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An interesting encounter

In the middle of my weekend ritual walking down Myrtle Ave away from my yuppie spaceship I ran into two gentlemen walking the opposite direction. One decided to address me, and here’s what happened next.

Gentleman 1: Yo
Me: What’s up?
Gentleman 1(indignantly): What’s up?
Me(thinking he might have been talking to someone behind me): Are you talking to me?
Gentleman 1: Yeah, do you know where you at?
Me: Yes, I’m on Myrtle Ave.
Gentleman 2: [Something unintelligible to Gentleman 1 as they walk past me]
Me: Have a nice day.
Gentleman 1: Shut up.

Are you as confused as I was?

I don’t think Gentleman 1 appreciated me being in the neighborhood, but other than being quasi-threatening he left me alone while Gentleman 2 just seemed disinterested in the whole affair. Would Bed-Stuy have been a better response? I was excited that someone initiated a conversation with me that didn’t end up asking me for money, but it’s not like we discussed the finer points of modern philosophy.

Is it that obvious that I’m an outsider? If so, what’s wrong with some new faces in the nabe?

Here’s a nice video that is a good introduction to Bedford-Stuyvesant, but I do think it reveals a wish for exclusivity still remains. Check the comments around 5:20. Of course, the person in the video provides a good rationalization for her view and nice examples, but it is ultimately exclusionary.

This is not to say that this view isn’t held by people in other communities which are ‘historically’ this or ‘historically’ that, but merely a subjective observation.

While in college I questioned the long term effects of encouraging so-called ‘diversity’, that is increasing minority enrollment for its own sake. Imagine if you could pick 100 people in any random square mile in the United States and have those people be as close to the national breakdown of ethnicities as possible, what would the consequences be?

We’d be a much more homogeneous society in some sense, there wouldn’t be places like Bed-Stuy or Chinatown or the Hamptons. Places seemingly defined by the demographic they are known for would be a thing of the past. Would that be a bad thing? What would Chinatown look like in such a scenario? Would the look change just because of who lives there, or would there be a push to preserve the façade? Anywhere you went the people would look the same. To preserve remnants of the ethnic uniqueness of an area a false shell would have to be maintained.

Is that what we want?

How could we not want it?

4 Comments

  1. Sam wrote:

    I actually have lived in countries where the society is much more diverse like a real ‘real melting pot’. Multi-ethnicity couples were much more common than in NYC for instance. My friends (not co-workers) were black, white, Arabic, Asian, … In NYC, you can see people from different ethnicities only in the workplace because it is politically correct. But it is definitely very different outside of work.

    I personally believe in heterogeneous societies. When I first dated my girlfriend who is from a different ethnicity than mine, her family was in shock and people in the street were staring at us all the time. Now her family has accepted me and we have learned to pay less attention to people’ reaction in the street.

    Wednesday, December 19, 2007 at 10:54 am | Permalink
  2. Emily from the Mynt wrote:

    Hi D-Train,
    Your blog post has certainly caused a stir. Here are my thoughts, for what they’re worth: Gentleman 1 probably thought you were sassing him when you said “What’s up?” (not everyone around here is a friendly Texan) and “Have a nice day.” If I were rude to someone on the street, and the person told me to have a nice day, I would think that it was sarcastic.

    Also, have you considered the idea that you stick out in this neighborhood, not because you are white, but because you’re a little cutie-pie who doesn’t wear a jacket in the middle of winter? (Oh you!)

    As for second part of your post, I am confused by some of what you say. Encouraging diversity does not necessarily mean erasing community. And I think that what people in some historic neighborhoods do not appreciate is other people coming in, developing and building ugly modern buildings, and then creating their own scene that is exclusive and different. People don’t like change! And I would be pissed if a bunch of white hipster kids moved into my neighborhood too. You and I don’t really fit that description though so don’t sweat it;)

    Emily

    Sunday, July 27, 2008 at 8:16 pm | Permalink
  3. MPG wrote:

    I came to your website following a link from the NY Times. I’m sure you’ll get a lot of these. I don’t know if you hang out on your stoop, meet people, and talk to them — or if you’re the kind of person who only sleeps in Bed-Stuy but works, parties, and socializes elsewhere. I think when there are race and class differences, as are indicated but not explicitly mentioned in your story, the most important thing for the newcomer to do is to hang out and meet people. I live in Crown Heights, and I’m black but not Caribbean. And I’m an overeducated, PhD-getting type. But the more I hang out and meet people, the less likely I am to take one slight as indicative of the whole neighborhood. As far as I can tell, longtime residents really treat the street, the common area, as home while gentrifiers treat their apartments like a hotel room or a fortress. Just my thoughts, but I strongly recommend hanging out on your stoop, stopping to talk to others on their stoops. It makes telling the friendly people from the jerks easier, and it makes everyone feel at home.

    Friday, August 1, 2008 at 10:10 am | Permalink
  4. Jeffrey Marx wrote:

    I’m not sure if you lived here after 9/11 or The Blackout in ’03, but there was a brief time everywhere around NYC that people of all sorts of ethnicities and backgrounds bonded together and were, if only for moments, one unit. One neighborhood, so to speak.

    Since moving here, I have encountered such racism, prejudice and bias. I even have my own racist and prejudiced thoughts since moving here. Thanks, NYC!

    I have also encountered community, greater appreciation for humanity, and summer Fridays. I suppose its a good ying-yang, but the bad stuff makes me crazy, even though you have to take it to get the good.

    Wednesday, August 6, 2008 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

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