I Had a Dream.

I posted this a few months ago but have revised it at length and my very courageous editor has run it on the front page of this week’s Gabber.

A note about this: I believe this is the only thing I have ever written that has driven people who do not like me to say I have courage. Hell, no one has ever said I was brave before, like me or not. I like to believe that I’m not driven by other people’s opinion of me, but for some secret squirrel reason, that gave me pleasure to hear.

Here ’tis:

I Had A Dream
A Tale Of One City

By Cathy Salustri

I’m a white woman living in a black neighborhood, and I’m turning into a racist because of it.
I don’t say this proudly; quite the opposite: I am ashamed. But that doesn’t change what I have become.
Growing up, I didn’t -as I don’t think many children do- notice skin color, save for the little blonde girl in my first grade class. I spent the first seven years of my life in an Italian neighborhood, and when Karen showed up in school, I asked my mom why Karen’s skin was so pale- was she sick? Beyond that, I didn’t really understand the idea of “a colored person”. I guess, after meeting Karen, I thought “colored” must mean Italian.
When we moved to Florida, though, my new southern peers explained it to me in terms that sent me sobbing to my mother, asking her if my dad’s best friend knew he was black. Despite those ignorant euphemisms, I learned- or thought I learned- that what mattered was what a person looked like inside, not out.
Four years ago I moved to Gulfport, a city that prides itself on its diversity. Of course, in Gulfport “diversity” refers more to sexual orientation than skin color. As a Gulfportian, I occasionally felt like a straight minority, but it didn’t change how I felt about gay people.
Then, almost two years ago, I bought a house in Bartlett Park, a predominantly black neighborhood in what we used to call the “south side” but now refer to as “Midtown”. Here I have been forced to acknowledge the racist within me. Please understand: I am not proud of this; I’m simply not willing to pretend.
I am a racist. Unlike Gulfport and gay people, living in Bartlett Park has made me feel differently about black people.
While I walk my dog, the comments I get- mostly come-ons, although I assure you I’m not all that- make me uncomfortable. I get intimidated at how physically close these men get to me, so much so that if I did not have a dog I wouldn’t walk through my neighborhood. I don’t fear unwanted advances but I do believe one of two things: either these people are trying to figure out how long I’ll be away from home or are gauging my reaction to see how easily intimidated I am. My saving grace? A cantankerous, overprotective Dalmatian. These men often ask if she bites, the only comment they make that gets more than a nod in return. Hell, yes, she bites.
When someone broke into my shed last year and, while inspecting the damage, my friend had his scooter stolen from my front yard, the words that went through my brain shocked me, but they would not go away.
When the loud bass thrums through my house, rattling my windows and making my head throb, only a very strong sense of self-preservation keeps me from throwing a rock through the car’s window and shouting things that would most certainly get me arrested for hate crimes -if I lasted that long.
Every time I have to call St. Pete’s finest because some crack head has stolen something out of my yard or broken into my fenced backyard, I can understand why people don’t want to come to the south side.
Living in my neighborhood, I understand why people don’t want to hire black people, why they say the horrible things they do about them. I understand how people learn to stop juging people by their individual traits. It’s not always ignorance; sometimes it’s simply taking the offensive.
That’s the sad part: I would love to call most of the people in my neighborhood good people and argue the ‘few bad apples” theory. The reality? only four homes on my street (myself included) have anyone living there who holds a job. The rest get money from… well, I don’t know where. Maybe they all inherited it. People walk by smoking pot… at any time of day. Houses have people- young people, not retirees- sitting outside all day and night. Parties start early every day, music thumping, crowds gathering, all hours before twilight. Strangers visit several homes on my street for just a few minutes at a time, then disappear down alleys again. I see no signs that most of my neighbors want things to change.
I hate what I see and how I feel. I like the few neighbors I know. They bring me food on Thanksgiving, check on me when I enter a hermit phase and don’t show my face for a while, and smile at me on the street. So when these racial slurs ricochet through my head and two minutes later one of my neighbors brings me a plate of crawfish dressing, I feel no better than Michael Richards. I have had every advantage, my skin color among the largest. I’m not a stupid girl; I know that does NOT give me the right to use these words; in fact, I should, because of those advantages, know better. Even in a neighborhood that receives substandard city services, I have advantages because of my skin color.
And make no mistake about it: we do receive substandard services. We don’t get our mail picked up every day, our alley trash cans (city issued) barely cling to life, and trash collection seems based on the Chinese calendar. Potholes and litter line the alleyways.
A code enforcement officer in my neighborhood told me he was happy to see a white person in the neighborhood. A St. Pete policeman responded to one of my calls- a break in to my fenced yard- and told me to move, because the police didn’t have enough officers to do what needed to be done in Bartlett Park.
I cannot believe these two city representatives would have said the same thing to any of my black neighbors. Every police officer (and there have been many) who has come out here has asked why I moved here, their tone suggesting I need my head examined.
I have had a plethora of petty thefts and few big ones, although no one has attempted to enter my house… yet. Lawn mowers, old sandals, wasp killer, weed eaters, lawn furniture, ladders, and a host of other items disappearing have all definitely clouded the way I think. My fence lock getting smashed off with a cinder block hasn’t helped, either.
Last month a 19 year old black man, Maurice Fleming, got arrested while riding my stolen scooter. The locked scooter disappeared from my front yard; two days later the police caught him riding it a few blocks from my house. He had Ecstasy on him. He also was on probation for possession of cocaine and weed. My first thought? Well, my first thought was unprintable. My second thought was not much better: “Well, statistically, he’ll be dead soon.” Not quite the tolerance my mom and dad tried to teach me.
Tuesday morning I sat in court and watched him tell a judge he had a prescription and simply mistook the Ecstasy for his prescription. I then watched the judge sentence him to “time served”. The charges of grand theft? Dropped. Incidentally, Mr. Fleming totalled my scooter. Excuse me, allegedly totalled it. I watched Fleming make eye contact with someone he knew watching the sentencing. He smiled at them. And something in me broke, because at that minute I realized I wasn’t just thinking awful things about him, but every black person in that courtroom.
I moved here because I believed skin color didn’t matter, that underneath the epidermis we were all the same. I moved here because I could afford my home without putting on heels and a skirt and working 40 hours a week at a place where I got memos about group lunches and had to participate in trust falls and team building exercises.
I don’t want to move, I really don’t. I love my 1925 house, its refinished wood floors, fireplace, and huge yard. I love living close to Gulfport and downtown St. Pete. I love that I can pay my mortgage with the money I make writing.
But I hate what it’s doing to my view of the world. I hate that with every burglary (10 times in 18 months), words I once found abhorrent stop just short of my lips. I hate that I know my neighborhood’s problems result from crack and too many absentee landlords, yet I still find myself looking at every black face I see, wondering: Will you be the next person to steal from me? I hate that I am losing the ability to see anything other than black and white. I hate that I want another white person to buy a house on my street because that would be a “sign” that the neighborhood might turn around. I hate that two years in one neighborhood has erased an entire canon of black literature and history and replaced it with racism.
Above all else I hate that my friends who have darker skin than I will read this and see what I have become. I wish that not saying these things would make them go away, but it doesn’t. So what can I possibly say to them to erase what I feel, to convey how it hurts me to feel these things? How can they ever trust that I don’t care what their skin looks like?
What about the next black person I meet past the perimeter of Bartlett Park? Will I see them as a person, or have I lost the ability to see past the pigment in their skin? Will I judge them before I know them, and, as such, never know them at all?
That makes me a racist if that is true, and that, more than any prescient fear for my possessions, disturbs me more than anything else.
My friends assure me that a racist would never move to this neighborhood.
And I agree: a racist didn’t.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.

9 thoughts on “I Had a Dream.”

  1. One of friends on EbonyFriends.com and I all think the whites like you do not care about their neighbors’s skin, a racist would never move to your neighborhood.

  2. Dear Person,
    You’re not a racist. You are having an experience that is not black/white.
    It’s GANG. Seriously. I still know the same # of decent people of every race, hue, color, creed, genre, persuasion as EVER. What’s going on in bartlett park is similar to MANY neighborhoods. This is not typical of behavior of most black persons or most white persons (though I can’t speak for all whites or all blacks) BUT, I KNOW THIS: They are trying to clear bartlett park out to start their ‘gentrification’ In my neighborhood they are trying to clear ME out to make way for their vision of Las Vegas (gambling license) so all of a sudden black people came out of nowhere trying to start shit. Here’s a funny lil secret that busted their asses and displayed the TRUTH!… right inside my home is a picture of a mixed member of my family so they can’t go there with me and quickly stopped. They are doing this to you on purpose because they want your home. Once they acquire enough homes in the area the redevelopment on the cheap will start. I’m dead serious. Read about Riviera Beach florida where the developers are suing so that poor and others will be shoved out of their property because some developer asshole came along and despite the fact that families are living in over 1700 homes they saw the waterfront and went in (fully supported by the city scum leaders just like in tampa and st pete)and started stealing property from people. Listen… STAY STRONG. Don’t let these street theater assholes ruin the lovely nature of humanity for you. These are not black people but gang members planted there JUST for the sole purpose of scaring out the homeowners that are not part of the new picture. I’d be willing to come take walks with you some time so that you can allow me to point out the difference. Although my valuable and highly sought after property is in tampa I spend a great deal of time in st pete. One day I went to eat at Fortunato’s and a TON (at least a dozen) city of st pete inspectors pushed by me one by one and separately and together and gave me dirty looks or ‘accidentally’ bumped into me .. the next week the CITY OF TAMPA code people were at my house which by the way has no code violations. As well, the street theater includes ‘homeless’ people who are no more homeless than you and I and one of them just sat and smirked while this huge big mean looking black guy harassed us. I’m sure he had the full support of st pete code enforcement and cops so I told him to get lost. A. he did not scare me B. he is not homeless. C. he’s a frigging gang member working with the city elite (and I can PROVE THIS) to help intimidate us from our extremely lucrative property.
    You are a white woman who is being victimized by a gang. They’re using black people because they believe this is where your ‘fear factor’ lies. It makes me very ashamed for black people who allow themselves to be used by this making their decent black brothers and sisters look bad. It makes me ashamed for white women and white/black/latino code inspectors who will stare, smirk, bump, glare at me and make believe that this is a race thing.

    It’s NOT. It’s a property grab. Please see it for what it is. I’ll be happy to come walk with you and bring along my video camera. Please rethink in your gut what I am telling you. Honestly if you add the lions and tigers and bears you see it for the circus act it is. Shelve your fear. It’s about more and less than you think but it’s NOT racism. It’s lackofdeceny-ism and I’m seeing it from every hue, cry and creed under the sun.
    Please contact me and we’ll take that walk. I’ll bet it will change the whole scenario. I’ve been a citizen of the world since birth so I’ve never had an oz. of bias in my soul/heart. Please rethink this. It’s not you. It’s gang activity.

  3. Hello there!
    Was referred to your blog by a friend. I lived in a nearby neighborhood (at the edge of Kenwood, 31st St. and 1st Ave. S.) for several years before it was recently “cleaned up”. I had a number of similar experiences that you have had. The drug dealing, the thefts, neighbors who were attacked, verbal assaults etc. However, I had a black stepmother for several years as a child and was loved by her family. Later, I was raised in NPR back before it became a suburb of Tampa and was greatly exposed to what some folks would refer to as “white trash”.

    My experiences in the area did not make me a racist, but a realist. Trash is trash, no matter what the color. A few years ago, I would have been horrified to think such a thing, but I began to realize that some people’s plights are of their own making. Some folks chose to stay down, rather than be kept down. I saw the lies and hypocrisy of the city’s fathers and political leaders of certain communities. I saw how local law enforcement was poorly trained and for the most part didn’t give a damn. I could go on, but it would probably be the size of a novella. But needless to say, I saw too much of the dark side of some people’s natures.The only thing I think that kept me from going over the edge was some of my former neighbors. I was friendly with several of them, it seemed the major troublemakers were from a couple of blocks over.

    I used to be what some people call a liberal. Not anymore.

  4. Whoops, Tampa recently segued over to white (anglo saxon) children being in the MINORITY in public schools. That was over a year ago as the ‘new people’ pour in to kick the ass of long-time Tampa residents.

    I’m not going to make this a ‘point’ but believe it or not many white-appearing, anglo-saxon folks are so many DIFFERENT ethnicities I gave up a LONG time ago. I’ll bet there are many Irish who would prefer not to be referred to as anglos. As well, those pesky germans. Who are actually the “anglo saxons”Anglo-Saxons were a Germanic people. The term could also refer to:


    Anglo-Saxons, a Germanic people who dominated England before 1066
    English people, English speakers with an ancestral heritage from England
    I have this belief: I believe that the first person to pick up the race card is the true racist.
    I have spent a lot of my time over my life loving people and empathizing with them and trying to help in any way that I can.
    So when people keep picking up ‘words’ to describe each other I wonder why they can’t keep in mind that any more than blacks want to be called one thing and cubans don’t like to be called spanish and spanish don’t like to be called ….

    Maybe, just maybe that white person does not want to be called anglosaxon.
    Just sayin …..
    I’d expect any two or three journalists to know that whites are in the minority in Tampa. So, it’s time to stop throwing the ‘minority’ word around where the minority has changed.
    In Miami, white children are now the ones who reap the ‘minority’ benefits.
    It would be really nice to see people stop dragging around their ethnocentrism long enough to embrace the whole human race. It’s not OUR fault who anyone’s mama and daddy is.
    Deal with the person heart to heart not ethnicity to ethnicity.
    And, get the facts straight.

  5. When my wife and I moved to this area from Baltimore, we looked at S. St. Pete. My wife said there was no way she’d live in such a crime-ridden “ghetto” neighborhood, even though houses there were dirt-cheap.

    Debbie, being black, wasn’t looking down her nose at the racial mix there, but at the crappy behavior she saw. She doesn’t like constant obscene proposals or other harassment any better than you do. And she and I are both less tolerant of theft than you are; I know this because you talk about getting burglarized over and over, but you do *not* talk about shooting any of the burglars. 🙂

  6. Cathy’s stories and experiences conjures up so many memories of when I first moved to a house in St. Pete with my family. We had a large Asian family and not a lot of money. My older sister and her husband were looking for homes in the area in the early 90s and we couldn’t afford anything in the good neighborhoods. She bought 2 homes for the price of 1 in South St. Pete on 36 Street and 1st Ave South for a cheap cheap price. It shocked me to no end and angered me that she decided to do this, but I had no choice. I was just a high school student and really couldn’t say much.

    My fears of living there all came true. Crack dealers riding bikes up and down the street all day and all night. Prostitutes come by constantly. Petty theft of our posessions outside was constant. My mother’s car was broken into, stolen, and many of her very prescious valuables were stolen. I woke up in horror twice when I heard gunshots just outside my window. My first reaction was to hit the floor and not move. After 10 years that my family lived there has shaped my negative views of South St. Pete. I’m so happy that I left the place when I left for college and my family sold the homes 6 years ago to move to a nicer neighborhood in Pinellas Park.

    My question is to most people that live in a place like that is why would you not try to get out if you know it’s bad? Get better jobs, save money, or work harder are alternatives to living there to get out. My family did it and I truly belive anyone there can do it as well no matter if they’re black or any other color. I am Asian and I did it. I now live in South Florida and my current neighborhood is closer to Snell Isle then South St. Pete. I’d never go back to that.

    Cathy, there’s a reason why those homes are so cheap. I guess you started to realize it after 6 months. Yes the people that commit most of the crimes are black because that’s the majority there, but I don’t think you mistrust or hate all black people after going through all that you did. I don’t feel like a racist after going through what I did. I only judge people on an individual basis and I think you’d be ok if you saw things that way too. Everybody has thoughts like our in our heads, but that’s our inner good and bad battling each other. We’re the ultimate stop gap measure that consciously choose what the type of person we are.

  7. I am sorry Ms Salustri but I don’t have any sympathy for you or your plight living in Bartlett Park. As a Black Man living in tampa I have slowly become racist because everywhere I go I get racially profiled or harassed because I have dreadlocks or I just could be shopping for food or going to a antique book store looking for a older book and it’s not because I’m good looking.

    3 weeks ago while starting my new job I had guns drawn on me for the second time in 20 years by 10 USF police officers after getting off from work. The crime, waiting for my ride which was running late after that she had to vouch for me because she worked there. Afterwards she told me that a Black Man had broken into a Starbucks 2 weeks prior so any black man waiting outside after 10 was ‘suspect’.

    I have not been back to work since and I thought it because I was sick ,then I realized after I got better that if I went back to work the next white person who harrased me on my job would have been seriously hurt or dead because I had nothing but rage and hate in my soul because of those white cops. So in the words of Leonard Pitts “CRY ME A RIVER”.

    After reading your article in the Times today and the resulting angst from you, supporters of Don Imus, Elite Black Apologists like Bill Cosby, Oprah, Obama and white conservatives I have nothing but rage, utter contempt and very little compassion for the fact that you lost a motor scotter, ladder,and weed wacker.Black men like myself have to fear you, the cops, white fascists and other criminals of all races because you can move to quiet neighborhood I have no peace of mind anywhere I go.

    I am certain that Sunday Bill Maxwell will write an article with his typical white sympatheic tones saying how us “nigras” were keeping racism alive while you other whites in the bay area will cheer his bravery in criticizing the crimnal-minded black male by making the rest of us feel guilty. If you and Thrash were trying to start a dialouge on race then both of you struck out big time.

  8. Cathy – people don’t suddenly “become” racist. Racism manifests in behavior. Sometimes people behave in racist ways when they didn’t before. You had the racism buried deep inside of you (like most people) and this is what brought it to the surface.

    It doesn’t make you a bad person, but now that you know you have these racist behaviors, what are you going to do about it? Because your redemption does not lie in your admission of racism, but rather how you respond to your admitted racism.

    I think the people who are patting you on the back are working to justify their own internalized racism.

    I agree with whatzerkitty – people posting here should read the blogher.org article.

    Best wishes on deconstructing your racism.


  9. Nothing can cure a person of her liberal beliefs on race like living amongst blacks.

    Just in case you believed that your experiences somehow didn’t reflect the reality of race relations in America, here are some illuminating statistics.

    -Over 89% of interracial crime is black-on-white.

    -The black-on-white rape rate is 38 times the white-on-black rape rate.

    -Blacks commit murder at approximately 10 times the white rate

    -Blacks commit hate crimes at double the white rate


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