Guess Who's (Not) Coming to Dinner

Black Minneapolis meets white Minneapolis.

          LAST WEDNESDAY MORNING local talk radio was up in arms over a soul/hip hop show the night before at the Target Center. About 40 police in riot gear had turned out to manage the departing crowd; there had been scuffles as well as widely reported claims of shots fired inside the building, the latter eventually turning out to be false. There were other reports of gunfire in the downtown area in the hours that followed. Those later incidents were similarly linked by media to the Target Center concert, though the particulars remain murky.

          Barbara Carlson was in a near-hysterical state at the beginning of her KSTP-AM show that morning when she received a call from a 19-year-old black man, originally from Chicago, who identified himself as Vic. (Thanks to Jennifer Vogel, who heard the program, for running the tape down and transcribing it.) What follows is only a portion of the long conversation that ensued. What makes it remarkable is that Carlson, in all her guileless candor, lets the voice of white Minneapolis ring out. And this is assuredly the benign version, full of facile good intentions as well as the profoundest ignorance. Is the gulf between the races as wide as it was during the 1960s? purportedly serious people are always asking. No. It's much wider.

          Barbara Carlson: So, gangsta rap. Now what is gangsta rap? I mean how, if you were going to describe it to an old middle-aged broad from Kenwood, how would you describe gangsta rap?

          Vic: It's reality, you know what I'm saying, in the black community. It's what goes on in our community. See, you guys don't know much about our community.

          Do you have a gun?

          Yes I do.

          Are you in a gang?

          No I'm not. But I stay in south Minneapolis. It's a rough neighborhood.

          How old are you?

          Nineteen.

          Nineteen and you carry a gun.

          I don't carry a gun. I work every day. But when I go home, I got protection. Just in case. Because my car has been broken into twice. I've had altercations. But I'm a peaceful person. Unless somebody--

          Okay, I'm trying to understand. And I don't think you feel that I'm being disrespectful, because I don't want to be. But I'm really trying to understand. So you carry a gun in your car. Is the gun in your car?

          Every now and then when I'm going to a party or something like that. But I don't just go out and start trouble, because everybody got guns.

          I just hold my breath when you tell me that you go to parties and you're carrying a gun because everybody else at the party has a gun. How many guns would you think are at some of the parties you go to?

          Well, it depends. If it's up in north Minneapolis, nobody going to bring them in, but they got them in their car or whatever.

          So they don't bring them in. You don't put them in your hightops?

          [laughs] You're funny, Barbara.

          You say that you are not a violent person...

          I'm not.

          ...that you work and that you're not in a gang.

          I'm not. Well, I used to be when I came from Chicago. But I'm getting my life straight and everything.

          How are you doing that?

          I'm working. You know what I'm saying, I'm not selling drugs. I could if I want to. But I'm better than that.

          So how is it, Vic, to be out of a gang when you were in a gang and when a lot of your friends, I presume, are still in a gang?

          Yeah, a lot of them died too. A lot of my homies died, were killed. But that's life, you know what I'm saying, because everyone is just trying to make money. There are not that many jobs in the 'hood.

          What do you mean there aren't that many jobs in the 'hood? You can work.

          Youcan. But like, I go all the way out to the suburbs. I'm not going to say what suburb, but I go all the way out to the suburbs to work every day, you know. But in Minneapolis they pay you $4.35 or $4.50. Nobody want to work for that. You could make three or four hundred in an hour selling drugs. You only make that in two weeks with a job.

          So does it come down to money?

          That's basically all it is. Money is the root to all evil. But the gangs and stuff, I don't think there is anything wrong with gangs. I think the gangs is really good, it's just you got to find a way to channel that energy...

          [later, following commercial break]

          Vic, I am trying to understand and I am trying to learn and I'm not trying to be difficult. Because I don't carry a gun and there would be no way I'd have a gun in my car going to a party. But your lifestyle is different from my lifestyle. We certainly understand that. I'm years older than you are. I'm white. I'm all sorts of things and I don't understand your lifestyle and I'm trying to get into it.

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