Thursday, February 22, 2007

Love is....

letting go of hate. even when you don't know it's there...

A neighbor today, referred to us as "Urban Pioneers."

I cannot tell you how crazy offensive I find this term. It's a rather common title that young white couples call themselves as they rehab the crumbling mansions in our neighborhood. They will tell you that they aren't racist and that it isn't a racist comment. But, they are wrong. As I have mentioned before, we live in an inner city neighborhood that we happen to love. We are firmly in the minority (30% white), and this has been such a cool thing for my kids. One of their favorite places is the Natural Uhru hair salon on our corner. They love my kids there. They have a giant butterfly painted on the wall, and handmade dolls dressed in traditional African attire. They also usually have pastries which my kids gobble down. When we walk by on the way to the playground, the owner or another of the women there, will come out and call the kids in, or wave happily to my children's noseprints on the windows. And they laugh when Jellybean wants them to style her white blonde, pin straight, baby fine hair. She wants braids.

My kids love running to our next door neighbor's house and ringing her doorbell to find out what that wonderful smell is coming from her Puerto Rican kitchen. My kids love watching Jade and Jasmin (identical twin girls) rollerskate. Jellybean likes to chase behind them yelling, "Black girl! Black girl! I love your rollerskates!" I used to cringe when she yelled this. But Jade told me it was because she couldn't tell them apart. or maybe it was Jasmine. My kids love running across the street to pet Sr. Jeanne's cat. They love shouting "hello!" and "What a beautiful day!" to the "boys that have their pants falling off." They love Enrico's dog (whom I hate) that has managed to get into our house.

This is our neighborhood. Are there problems with gangs? Yes. lots. We have to be careful around initiation season. Our 95 year old office volunteer was mugged outside of the church in broad daylight. (What 95 year old lady do you know who carries cash around with them?!) There are drug dealers on the next block up. We face alot of anger and skepticism because we are white and serving a black neighborhood.

But, the idea that we are "Pioneers?" It just boils my blood!

As if we have come to settle this neighborhood and reclaim it from the "savages." What in the world, people?! But, really. I mean the reality. This is exactly the mindset. Chowder and I have commented before on the "reservations" that the African Americans in our city are pushed onto. We lived near a reservation in Minnesota and the similarities are striking. Neighborhoods that time and white government forgot. The people are living in falling down buildings, not getting any education, turning to drugs and alcohol from despair and hopelessness. There are actually neighborhoods that white people don't even know about within the urban city limits, that don't have paved roads! Paved roads! Generation after generation, on the Rez. That is until of course someone wants to "reclaim" that neighborhood and make it all bright and shiny for themselves again. So, they call on their old friend Eminent Domain. Give the woman in our church $15,000 for her house where she is raising 3 grandchildren and call that a fair price. Of course she can't afford to buy one of the houses that will be replacing her own, so she has to move. With all the other poor people. Relocate to another reservation.

And now I am no longer surprised by the comment from a teenage girl in our church. The daughter of Congolese refugees. She told us, "You know. Since I've met you guys, I don't hate all white people anymore." indeed. Somedays, I need to intentionally, forcefully let go of the hate, myself.

Happy Love Thursday


Tabitha said...

I should probably gather my thoughts more before I write this, but I would rather speak from my "heart."

I moved to a downtown community a few years ago. Granted, it is located in a small city. While there is crime, it is not on the same scale as larger downtown areas.

I attend a neighborhood forum group - a place where individuals from neighborhoods throughout the region come together to talk about their communities' needs/wants. I like these meetings, because people get to speak for themselves - instead of "professional" urban planners, nonprofits, and assorted government agencies telling them what "they need" and overlooking what they know.

I'm sure you have heard this term "new urbanism." I feel that it creates a complicated situation. As human beings, we want community members to live in sustainable housing at a fair price. We do not want absentee landlords charging such high rates that tenants are left heating their homes with the stove, because they cannot afford the heating bill. We want services and businesses in the community - so that people can reach them by walking and not depend on the cruddy public transportation (that we have in our area).

Still, when people come in talking about "New Urbanism", I shudder. I don't want to live in a gentrified area. People talk about bringing new life into a city. I agree that there need to be changes, but we cannot overlook the life that already exists within the city.

I didn't mean to type all of that. Let me try to be more concise. :)

What I mean to say is: I can understand your frustration upon hearing words like: "downtown pioneer." Individuals, including myself, often talk about making a better world. I feel that we all need to be aware of how we are doing this and whether our actions are based in ideas of solidarity and consideration of everyone impacted.

I suppose that I could have kept my thoughts simple and typed "I agree," but I thought that your thoughtful post deserved a thoughtful response.

Happy Love Thursday!

Melanie said...

I've never heard the term "urban pioneer" before. I can tell you love the people who live around you and that that message of love for fellowman no matter their ethnicity is being passed on to your children. BTW, I bet Jellybean would look cute in braids!

Liza's Eyeview said...

I landed her from Love Thursday. I enjoyed reading your blog and will most likely come back here often.

God bless you and your family.

Cakes said...

Thanks Tabitha! That was very thoughtful. I appreciate your insight. I agree it is a very complicated issue. And it is more complicated where I live. This city is in the Top 5 Most Segregated Cities and Most Violent Cities in the country. I don't see this as a coincidence. Sadly, the happy reality for us is that the danger falls upon African American men ages 16-24. Sure, we've had windows broken out of our van and other property crimes, but there is little danger to our lives.

I don't know about your neighborhood assoc, but I am reluctantly involved in mine. It is comprised of almost all white property owners. There are a few African American property owners. This group is very...single minded in their vision of the future here. Instead of organizing a Fixer-upper Co-op to help the under privledged and elderly fix up their properties (Yes, I suggested one), they fine them and call the "property police."

Jeez. I just wrote a whole other post!

Cakes said...

Melanie, I bet she would!

Welcome Liza!

Multi-tasking Mom said...

We live in an "inner city neigbhourhood" as well. We live just blocks away from the crackhouses and prostitution. Our city is also undergoing "revitalization", however, the racial issues are not quite the same here. That is not to say that racial minorities don't face racism and marginalization here, but I like to believe that it isn't as overt. In Canada, we are said to live in a "cultural mosaic" instead of a "melting pot".

Many of the problems here are related to addiction and mental health. Our city is home to many mental hospitals and addictions, so patients who are originally from the affluent suburbs are released into programs in our own community. This leaves us with large property tax bills to support the heavy burden of the social services in our city, the suburbs have much lower taxes. This is why our city needs to encourage revitalization. The difficulty for our city will be how to compassionately manage the care of the mentally ill while supporting the revitalization.

Much to the horror of some people, we have a group home on our street for mentally-handicapped adults. They are great neighbours, the residents are well-cared for and my children have watched this and learned that they are not to be feared, but to be respected and cared for.

Anyway, I got a teary chuckle reading the reactions your kids' have to the racial diversity around them. I agree with Melanie, Jellybean would be adorable with braids. I cling to a hope, perhaps a naieve one, that with each generation we get closer to a world without bigotry.

Jenni said...

Very thought-provoking. Very! We live in Mayberry, so I admit freely that I cannot relate, but I thank you for broadening my view. I never thought the term pioneer could be offensive, but you make a good case.