The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Voodoo That You Do and Various and Sundry Blah Blahs

In the Wall Street Journal of all places comes a goofy article on Voodoo, mentioning Belleville Manor, a joint out Foster way on the 'Bush. Spooking of the Voodoo, I saw a really cool looking ritual going on at the park - lots of drumming (not the circle) dancing and chanting. This stuff fascinates me. Gotta read more...

Wall Street Journal

Don't forget the shuttles are back for the Q this weekend. It's the not-so-calm before the not-so-storm of the B disappearing from my beloved Q at Parkside in a couple weeks. But at least me blog name will be back to being more accurater.

An odd use of census data showed up in a kinda non-story in the Daily News about how previously all-white neighborhoods like Mill Basin and Bergen Beach have seen dramatic jumps in African and Caribbean Americans. I've taken a peak at the interactive census map myself. If you're a map and statistics geek like me, you can get lost for hours and hours at that site now that the NYC numbers are in. But I gotta say something that's kinda troubling about the way these numbers break down and get counted. (yes, I know I've been down this road before, but it still gets my goat curry)

You got your population, your age, your housing status. But the biggeest emphasis you see in the media and even on the site itself is...drumroll...RACE. And ethnicity. There are so many things that define and describe us, but this seems to be the most significant thing the government wants to know about us. Don't get me wrong, I understand how this info can be useful. But given the huge numbers of people who describe themselves as "other" races or multiple races, I'm left to conclude that we are WAY, WAY, WAY over-obsessed with the issue, the superficial part, the one that is truly skin-deep. Cultural differences are much more significant than race, WITHIN races and between. I'm sure we've all remarked to ourselves from time to time on how much more we have in common with folks of different skin tone, and how utterly confused we are by some of our racial kin. A lot of dem born again tea party Texans seem like aliens to me. Not to knock, but really, sometimes I'm at a loss to connect, man. And I'm a lily-white corn-fed midwesterner.

Take my slice of Brooklyn. Some white friends have joked that I live in an all-black neighborhood. That's absurd. The census confirms that there's at least 20% white and 10 - 15% Asian and Hispanic, plus a bunch of mixed-race folks, living in my census tract. Plus, what do they mean by "black" anyway? With light to dark-hued folks from the South, Chicago, Michigan, Haiti, Trinidad, Guyana, Africa...are these folks really all just "black?" According to the Census, you'd think so. If you live here and pay any attention to your neighbors, you know that THIS - Flatbush, East Flatbush, PLG, one truly diverse neighborhood. Parts of Queens maybe have more East Asians and Middle Easterners thrown into the mix, but we're holding our own in flags. And these people who call this neighborhood "all-black?" They're coming from some of the whitest places in NYC, nay, the country! Park Slope? Windsor Terrace? Williamsburg? Just check out the map and tell me who's living in the ghetto and who ain't.

Paraphrased from Merriam Webster:

A ghetto is a section of a city occupied by a group who live there especially because of social, economic, or legal pressure. The term ghetto was originally used in Venice to describe the area where Jews were compelled to live. A ghetto is now described as an overcrowded urban area often associated with a specific ethnic or racial population.


Alexis said...

I agree with you to a certain extent that race and (locally) ethnicity are overemphasized in stories about demographic shifts. Indeed, the collective obsession about color is a tactic to not engage in discussions about class ("class warfare", anybody?), generational conflict, sexual orientation and identity, family composition, etc. We keep talking about black and white (and sometimes brown, yellow and red, depending) and we don't have to talk about really murky issues like whether we are over-devoting resources to Baby Boomers at the expense of children.

But here's where you start overstating your case, I think: "But given the huge numbers of people who describe themselves as "other" races or multiple races". Huge? Huge? Define huge. It's not a majority; it's not a plurality and it is my observation that at least in NYC, this category is disproportionately peopled by those who feel less like they are multiracial in the commonly understood sense of having different-raced parents than that the American categories of race don't reflect their identity. For instance, North African Arabs who don't feel either Caucasian/White nor African American/Black or Pacific Islanders of indigenous and European ancestry from way back in their bloodlines. They often feel race; just not in an American-friendly context and they often choose "Other" or "Mixed" because American statisticians don't present them with an option that feels salient. If they were given other terms indigenous to their cultural context, I do think that they would be much more likely to pick one. So I really have to reject any idea that the "Others" are the Kumbayah people, rainbow in hue, to whatever extent that is what you meant.

Zayta said...
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Alexis said...

Now agreed with you that there is more cultural diversity within races than between them. But I think you miss the salient point, here: "Some white friends have joked that I live in an all-black neighborhood. That's absurd. The census confirms that there's at least 20% white and 10 - 15% Asian and Hispanic, plus a bunch of mixed-race folks, living in my census tract." The people that make this sort of joke either speak from ignorance of your stats and your reality or because they feel like majority black=all black, which suggests that (drumroll) they have a problem with black people. Because a majority is just too many.

"Plus, what do they mean by "black" anyway? With light to dark-hued folks from the South, Chicago, Michigan, Haiti, Trinidad, Guyana, Africa...are these folks really all just "black?""
There are about one thousand books you could read to answer this question but the answer is yes. Under the Constitution of this country, yes. Because of our shared history of racial oppression, yes. Dark, light, African, Caribbean, descended of slaves or not, we are black and the strength of blackness is that wide diaspora. We're not "just black" as you put it; we're people, of course, with divergent cultural traditions, languages, rituals, and personalities but we are all black in that we occupy the same sad place at the bottom of the racial hierarchy and neither lightness nor country of origin shields us from that. That is why race should be tracked. That is why race matters. The median net worth of white American families is $110K+. The median net worth of black American families is 20 times less, $5K+. Every health, wealth, incarceration, and achievement indicator for blacks lags that of whites and unless it is demonstrable that different black ethnicities have very divergent outcomes, what could be the use of parsing these differences in statistical reporting except to whitewash inequities that are racial in their origin and racial in their effect? Black people are, en masse, either leaving or being pushed from American city limits from NYC to LA to Chicago and it is much more important to determine whether these demographic shifts are choice-driven mobility or a forced march out of one set of ghettos (as you and M-W defined them) to others.

Alexis said...

Summation: You are absolutely right to see diversity in every race and ethnicity but we have a long way to go before we can stop focusing on race and ethnicity when it is the foundation of so much that divides us. America was founded as a caste society insofar as the Negro was never meant to be free and prosperous, the "Indian" was never meant to be the keeper of his own land, the dusky foreigners were never meant to be part of the indelible part of American fabric. We've triumphed over that, in many ways of course, but to the extent that we haven't, is it any wonder when white supremacy was always THE plan all along?

The challenge, though, is not to let the crush of statistics define how we see each other. You are no oppressor and I am no victim, though you are a white man and I am a black woman. You cannot infer my income or background or proclivities on the basis of my race, nor can I infer yours. And extending it to the whole group of blacks or Asians or whites, that is the challenge amongst races; not to see that "X ethnicity of people are moving here or there" and automatically assign it a value and a character but instead to see the richness and nuance for yourself. And importantly to ask if this ethnic churn is progress or a symptom of suffering.