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, January 3, 2019

Shades of Racist?

Of all the nutty things about 2018, for the Q the nuttiest will be the threats and protests that came my way via my good friends Alicia Boyd and Imani Henry. I was prepared for their ire - well, Boyd's for sure. I've made no bones of my disdain for her race-baiting strong-arm tactics around neighborhood development. But I always saw ours as a frothy policy debate, not a death match, even if she did spit on me while screaming "fuck you tim thomas" a time or two. Trust me, there were plenty of other f.u.'s spraying out of her blowhole; I hardly felt special. Spirited. That's the word I'm looking for. Twas a spirited repartee.

But then I learned that for all Boyd's remarkable chutzpah when the cameras are rolling, she's remarkably thin-skinned when it comes to bad press and questions about her tactics and the legality of her own cottage industry. These outsized reactions had some of us wondering what's under the hood. Similarly thin-skinned was her sometimes strategic partner, late-of-state Senator Jesse Hamilton. Clearly, in this Trump-age, throwing oneself into controversy opens oneself to all manner of insult. And one in particular has become the insult of choice as regards a white person shoving his nose into business involving people of color. And I'll admit, the term is most often apt, if in varying shades. But perhaps not always.

There are precious few insults that can dent most white liberals' wimpy armor like "racist." Of course, there are racists for whom the descriptor is a badge of honor - true race warriors bent on the destruction, both physical and legal, of those they deem inferior. Clearly they deserve the full bold and capitalized rendition of the word. But what of those intellectually curious whites who mostly vote and speak with deference to civil rights but rarely do much to combat or restrain "supremacy?" Isn't there a different shade for them, or are they (so I've read) worse than the aforementioned variety, by virtue of their silence? And what of those who dare speak and act as if their black brothers and sisters WERE actually equals? Perhaps even showing deference to their intelligence and diversity, while (of course) still sometimes saying or thinking the wrong thing, only to admit their error and learn from it? Or sometimes dig in deeper only to learn that their arguments hold little sway? I'm sure it's clear which category I aspire to. If not, I've got Imani's email if you need it.

Reading online black sites like The Grio and The Root and Blavity and essays by terrific young black bloggers will likely jolt liberal consciousnesses and provoke surprising resentments that college grads didn't even know they were harboring. Which is, you know. good. Know thyself. Knowledge is power. Fight the Power! (Just not where inherited wealth is concerned! Can I get a witness? And a downpayment? Can't fight the power on a low-thread-count-night's-rest!

When I moved to Flatbush in the early 'aughts, I thought I would be on this race-consciousness path alone, along with a few neighbors and my own limited experience. I should've known the internets would provide ample company. And they certainly have. Down to the last internet.

But when post came to shove, and a group of Imani/Alicia forces threatened, then followed through on, a public smear campaign, culminating in a crowd of angry strangers yelling slogans AT MY HOUSE and posting my image on wanted signs all over the neighborhood, guess who stood up for me and offered words of assurance and concern? Not my white friends by and large. In fact, you could almost hear the wind sucking out of the mouths of Q-readers. Most whites (and yes, I do think of you as whites - that's how the neighborhood has changed me) became conspicuously silent, fearing (I imagine) that any connection to me might tarnish their own bonafides. I got a few hush-hush "sorry this is happening to you" emails, and I did appreciate them. But given the hundreds of online readers, I was surprised by the timid support.

In truth, a few dedicated white nabe activists and community-minded folks did reach out to me and offer more than just moral backing. A delightful and talented lawyer offered her pro bono services. Others met to discuss suitable responses to the nonsense. That certainly helped me keep level-headed about the whole ordeal, which could still be going on for all I know - this might just be an interim report after all. And a wonderful well-known local blogger - a hero, really - wrote a public piece in my defense. And yeah, she's white. But guess what? She was born in a country where her countrymen were an enslaved and oppressed people at the hands of mother Russia. Not unrelated methinks.

No, it was people of color who offered the warmest embraces while the egg still streamed down my face. Let's think this through, Q. It was almost as if years of personal struggle with racism gave these kind souls special insight into the experience of being labelled something you know in your heart that you are not. That is...the experience of racism seems to give some people an enormous well of empathy from which to draw. Should I be surprised? Probably not. One evening though, I sat and cried when I thought about what that really meant.

One day as I was tearing down some of the posters - the ones with my mug lumped in with white-power Proud Boy Gavin McInness and the mentally unhinged Cornerstore Caroline (ask me sometime what I know about her beyond the headlines), I ran into my neighbor John, a Vietnam war veteran with a grumpy demeanor and a heart of gold. He looked straight into my eyes and asked if I was doing okay, what with all the craziness. I told him, a bit sheepishly, who was responsible. You see I'd brought John to a CB9 meeting one time to argue for inner-block protections, and he witnessed AB in all her fury. His brow furled and he hurled some well-timed descriptors and told me to pay her no mind.

I said I'm cool, and hell I'm sure it's nothing compared to what you've been through. He said "damn straight! but that doesn't mean it's ever okay to tear people down like that."

So the man who was the first black electrician in NY"s union. The man who came from the Deep South, then Michigan, who fought in a filthy war for a country that didn't love him, who bought and sold a house in Park Slope in the '80s with his very-hard-earned union money, who helped hold the block together through the worst of '90s Clarkson war zone madness, who loves his wife dearly and has a massive collection of old Westerns on VHS...the guy who's probably heard the "N" word more than a young MC, and not in the "N" word's good-neighborly hip-hop definition. This guy who responds on a dime whenever anyone asks for help...

If John can handle the insults, humiliations, bullshit, I sure as hell can handle a teeny-weeny bit of heat.

Here's to you John, and all my Brooklyn friends who make this life of mine so rich. Not always easy, but full-on billionaire rich.


Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you're surprised at the viciousness towards you by those who abuse the cry of "racism" for anything and everything under the sun, despite the fact that you were so "down with the cause."

Appeasing racism from "victimized" groups by claiming that there must be something valid behind it is appeasement nonetheless.

Churchill (an old, white man, and therefore likely to be deemed irrelevant) was quite wise in defining "appeasement" as feeding the crocodile in the hopes that it eats you last.
I think your blog has, unintentionally, met that definition.

Anonymous said...

Nice piece, though I obviously have to look up the definition of "hero". You're using the word here in a way that makes no sense to me.

Brenda from Flatbush said...

Not Liena's-post-level, but I've countered Imani's smears of you on the Ditmas Park FB page whenever I see them, winning me--ding! ding!--my first Internet labeling as a "white supremacist." We've been bloggers since the dawn of bloggitude, you're still in the frontlines while I've mostly retired to loll in social media, it's the least I can do, and will continue to do, for a citizen journalist I truly respect. (Still hate your mad-lib politics, hee hee.)