How to Make a Slave and Other Essays

by Jerald Walker

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Once More to the Ghetto Summary and Analysis

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As the Walker family prepared for a trip to Chicago to celebrate the birthday of Walker’s mother, they paid particular attention to the news coverage of violence in the city. While murders had certainly been more common when Walker was growing up there, the current threat was enough to give everyone pause, particularly Walker’s young sons. 

Because Walker knew the city well, he realized that as long as he and his family stayed out of certain areas, they were no more likely to be slain in Chicago than anywhere else. He also recognized that much of the city was filled with law-abiding, working-class citizens who were simply “struggling to make ends meet and to stay out of harm’s way.” Walker wished news coverage focused on these types of Chicagoans instead of the murderers.

Walker’s mother had been living elsewhere for a decade, spending some time in Maryland and then Orlando. When her health necessitated moving to an assisted-living facility, Walker’s sister insisted that she move to one on the South Side. Walker begged his mother to reconsider, reminding her that the neighborhood wasn’t safe. She retorted that she could just as easily die from choking on her dinner. When Walker complained about the location to his sister, she offered the same sentiments, adding that nowhere was “safe” anymore.

Walker couldn’t sleep that night, pondering the normalization of violence that swayed his sister and mother to choose the South Side of Chicago for his mother’s residence. He wondered if people somehow became so accustomed to violence that they simply “assumed it was everywhere, and its forms included everything.” He recalled that growing up in Chicago, he had not recognized how dangerous it was until he had moved away. Walker and his wife made plans to return to the area for a week but to only visit the South Side for a day; just before they left for the trip, a friend of Walker’s son Dorian commented that he hoped Dorian didn’t “get shot” while in the city, which quickly deflated the trip’s mood.

2.7 million residents call the South Side of Chicago home, and ninety-three percent of those people are Black. It is therefore possible to drive for hours and to only see people of color. Although Walker had grown up in this environment, returning to it was “surreal.” As they drove toward the assisted living facility, Walker’s sons looked intently out their windows, certain they were seeing “their luck run out.” As they continued to approach the South Side, Walker recalled the time he and his wife had been stopped at a red light when a man had approached the car next to them and smashed out a window, grabbing the driver’s purse. He also recalled a time in 1985 when he had been en route to pick up cocaine. As he had entered an alley on his way to his friend’s complex, a man had put a gun to his head. After searching Walker’s pockets and finding nothing, he had allowed Walker to proceed to his friend’s staircase. Walker had picked up his drugs and “laughed” about the encounter because such confrontations were so “commonplace.” Thirty minutes later, his friend was shot six times in the same spot where Walker had been held at gunpoint. Walker always believed that one of those bullets had been intended for him and that at some point, karma would catch up to him. The experience had brought an abrupt end to his drug usage and marked a turning point in his life.

As they neared the assisted living facility, Dorian insisted that he...

(This entire section contains 1163 words.)

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was going to be sick. Brenda asked that Walker pull over so that their son could walk around, but Walker refused, considering the physical danger in the area. Tensions mounted as Dorian’s discomfort increased. Windows were cracked as Dorian began burping.

Earlier in the day, Brenda had insisted that the children visit her old neighborhood so that they could see how “lucky she was to have been raised in a middle-class suburb.” They drove past her childhood house, the houses of her friends, and her former schools. The environment was a stark contrast to Walker’s childhood origins: the streets were clean, the houses were immaculate, and the lawns were pristine. People waved as the family passed, and Walker found himself growing jealous of his wife’s advantages, wondering what he could have become “with a start in life like this.”

Finally, the family reached the assisted living residence and made their way inside, where they were greeted by numerous family members. After a few hours, Walker prepared to leave when his twin brother asked him to go on a beer run. Sensing that his family believed he was now scared of his hometown streets, Walker felt compelled to prove them wrong, much to the horror of his wife and sons. Once on the streets outside, Walker remembered the intentional way he needed to walk, slow enough to convey that he was a “bad ass” and not to be messed with. After picking up two six packs of malt liquor, Walker and his family were headed back when four men crossed the street, headed toward Walker and his group. Jim, Walker’s cousin, was oblivious to their approach and continued talking about remodeling his basement. Their paths intersected, and one of the strangers, wearing a black do-rag and gold chains, asked, “How you brothers doing?” Pleasantries were exchanged as the two groups merged. 

Walker realized that “humanity . . . had defined [his] life in the ghetto,” not violence. This was the karma he had been anticipating for so long, a correction to his way of thinking that was long overdue.

Analysis 

Violence generates a great deal of news coverage; this coverage then elicits feelings of fear and animosity, dividing people by creating suspicion. When visiting the notorious South Side of Chicago, Walker found himself wrapped up in this same terror, desperately wanting to shield his sons from harm, as any father would. Yet viewing an entire area as a war zone of sorts fails to recognize the humanity and goodness within any population. Walker reminds readers that most people living in areas that suffer from high crime rates are law-abiding citizens who are simply trying to survive. They look out for each other, forming neighborhood watches and putting up signs that encourage people to “Stop the Violence.” Even in areas riddled with senseless murders, there are countless “good people” who embody noble values and deserve more than the violence that plagues their neighborhoods. Encountering the four men on the street reminds Walker that goodness abounds and is visible in everyday encounters with random strangers. Violence did not characterize his early life, he realizes; instead, it was the “humanity” that surrounded him throughout his childhood that laid the foundation for his survival and success.

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