The Fire This Time “Black and Blue” by Garnette Cadogan Summary
by Jesmyn Ward

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“Black and Blue” by Garnette Cadogan Summary

Growing up as a dedicated walker in 1980s Kingston, Jamaica, Cadogan learned how to navigate the lively, “often terrifying streets,” where wearing a color that signified the wrong neighborhood political affiliation could get a person killed. In the complex, vibrant tangle of Kingston’s streets, the young Cadogan came alive, losing his shyness as he befriended strangers, memorized landmarks, and learned to evade threatening situations. While Kingston’s streets could be dangerous, he felt safe there, unlike at home with his abusive stepfather, whose behavior had been what propelled Cadogan outdoors, and made him a walker, in the first place.

When Cadogan came to New Orleans for college in 1996, he was astounded at how different walking was for him there. Despite his enthusiasm for exploring the city and its famously Caribbean-infused culture, he was warned by university staff about the dangers of the New Orleans streets and cautioned to restrict his walking to the areas deemed “safe” for tourists and visiting parents.

Almost immediately, Cadogan began to notice the wary looks he received on the street, with “older white women [clutching] their bags” and young white men nervously greeting him. He was especially unprepared for the “bullying” attention he received from police. In Jamaica, there is no tradition of Black parents having “The Talk” with their sons about how to avoid trouble with the police; there is no need for it in a country where the majority of people are Black. In the absence of having been taught this set of rules, Cadogan developed his own “survival tactics” for leaving campus, donning conspicuously “Ivy League”–style clothes to broadcast his student status. Ironically, the most typical of all American male clothing combinations, a white T-shirt and blue jeans, was also seen by police as the “uniform for black troublemakers” and thus “off-limits” if Cadogan wanted to wander freely without being profiled. He went out of his way to avoid any situations that might cause misperception and soon found that the effort began to undermine his sense of dignity while not making him feel any more comfortable on the streets of New Orleans, which had turned out to be more dangerous than those of Kingston.

Eight years after arriving in New Orleans, Cadogan felt that he had earned a right to call the city home. In a gesture of goodwill, he waved to a passing police officer, which aroused so much suspicion that the cop soon had Cadogan in handcuffs up against his car. When he later told friends about the ordeal, it was Cadogan’s behavior, not the policeman’s, that came across as “absurd.”

Cadogan returned to Kingston in order to see his dying grandmother just days before Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. He found that despite his “alienation” from both his native country and his adopted city, the streets of Kingston seemed as familiar to him as ever and reminded him that he could be “invisible” to police and passersby in a way impossible in the United States.

Unable to return to New Orleans, Cadogan took the opportunity to go to New York and follow in the footsteps of some of the great literary figures who had wandered its streets. He was particularly inspired by the poet Walt Whitman, who wrote earthy, passionate verse about his impressions of “sauntering” through Manhattan. Cadogan immediately began exploring the city, adventuring through its diverse neighborhoods and attractions. On his outings with his new girlfriend, the city began to “take shape” for him, and he found it “exhilarating.”

Soon, though, Cadogan was reminded again of how vulnerable he was when walking alone. Late for a date with his girlfriend in Manhattan’s trendy East Village, Cadogan was running down the street to the restaurant when a white man standing by turned around and punched him. The man had assumed him to be a criminal threat, and when he found out he was wrong, he nevertheless...

(The entire section is 1,362 words.)