Interesting New York Times Article On “Newcomers Try to Fit In”

The article is about Harlem but I think some folks in our neighborhoods may be able to relate. The article starts:

“In the past few years, the “Village of Harlem,” as older residents still call it, has become a 21st-century laboratory for integration. Class and money and race are at the center of the changes in the neighborhood. Lured by stately century-old brownstones and relatively modest rents, new faces are moving in and making older residents feel that they are being pushed out. There have been protests, and anger directed as much at the idea of the newcomers as at them personally.

Through it all, the voices of those newcomers have often gone unheard, at least publicly. But to listen to them is to hear the story of a neighborhood in transition from a different perspective. For some, it is a daily struggle to fit in or an extra effort to develop a defense for the occasional flare-ups of anger they encounter. Others are charmed by Harlem’s quaint formalities and distinct sense of its history — qualities they say are missing in neighborhoods in the rest of the city.”

Read the full article here.

For more interesting reading from the Times there is also an interesting article about a guy who “spent the summer building an 80-square-foot “tiny house” out of free stuff he found on Craigslist”.

10 Comment

  • I love the fish out of water moments, the ones where I feel my stereotyping shatter. My favorites in the last year or so:

    1) Seeing a ‘gangbanger’ sort of car slowly rolling up on me at night as I walk, getting all freaked out, then it passes and I hear Xanadu by Olivia Newton John coming out its speakers. Xanadu?

    2) Seeing young men leaning in a car, looking shady, then walking by and see their giggling and laughing with a baby.

    3) Listening to some young guy on the bus being as annoying as he possibly can, and theorizing that he’s on crack or PCP and on the verge of killing us all. Then realizing he’s with his sister and just trying to bug her, as legions of little brothers like me have sought to do for eons.

  • Interesting article. Thanks for posting.

  • Sadly all my funny mistakes happened years ago and now I’m jaded and sad that most of my cultural misunderstandings really erred on the side of expecting people to live up to their good side and instead those kids really were selling drugs undisturbed for years and now they’re 25 and still selling drugs, except the guy has 3 children.

    When I moved here, to quote the Times piece, the older residents greeted me as an integrationist. I helped them with bags, and did other things, like improve our landscape and pick up litter.

    But one bad winter- 1996? I shoveled my neighbor’s sidewalks and steps because I was out on the street, they were elderly and bored. What I didn’t realize was that there were guys on the street who were the guys who shoveled the old lady’s steps for $10. And I did their work for them. And I took away their job from them. And the women wanted to pay me for shoveling and I didn’t want their money because I’m not taking money from a 90 year old lady. So after a while, I stopped shoveling the snow.

    And there were African-American couples who moved in too. Yuppies like me and many in mixed marriages. One guy was in the reserves and used to walk down the street in crisp navy Officer’s whites and every grandmother on the block would call to him like he was Barack Obama, but the guys on the corner would sneer. And pretty soon most of the block had turned over. We had no abandoned houses, almost no rentals, and a lot fewer grandmothers.

    And the baby boom generation, man they let me have it. I remember around 2005 this woman and her friend were out on their lawn when I walked by and she said, “are you going to Adams Morgan Day” and I said sure, at some point, then she got kind of cross and said, “I’d rather you not park on this block for that you know” and I stared at her and said that I parked right in front of my house. It took me a while to realize that my neighbor of TEN YEARS didn’t recognize me and presumed I was some kind of cultural tourist. And she’s a total nobody on our block, she’s rarely out on her porch, she didn’t know me, my wife or kids, she doesn’t hang out with the old women. And in the end if I really let that one little comment hurt me would I be any different than some guy on the corner who let comments grind him down?

    I think the one major issue I have is that my preferred method of conversation is to say hello to someone and ask them one or two questions and go on about my business. I do not want to stop and hug someone, I don’t want someone I’ve never met before to call me out about a problem on the street, I don’t want any unknown male of any race or ethnicity saying one single word to my wife on the street at all, nor is she comfortable with people saying things like “come over here” which are purposely vague.

    I am reminded of a time on Mt Pleasant St where I’m pushing my new baby in a stroller and a destitute guy on the corner tells me that the baby doesn’t look like me and my wife’s been sleeping with someone else and it was so rude and uncalled for that I blurted out, “Shut the f*** up and get out of my neighborhood asshole.” And years later I feel kind of ambivalent about it, because it may have been his way of making a joke, but it was so over the top insane to tell someone you’ve never met before ON THE STREET where you have to up the level of civility anyway, that I was really stunned and shaken by it. And yes, I said, “my neighborhood” and that has a racist undercurrent. I’m not going to lie to you about what I said.

    Another time- maybe 1997- I’m talking on my cell phone and this teenager says, “How you doing” and I pass him and look around, “were you talking to me?” And he starts yelling at me and I’ll never forget it, “How we supposed to be brothers if you won’t holler at me on the street?!” He was “Shrugging your shoulders” angry. Now, my definition of “holler” has been for my parents to scold or punish me about something. Friends would NEVER holler at each other. Secondly, I’m on the damn street talking on the phone to my office, why is this a crime worthy of being yelled at when I’m not paying attention to people I’ve never seen before?

    I remember Dave the best. Dave was a guy who could do no wrong in anyone’s eyes. He was about 6’5, African-American, bought his house, completely repaired it and fixed the whole thing up himself, helped all the ladies on the street, could have a conversation with the drug dealers, could have a conversation with me. The first time I met him he extended his hand, shook mine, stared me straight in the eye and said, “I’m Dave [blank], I’m an accountant and I just bought [house number] and I’m fixing it up.” Totally the “white person’s” way to introduce yourself- I know his first and last name, he’s open and looking me in the eye, he let me shake his hand, I know where he lives and what he does. There are people on this block who I’ve known for 10 years and I only know both their names when we get misdirected mail. Otherwise it’s Miss Eartha or Mrs. Jones or, and I’m not making this up, a 60 year old man called Little Ray- and I’m pretty sure Ray isn’t even his given name.

    Then there were things like the alley clean up on earth day a few years back where you’d see every single neighbor of one race there doing work and slowly it would start to occur to people that we’re all of one race here in a multiethnic neighborhood and some ass**** makes a crack about that and I get uncomfortable and feel like I have to defend the guys on the corner with nothing to do even though when I get online, I let my righteous anger over earth day flow. And I know- earth day and cleaning up trash is a white thing even though it’s not really a white thing, you know?

    So it’s tough. I moved here and some things are true, it’s open and people will talk to you as you walk down the street. Unfortunately people will sometimes say any old thing that pops into their heads on the street too. Even when we do talk I find that I’m missing half the information I need to know, such as occupation or full name.

  • what I left out was that Dave sold his house for a $300k profit and moved.

  • Neener, recently we had a neighborhood watch type of meeting and invited my back door neighbor, who has been here since well before I was born. I introduced her at the meeting as “Ms. El”, because, that’s how I know her. She offered her whole name and said that she had, a long time ago, gotten into the habit of the nickname when blatant crime was more, well, blatant, and she called the police using her real name.

    Come to think of it, the majority of us on here use nicknames of some kind (which I like to think is a step up from being totally generically anonymous).

  • I just call everyone ma’am and sir… Makes it easier. It is funny though, I’m a fairly non-social guy, I just don’t seek to socialize. I think it took a couple years for my neighbors to realize I’m not being rude, I’m just not social. Maybe some are still holding a grudge. I do say hello to everyone though, and generally have good relations with my neighbors (I think). Though the seven year old girl down the block did threaten to cut me a year or so ago (no lie).

    Note that recently a campaign staffer friend plopped a Barrack Obama sign in my lawn. I felt like I almost got a standing ovation from all my neighbors when I came home that day (I’m the sole whitey on the block).

  • Neener, I’m laughing at the “holler” remark . . . the thought would never have crossed my mind that someone would take offense at that. I gues that’s a unique to DC expression? But I don’t think so . . . I’m sure there’s tons of hip hop where people say, “lemme holler at you for a minute!”

    I’m a Washingtonian who grew up in Columbia Heghts; I’ve had practically the same experiences as you. Lots of cultural misunderstandings and some just downright nasty encounters, but also a tremendous sense of belonging and affection for this area of Washington, in particular. When my mother bought her house on our block we displaced a group of male prostitutes and a crack dealer, so our neighbors were pretty happy to have us. As the 20 years of living on that block have rolled by lots of weird and wonderful things have happened.

    I used to love all of us getting our holiday decorations out at the same time, and the fact that our neighbor organized everyone to pay the same guy to hang the lights; the enterprising kids who shoveled walk ways; the block parties hosted by the cooperative at the foot of the block; the progressive dinner parties that went from house to house. My block was always multicultural, multilingual and pretty welcoming.

    My experiences to the contrary started when I returned home from college on the west coast in the mid nineties: I was waiting for a teenaged cousin of mine to get off the bus, on his first day visiting for the summer from overseas. He was in tennis camp at St. Alban’s and new to mass transit in Washington. I was trying to make sure he saw me, in order to get off at the right stop. I was standing on the corner in t-shirt and jeans. Two different white guys, presumably new to the neighborhood, told me to move along, the second intimating that he calls the police on prostitutes.

    A few summers later other of my teenaged cousins were staying with my mother for the summer, again. They got locked out the house, and called me and my mother frantically for some to let them in. They were told to sit and wait for us on the front, which they did, quietly listening to their iPods. Our neighbors across the street, who never once have come over to introduce themselves, called the police on the two boys because they MUST have been drug dealers. Thankfully I arrived in time.

    Most recently, the neighbor next door let her house to a group of youngish white kids who were nice enough to begin with. However, as the year wore on it became apparent that they not only thought that rowhouses had yards in common, but that it was okay to literally dislodge the rocks in our front yard, pace back and forth in it, kick over any plants we left in it and scowl at me for asking them to stop. Also, apparently okay– to climb up on our roof, which is not designed for sitting, and park lawn furniture up there, doing significant damage to it.

    We still have the progressives at holiday time; I still speak to people on the block and I TRY not to holler at them (but you know, that what you do when you love your friends!).

  • Tania, I enjoyed reading your post. I am raising my daughter in the city and I like to think she will have positive memories of our good relationships with neighbors, too.

    The not-so-nice interractions were interesting to read. I really try to catch myself at my own perceptions.

    Ironically, one of our newer neighbors seems to think it’s okay to have started a brothel on my block (one of the reasons for the meeting I mentioned above).

  • @ hipchick– I for one wouldn’t trade any of the bitter or the sweet . . . I loved growing up here, and I really like the neighborhoods!

  • I’m still pretty new to the neighborhood and old ladies ask if I’m lost when I’m walking around.

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