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, August 18, 2016

America's Historic District and Race

In the quadrant of Flatbush known as Lefferts Gardens there is the Historic District, much of which is known as Lefferts Manor. In the quadrant of the globe known as the United States of America, there is the Historic District, much of which is known as Vermont.

Vermont brings you maple syrup and cheese and disgruntled fairly-left-leaning Senators. It is remarkably white, very rural, with pockets of the sort of granola-toting entrepreneurs who should be familiar to any liberal arts college graduate or Phish phetishist. There are two sorts of extra-long bearded gentlemen here. One is fashion conscious and likes indie, jam and/or roots rock. The other is fashion-averse and likes Skynyrd and ZZ. (I take that back; they both like Skynyrd, though one ironically). Both like to smoke weed. Both would not be out of their element at a bluegrass festival, though the former would head over to the “craft” beer tent and the latter would pull a Coors from his cooler, though both have been known to chug a PBR at the end of the night. The former likes to drive a Subaru; the latter wouldn't be caught dead in anything but pickup, ATV or tractor. I counted three of the former and four of the latter voting at the local Town Hall, where the Democratic Primary was held last Tuesday. My understanding is that 40 to 50 people entered the Hall during the course of the day, and that was considered a pretty good turnout for an early-August primary featuring the first opportunity in many years to fill the Governor's mansion's closets with new brands of workboots and flannel.

Racial politics, so much a part of life in Central Brooklyn, are at first blush irrelevant up in syrup country. The news mentions protests and #BLM as national issues taking place in another reality, though this lefty strong-hold surely finds much to admire in protests over things that truth-be-told might not matter much in folks' daily lives. A terrific front-line BLM protester came on the NPR affiliated radio, outlining the ways that the movement must address the very real class differences between black Americans, the sorts of differences withIN that make it hard perhaps for the “comfortable set” to see the “police state mentality" that rules poor black neighborhoods. And so, in keeping with the speakers suggestion (like Malcolm?) that whites need to look at themselves more closely and focus on what THEY can do, not merely "sign up" and thereby water-down the movement. They need to look at their entitlement and privilege, in order to address centuries of accumulated social, legal and psychological occupation of black America.

So in that spirit, I tried to identify what whites do to other whites when they have no blacks to subjugate. And to be clear, when I take the word “whites” out of context from the term “blacks,” I find myself in foreign thinking. What is that, anyway? When blacks aren't present, do you (white reader) think of yourself as in the company of “whites?” Or do you instantly recognize that you are among a diverse group of people from various backgrounds each with his/her own baggage, finances and challenges? Bingo. I thought so. You read the room as it should be when you see a large group of black folks congregating - diverse as can be - but chances are you've been programmed to see “large group of black folks” first rather than "large group of folks." It's like an optical illusion.

At the town pond I noticed, over the course of several visits, only three black men, each, oddly I thought at first, with a white significant other, with kids in tow. In NYC, one would hardly notice, but in Vermont, people notice, though they're generally too polite to stare. Biracial, or mulato, was a term I heard occasionally growing up, and while it's become completely unremarkable in my life today, here it got me thinking. What sort of expectation of fair treatment might there be for a light-brown-skinned child? What do townies think of the black men in their midst? Are the women who choose black mates frowned upon here like they would have been in an earlier generation? I know, I know, it's “liberal” Vermont. But c'mon, they're still mighty proud of their Norman Rockwell-ness, and I don't recall the Saturday Evening Post front covers featuring mixed family Thanksgivings.

I make small talk with the other families. We're all here on a weekday in August spending time with our kids, and as they splash in the pond I find that I've just made a snap judgment about two of the guys. One, by his comportment, language and accent, I instantly assume to be college educated and middle to upper middle class. This happened so fast I barely had time to register what and how I'd done it. The other guy spoke with a dialect I instantly associated with inner-city black neighborhoods. They both oozed confidence, but of two seemingly different sorts. I was doing my best to appear cool, but I was so busy judging my judging I hardly had time to notice that my girls were screaming at me to “look, Daddy, look!” Parental duties being what they are, I excused myself and “looked, daddy, looked” as if my very happiness depended on it. My mind was still on my mind, though. Did these guys get stopped more often by the (rarely ever seen) local authorities? Crime is so low around here, you'd think it would be completely unnecessary to stop ANYone who wasn't actually in the act of a crime. Pivot...The two most frequent crimes around here are (can you guess?) domestic violence and drunk driving. Not incidentally, alcohol is often involved in each. And that got me thinking (danger, danger!) 

Alcohol. Guns. Guns and alcohol. Domestic abuse, physical and sexual. Guns. Alcohol, and various and sundry other drugs. Alcohol. Guns. Jealousy, anger, violence. Fists. Alcohol. Guns. Sex. Alcohol.

Forget stop and frisk, and profiling for a minute. How much would crime go down if there were no guns? No alcohol? No...domestic, er, families, um. Okay, you can't do without sex or domestic situations. But what if no guns or booze/drugs? I'm not advocating a ban on booze (tried that didn't we) or even guns, totally, because I know that too is impossible to achieve both in practice AND theory. (They're already here in insane numbers, and they don't disappear because we legislate it.)

Alcohol. Thinking on that as the boys from the swim team drank (and snorted?) their way into a heap of trouble. I met a guy who'd spent 25 years in prison for a murder he was too drunk to remember. Hmm.


K said...

Supposedly race is (just) a social construct ... but one that Democrats and other left-leaning folks will never give up given how useful of a club it is with which to beat their political opponents.

Black Lives Matter! Unless they're also police officers. Or the victims of other 'black' criminals. Sure, regular 'black' folk protest those tragedies too, but I never hear or read about them unless it's conservative or right-leaning people pointing out what sure looks like hypocrisy.

I'm with you on alcohol; well, partly with you at least. I think we'd all be better off getting stoned all the time. Lots of us would forget to finish our drinks for one. I like to imbibe and I think I do so responsibly but it is pretty hard to miss how strongly alcohol is implicated in a lot of terrible shit.

K said...

[This is just so I can signup to get emails for any follow-up comments.]