I’ve actually taken the house off the market. It wasn’t going anywhere anyway.
The past week has shown me a different side of the neighborhood- a quiet legion of people here who are black but also have disgust for the behaviors I talked about. Some of my neighbors have approached me about the article, and what resulted was perhaps some of the most REAL and MEANINGFUL conversations about race I’ve ever been a party to or overheard.
I think but do not know that some people here (Bartlett) don’t understand some of the things I feel; I do not get a lot of what they say. I’m not talking about the crack heads and dope dealers or the massive legions of passers-through.
Example: “If you would just talk to your neighbors and make friends, they would watch out for your property and it would be safer”.
OK, I get that. But when I asked “Don’t you think you should be able to rely on the police to keep the neighborhood safe?” I was met with blank stares. Now, I know that the police can’t be everywhere, but I’ve never lived somewhere where the levels of crime were so acceptable.
It’s almost like it’s acceptable to have crime as long as you can protect people you know and like from getting victimized. I would think that very touching if the crime here wasn’t so rampant.
The fallout here could have been much worse, and this is more of a “clear my head” type of post than any type of grand statement. I’m writing this for me, no one else.
There have been some amusing moments. I had to stop reading comments on the Times site.
It became apparent that a lot of these posters may not have read my article; it would not shock me to know that they hadn’t even finished Rodney’s piece. One allegation made suggested that I have had thefts because I worked as a prostitute and used crack (While I am a –ahem- healthy woman, I haven’t found the need to turn to prostitution, and while I do have my vices, crack has never been one of them). Another accusation suggested that I must have “messed with somebody’s man” (because, as we all know, the appropriate response to infidelity is to steal the adulterer’s lawnmower… I think that’s actually in the Old Testament).
My favorite, though, suggested that Eric Deggans and I had somehow conspired to create this amalgamated media frenzy and sought to divide St. Petersburg in some sort of race war. If you know anything of how a newsroom works and theories about news framing, you may understand that we generally spend our time just try to report news. We do not sit around in some newspaper Bat Cave and scheme to change the world. At best, we can hope to start a dialogue.
These comments, although ignorant, didn’t shock me. But my neighbors did. In my initial article I mentioned a neighbor who brought me food, and the Times’ piece named her: Gail Fisher-Lee. The day Thrash showed her a copy of I Had a Dream, she came to my home. I opened my door, not sure what to expect. She opened her arms and grabbed me in a big bear hug.
“Why didn’t you tell me you felt that way?” she asked.
“Because,” I answered, “I don’t feel that way about you.” What followed was an hour of talking about black, white, and our neighborhood.
Friday morning Wild 98.7 wanted me to take part in their morning show. I declined, and I also chose not to listen. But apparently my neighbors did listen, and at least one of them called in. My neighbor Nicki has a brother who used to stay with her. He called in and, as I understand it, defended me. Nicki came over Friday night and we, too, talked about black, white, and our neighborhood.
And then I got an e-mail from someone identifying themselves as “Yankee James”. He said “keep your chin up…we’ve all been where you’re at.” He also invited me to join a forum at vnnforum.com. Because I’m classically naïve, I didn’t put his screen name together with anything sinister. Because, although I’d had enough of the comments online, stupidity is making the same decisions and expecting different results. I followed the link.
What I read made me physically ill. I won’t repeat it here and will not post the link, because the site is populated by freakshows and, well, scary fucking excuses for carbon based life forms.
After I read a line or two and scrolled down a few posts, I looked over at Derek.
“I would rather live here forever than become one of these people,” I told him.
Rarely a moment of clarity graces my thoughts. This was one such moment.
This web site was peppered with people I could never become. My struggles with race are far more subtle. One comment I received summed it up intelligently:
“The real question is not whether you’re racist – we all are, to some extent – it’s what you do with your racist assumptions: whether you actively try to identify them in yourself; whether you struggle with them; whether you let them control your interactions with others or treat people unfairly.” (Carrie M., Brooklyn)
So what do I do now? Do I give in and, as several neighbors said, let the bad things here run me out of my home? Do I, as another friend said, simply stop?
I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle, but I do know this: the support I have received in my neighborhood has made it feel like a community. Look, I didn’t take my house off the market because I had any great revelation. I’m the same person with the same struggles. I took the house down because it wasn’t gonna sell. But you know what? This past week is the best I’ve felt about my neighborhood since Derek looked around last December and noticed some stuff was missing from the yard.
I don’t hate black people. But I hate ignorance, violence, and (to paraphrase Indiana Jones), I hate Nazis.
I would rather live in Bartlett Park, with its crime, drugs, and litter, than spend one moment more having Nazi supremacists sympathize with me. I know I have more choices than that, but the past week has given me the perspective that where I sit ain’t so bad, after all.
I’ll take where I am over where “they” are anyday. How horrible it must be to be inside their heads. So as the For Sale sign comes down, I’ll just keep swimming.