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.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The No Muss No Fuss Guide To Responsible Segregation

It may mean nothing, or everything. Think about it with me for a second, how the below George Bush mug from which I'm ironically drinking coffee in GOP country, down here in a nearly 100 year-old once legally segregated golf course engineered subdivision in North Carolina, how the meaning of the joke on the mug has changed just a bit.

Even Cheney Seems Centrist These Days
Created after the rise of the Tea Party in 2009-10, the cup was meant to remind disenchanted swing Obama sympathizers how star-crossed was their "Hope" vote. And now, as wingnuts like Trump and Cruz threaten to disrupt what's left of the semi-reasonable chunk of the Republican party, the message resonates like a reminder of just how unhinged has the GOP become.

What does the golf course have to do with it? Popsy, Mrs. CFB's late father, was an old-school Southern man. He was a good man to his family, certainly deserving of respects paid at his death at the hands of the very crop that made so many down here rich, and at the same time, kept so many dirt poor. King Tobacco perfectly personifies the Carolina fight between good and evil, rich and poor, black and white (and Indian, I might add). Particularly because its real benefit to humans is less than zero, it's an odd crop to have grown so lucrative. It provides neither sustenance nor actual satisfaction, since the relaxing and calming effects are nothing more than killing the jones of a nic-fit. If you, like me, have played Russian Roulette with cigarettes, you-we all know perfectly well that there is no true pleasure to be derived from those first few puffs from a cigarette - you must learn to like them, or rather NEED them. From the beginning, the lungs scream WTF and the buzz is anything but calming, the taste severe, and the smoky smell impossible to hide. And worst of all, you don't even get drunk. You just get...smelly and anxious. The anxiety can be treated only by another, and another. Duke, duke, duke it out. You'll lose nearly every time, like the Washington Generals to the Harlem Globetrotters (r.i.p. Meadowlark Lemon).

Tobacco. Golf. Subdivisions. Grocery stores. That's what's been on my mind. This non-gated gated-seeming community of Hope Valley was one of America's first planned suburbs, with a nifty twist. The golf course was designed first, and you had to join the country club to purchase a plot of land. It's not like segregation needed any clever help back then; it was, after all, the law of the land. But the unique requirement of club ownership prior to buying a home was an extra-level of exclusivity, and allowed not only a chance to keep out blacks but pretty much ANY undesirable. Blacks might eventually get to buy houses in once-white neighborhoods, but they most certainly couldn't gain entry to golf. Surely Armageddon would come first. Or a Tiger named Woods. Still, it's not like the floodgates have opened. Tiger was no Jackie Robinson, or rather, golf had no colored league full of world-class players ready and willing to integrate. (Golf - what a trip. Folks actually want to golf right up to the gates of death, and probably beyond. Rumor is a yearly struggle for supremacy between hell and heaven's 18-hole courses ends in a Ryder's Cup match between Good and Evil. The teams are fairly evenly matched, with Chi-Chi leading one team and Johnny Miller leading the other. Evil wins every time; Good suspects cheating, but has yet to prove it.)

The first families to buy in were true local gentry, their sons and son-in-laws, and doctors and men of high esteem from the local universities of Duke and Chapel Hill. At the time there were far fancier houses to be found, but the very fact that a car was required meant that Hope Valley possessed a certain hi-tech up-to-date upper-middle-class cache that even the Dukes themselves could only envy. Why? Because THIS Shangri-La came with built-in like-minded community - you know, friends. What with the newly built Methodist and Episcopal churches on-site, the Club pool-golf-tennis-bar-restaurant for-members and families only, a second-tier aristocracy was created that was soon the envy and the prototype for countless communities to follow. Interestingly it was about this time that President Coolidge codified much of what we now know as suburbanization through subdivision, creating a how-to manual for state and city planners. Developing a building was one thing; even a block. Now you could develop 100s of homes at once, and the White House provided you with the blueprints of how to do it.

This area is comprised of nearly 100% white folk. There are a couple of black hi-paid professionals. Interestingly, and unlike their white counterparts, their profession is almost always noted along with their complexion. It's as if it were necessary to note that they're the "right kind" of blacks. Two black sisters live together in a house here in Hope Valley; they moved from Brooklyn many years ago, and don't keep their landscaping quite as tidy as neighbors would like. At first, there was a rumor they might be lesbians. There's some "Triangle People" here, referring to the Tech Industrial Park that lures white-collar engineers, plus the highly prestigious Duke Medical folks. By NYC standards, the houses aren't even THAT expensive. $600k, $700K for a typical 3-4 bedroom house built anywhere from the '30s to the '80s in any of many styles. The closer to the golf course the greater your status, with houses ON the course costing two or three times as much. That should give you an idea of just how crazy house prices have gotten in Brooklyn. For half the price of a modest brownstone you could live in one of the toniest sections of Durham. Twice. But there's a catch. You'd have to live, one of the toniest subdivisions of Durham, NC. And you might just shoot yourself from alienation. You could take out some fellow citizens at the same time, with one of those cheap AK-47s that are so damn easy to come by. How easy? Just see how many automatic weapons you could nab off this website out of Greensboro - hook up with one of these guys, bring a six-pack and rat-a-tat-tat to your heart's content. Seriously though, don't fret. You have to click "I Agree" to go on to the site, stating you'll adhere to all applicable laws. Phew! Thought for a minute any Tom, Dick or Lunatic could get themselves an automatic weapon!

Like so many cities, Durham is near-thoroughly segregated, and it's done with such ingenuity that it's remarkable achievement probably escapes most longtime residents. By allowing in a few upscale blacks and introducing them to the benefits of privilege (at arms length mind you), whites can keep the miscegenation to a minimum while privately surmising it's never been about race anyway - decorum and civility need know no other virtues. Play by the rules, and you will be tolerated. Buy-in, live right, and you might just fit the bill and serve as a credit to your race, a mere 150 years since emancipation. (My, has it really taken THIS long to achieve such an unimpressive victory? MLK likely crying in heaven. Or pissed and ready for Plan B.)

Best of all, the fact of middle-class black neighborhoods add another level of smugness for the gentry. See, one can hear them say. Segregation is by choice, on both sides. Like really does prefer like. Churches prove it too. Sunday mornings remain shockingly segregated. Even while modeling Christ, we'd rather skip the diversity sort-of implied in the Sermon on the Mount. Is what's happening some sort of Catch-22, where we don't want to mix til the playing field equals, but we can't equal the playing field til we spend quality time together? Then again maybe there's something about whiteness that prefers boring church.

It's really quite phenomenal that we manage to look ourselves in the mirror and mutter nonsense like post-racial, integrated, liberal, non-racist, modern. All the while we're living in a country that's nearly as segregated as pre Brown v Board in our living rooms and in our schools and most tragically by our jails and morgues. Mean household wealth remains 20/1 white-black. Wealth passes molasses-slow for blacks generation over generation, while whites stand to transfer the largest pot of money from Boomers to X-ers in the history of mankind. It's staggering really, because as I've heard in story after story after story upon anecdote it's that intergenerational money that really makes the difference economically - inheritance, frequently inheritance of housing alone. And taking it a step further, just see how a single successful billionaire can sire dozens of future generations of shiftless and alienated wealth. It's shocking how few true self-made Americans there are. That is, Americans whose whiteness and American-ness goes back more than a few generations and who managed to not need a leg-up to stay up. Down here a couple Dukes spawned generations of unfathomable wealth. It didn't turn out so well for many of them, psychologically anyway.

Beyond the tumult of the '60s, the most radical and controversial court-mandated enemy of Order was the massive social experiment of forced school integration, a/k/a busing. Mrs. CFB was bused, and she fared well, even as H Valley residents generally opted out by sending their kids to private school rather than be forced to attend lesser, poorer, blacker schools. The stated complaint then, as it is now, was on not on race but "performance" and "behavior." The black schools were considered less disciplined and poorer performing. At the elementary school level at least, the behavior piece was simply not true. Young kids being what they are, scuffles happened, but Southern society is generally polite and true truancy and delinquency were non-existent at the younger grades The schools were, it must be said, poorer performing. But that was part of the point. Not just racial and economic integration, but integration of expectations, parental involvement and even friendship and teamwork. Social progressives had big hopes, and though many whites left the City or school system as a result, poor schools DID in fact improve. The wealthier schools fared just fine. Many are now reassessing the effects of this massive and massively unpopular experiement. Busing, it turns out, was working as promised. But the damage to the social compact of segregation led to revolt at the polls. Jesse Helms and his organizational prowess helped pave the way for Ronald Reagan. Busing essentially ended just as it was starting to show real results. Whites had shown their true color. They hadn't the stomach for addressing the base of racial inequality, and frankly, as Mrs. CFB's mom recounts, black folks weren't exactly overwhelmingly welcoming. She felt horribly UNwelcome in the once all-black school that now was educating her own lily-white southern belles. But as I asked more questions, the story softened. As time went on, she confessed, it became easier and easier and eventually everyone bonded the way parents do. Not lifelong friendships perhaps; that was best left to the churches and clubs. But meaningful, constructive interaction was happening daily, and you know what? The kids turned out just fine. And considerably more culturally aware and empathetic.

To my black friends and readers who might wonder how bad it gets when people of color are not in the room. In my many visits to Durham, NC, I've rarely heard blacks ridiculed, discredited, or insulted. While I know it gets uttered, I've never heard the word nigger uttered in my presence. In fact, I dare say African-Americans and black issues simply don't resonate much to wealthy white Southerners. Least not in polite company. The protests and anger and political agitation is not simply misunderstood; it's hardly a blip on the radar. It's "their problem" now. It just...doesn't come up, unless you force the conversation, and then comes the "don't stir the pot" under-the-table-pokes and shuffles and don't-go-there stare-stabs. There are so many convenient ways around the topic, subtle cues and innuendo, linguistic tricks and changes of subject. It's a vast conspiracy that doesn't need a leader or a written handbook. The meaning is clear, the goal obvious enough not to ever utter. At this point I'm not even sure it's about blacks being lesser than. Our president is proof of SOMEthing. But what really drives segregation is fear of losing wealth and privilege. Because on this side of privilege things are actually pretty fucked up. Lots of the children of privilege are lost, unproductive, depressed, unsure of themselves in a world that was handed to them. To in the outsiders would mean exposing the rusty and crumbling apparatus and the very human people who control it. Money is passed quietly between family members and generations and spouses and misfits and junkies. Oh there are plenty of Captains of Industry of course. But not nearly as many as there are big houses and luxury cars. Entitlement in this country is not so much earned as received, and many of us don't feel worthy of the honor. But still we're unable to give it up. The great American lie lies somewhere in the difference between worth and self-worth, miserly fear and a never-sated hunger for more than our share.

Ask a four-year old. They'll tell you to your face that 10 Christmas presents aren't enough in view of her sister's 11. True story.

East Durham

Hope Valley

No comments: