Talk of the Neighborhood

"Is it safe?"

The question follows whenever I mention that I live in Bed-Stuy to people from a certain socio-economic group (read; affluent, white) whether they are my contemporaries or adults. Even those who are familiar with some of Brooklyn, usually the portion southwest of Flatbush Ave, will utter the words. It's a simple question, but I've always had trouble with it - always felt a little shiver when I hear it.

The word "safe" is used much too lightly in this question. I'm quite sure "Safe" is really a stand-in for a slew of other questions that the person is too politically nervous to ask so they toss this cover-all term at you that is in fact a bottomless pit into which you can throw any interpretation you like. A favorite response of mine to the question is, "Oh yes, most of the stores carry condoms."

The question is imbued with deep biases, privilege, and ignorance. A professor of mine once told me this story about a conversation he had with a Morocco-born French teacher at my college:

"We were eating lunch and he asked me, 'Do you have any idea how fortunate we are?' And I said, 'Sure of course.' I thought he meant we were privileged to have nice jobs at a nice college in a good town. But he said, 'No, no, I mean, this morning, I woke up, I took a leisurely walk down the road to the campus. I did not worry about my daughter being kidnapped as she did the same thing on her way to school. I did not worry about my wife being murdered or arrested as she drove to work. I did not worry about a suicide bomber driving a motorbike packed with explosives into a building next to me. Not once since I have been here have I worried about any of these things. I would be considered outlandish, foolish, for doing so.' And it's true. But there are far more people who have concerns about basic survival than there are people who don't."

It is not more noble to live in, say, East New York than it is to live on the Upper East Side. Putting yourself in a position where you are more likely to absorb bodily or material harm is not a feather in your cap. But it is degenerate to demand safety from someplace that isn't up to your standards, for selfish reasons.

If you want complete safety, throw down for the two-million dollar mortgage and go to Greenwich. Asking for cheap, Brooklyn real estate and safety means someone rips down a church in Bed-Stuy, puts in a hideous all-glass condo and prices all the locals out of the neighborhood. Or, as the Hasidic Jew asked my roommate the other night, "How much do I charge to have good people, like you, live in my building? Not blacks off the street."

Presto-change-o your kids can walk down the gaudy, gentrified block in peace. What makes someone think they deserve that? Because they can pay for it is, of course, the Republican's response. And that's fine for this world, but the gates of hell don't take Visa.

For rich, white, adults, I have no sympathy. Deal with the world. No one is safer than you or ever has been. Infants need protection and surveillance and care. And for the kids, I'm quite certain that growing up in a biosphere of affluence like Princeton can be damaging in an insidious, very different way from growing up in a place on the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum.

As Martin Luther King wrote in "Letter from Birmingham Jail":

"I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice..."


Anonymous said...

Your a moron. Its really apparent your obsessed with racism and gentrification because you are a racist and you feel guilty.

"Standing in the main room with a friend who was equally startled by the self-assured crowd, I told her, "If someone runs up here right now from the neighborhood and beats the shit out of all of us, we will have deserved it.""

next time your at the market hotel try to have a little fun. maybe they should stop letting in kids that dont have the same skin color as you. save you from getting jumped. you racist ass.


Anonymous said...

fucking segregationist

Anonymous said...

ohhh you chumps are soooo cute! "segregationist" how inflammatory! keep it up simpletons!

sweetser said...

What is your argument here? That people shouldn’t ask about safety in a low-income, high-crime neighborhood? That people who live in these rough areas deserve any crime or harm that might befall them? All over New York from the Bronx, to Harlem, to Brooklyn and Queens, young professionals are moving in to lower-income communities. You’re claiming that it’s not worth having a dialogue about the safety of living in these areas? This seems like a completely legitimate concern, worthy of consideration, with a non-existent or tenuous link at best to civil rights, Martin Luther King, or the white moderate. Also, no one said it was “noble” to move to Bed-Stuy, it’s just a reasonable decision if you feel comfortable there and if you need cheap rent. Despite your disgust against the “deep biases, privilege, and ignorance,” it’s clear that you like the attention and sympathy others afford you for living in a black neighborhood. Please get over it.