Tour of Duty
Not only are the suburbs a symbol of all that is whitewashed in America, they're a “metaphor for anyone who makes a problem worse by running away from it,” according to William “Upski” Wimsatt. In Bomb the Suburbs, Upski's self-published hip-hop-oriented polemic, the 22-year-old Chi-town journalist, “wigger,” and graffiti artist criticizes America as a nation based on fear of strangers and the 'burbs as “a state of being spoiled and isolated.” Now in its second printing, Bomb the Suburbs (“bombing” being the graffiti term) pries open issues of cultural identity and race relations with real passion and insight, incorporating interviews with street-level movers and shakers.
Besides his vision of a hip-hop utopia (a synthesis of the best qualities of the Nation of Islam and the Beastie Boys), most provocative is Upski's self-deprecating essay on wigger culture, which takes white wannabes to task for “wanting to be down but not wanting to sacrifice for it” or help repay an enormous debt to black culture. “Most blacks will accept anyone who makes the slightest effort not to be a typical white asshole,” Upski writes. Then, “Channeled in the right way, the Wigger's personality defects can go a long way toward repairing the sickness of race in America.”
Now Upski is walking the walk, literally: He's “betting his life” that he can hitchhike across the U.S. and stroll all the “so-called worst” inner-city streets.
“It's been both great and terrible,” Upski says from a Seattle pay phone. “The media does a good job of scaring people about certain neighborhoods. I was frightened of Washington, D.C., 'the murder capital of the world.' But the experience proved some of my theories in the book: The place where I found the most tension was at borderlines where people who have been stepped on are more likely to run into a large number of privileged people. If you go deep into more isolated 'ghettos,' the people tend to accept or at least tolerate you.
“When people hear about what I'm doing, their response is, 'What are you trying to prove?' whether it's hostile or sincere,” Upski continues. “Or, 'What good is this going to do? It doesn't do the people that live there any good.' Which is true. What I'm really after is to learn stuff and to help myself become a not-fucked-up person in a fucked-up society where people are scared of 'other' neighborhoods. I'm for hyperintegration.”
Debate issues like gentrification and cultural appropriation with Upski when he reads at Your Mama's Cafe in Oakland Sunday, Aug. 6; the Chameleon in S.F. Monday, Aug. 7; and the Tower Records at Stonestown Wednesday, Aug. 9 (call for times). For a copy of the book, write Subway and Elevated Press Co., PO Box 377653, Chicago, IL 60637.
By Sia Michel