Guess Who's (Not) Coming to Dinner

          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 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.

          You can. 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.  

          But I just wanted to make--

          Would you kill somebody if they went after your little girl?

          Yeah. That's heavy.

          You'd kill 'em.

          Wouldn't you?

          I'd want to kill them. If someone went after Elly? I'd want to kill them. I'd want to do all sorts of things to them. But you see, Vic, do you think it's honestly right to shoot somebody? I mean is that what...

          If it's you or them, or...

          Is that justice, though?

          There is no justice in the city.

          There is no justice in the city?

          Not in the whole criminal justice system for black people. There is no justice.

          So you honestly believe there is no justice for black people?

          There's not, you know what I'm saying. I don't think there is. I just want to say thanks for taking my call. I'm just trying to make a point because I know you've got a mostly white audience.

          We are trying to understand today. Because it--you know, it breaks my heart, it really does, as a mother and a grandmother to think that you have to carry a gun to protect your child or protect yourself. Now I guess my next question is, can't you get out of that environment or is that the way--

          You ask the easiest question to ask, but would you let me come stay in Eden Prairie with you or wherever--

          I don't live in Eden Prairie... You want to have dinner?


          Wait, wait, wait, wait. Hey, Vic, don't challenge me without--you want to have dinner tonight?

          No, but I'm saying in that general, not you probably, but most of the population--

          Come on, Vic, you want to have dinner tonight?

          First of all--

          You want to come to my home?

          No, no, you are getting off the subject.

          No, no, no, no. You are getting off--wait, wait, wait. You just said that you wouldn't want me in your home or you wouldn't want me living with you and you just cast it aside and I've come just to a stop in this conversation. If I were to say to you I'd like to get to know you and I am fine introducing you to my family and having you come over, including--you've got a daughter who is a year old? You want to get her together with my granddaughter?

          Hey, can we talk about what--I just want to make a point.

          But Vic, I'm trying to make a point too. I'm trying to make a point that things are not necessarily out there the way you see them.

          But it is. That's the way I grew up you know.

          But because it's the way you grew up, it doesn't have to stay that way. You don't have to live a life with guns. If you are a kid that wants to get out and go to work and it sounds like you are traveling a long way, get out of your neighborhood, you don't have to stay there.... What if I were to help you go to college? Are you smart enough to go to college?

          I'm very intelligent.

          Well, are we going to get together?

          No, but--

          Wait, wait, Vic, are we going to get together? Because let me tell you, for an old white broad, I've got good contacts. I could probably, if you are a smart kid, get you into school.

          Well, I'm trying to finish getting my--

          Do you want to go to school? Vic, do you want to go to school?

          Yeah, I want to go to school.

          Do you want to change your life?

          Yeah. My life has changed a lot. I used to stay in Chicago and it used to be way worse than this and I used to be gang-bangin.' I'm taking one step at a time.

          Why did you come here, Vic?

          Because there's too much competition in Chicago.

          Wait, there was too much competition for drugs? Too much competition on the streets?

          For everything. Drugs, jobs, everything. Everybody got their own reasons.

          So how did you hear about Minneapolis?

          Friends come up here and tell you that it's all good, you know. I mean, up here, that is what the problem is. Nobody don't know each other, that's why they're killing each other. Because like you got to grow up with people, if you grow up with people you aren't going to be in a hurry to shoot them or whatever if you know them. But this is like no mans land in Minneapolis. Nobody don't know nobody.  

          So you've got to carry a gun, Vic?

          I told you, I don't carry a gun with me. Just when I'm going to a place that I know is a hot spot. But I just wanted--

          Vic, I'm going to tell you something and you can just toss it aside and do whatever you want. You know how to reach me. And I'd be more than happy to have you come to my home and I'd be more than happy to meet you and I'd be more than happy to sit down and see what I could do about school. The only thing that I would ask is that you not have a gun when you come into my home.

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