yes, into this milieu steps Barack. Surrounded by the new denizens of U street, as the scions of the old inhabits watch on lovingly on their TVs, spying newspapers on the subway, or sighing in contentment as we share the vignette in thrice forwarded emails or on Facebook, as pirated from news or Huffington Post. And there's Fenty with him. Fairer skinned then Barack; more so than me. Draped in a tailored business suit. Thinner than I, for sure. Younger, robust. But more allied. No faux African or "hood" garb in sight. No ebonics or hating on the cops. Nope, just a smiling uber educated black man supporting a likewise situated president. Both "talking white" and doing so to a throng of cheering, screaming yuppies. Fawning press. And a smattering of black folks, overwhelmed with the photo op. That's Ben's. The Ben's of 2009. The U Street of 2009.
Barack is our president spiritually. But he's their's practically. So who do you really think is going to be his barometer? Just look inside Ben's Chili Bowl.

6 comments:

carl said...

Given your bizarre and veiled self-deprecation which took me months to understand, I assume YOU'RE the blasphemer?

Anonymous said...

SoCal 82Tiger Asks:

Professor - So when I am in DC in March you want to grab a bite at Ceiba or Ben's???

Hell I'm in DC for a week; plenty of time do both!

Christopher Chambers said...

@carl: yep!

@SoCal: Both Ben's and Ceiba!

Anonymous said...

The symbolism (hidden and apparent) and photo-op quality is not lost on me, so you'll get no knee-jerk cries to burn you at the stake for your blasphemy. Besides, that's exactly what you want. You blasphemers crave a soapbox!

Instead I'll hit you with this: yes it's a lot of Hollywood, but I think there is some genuine, sincere emotion and connection at work. I will even go as far as admitting that the "allegory" of this place is something both the Mayor and the President-Elect sense (with regarding to the changing demographic on U Street, and how they fit that constituency or owe them their jobs). But again this visit was not contrived and sugar coated. There's an element to it, but 80% is real, Nat.

So there. I won't ignite your fire and make you a martyr!

Ochyming said...

"Where now students, lobbyists and associates at big law firms who haven't a clue who the fuck Duke Ellington or Ella or Billy Eckstein where--yet live in luxury condos and apartments named for these folks."


Oh, yeah?

Who support these african-american luminaries?
... Afro-americans?
I say NO.

Anonymous said...

Hate to admit it--you have a point.