Friday, February 15, 2008


While we were in the car on the way back, a conversation caught me off guard. We had cut through one town rather than taking a bypass, because one of the other teachers had grown up in that area and wanted to point out her house to us, and it wasn't much out of the way.

The neighborhood was kind of run-down; peeling paint, cracked plastic porch furniture, and faintly rusting chain-link fences all around. Chain-link fences have become nearly synonymous with cheap housing in my mind. It's rare to see a well-kept house with a chain-link fence, for one thing. They're put up for utility rather than appearance; they never look good, even new, and as they get older they rust and sag. And even their utility is almost offensive. They say "Keep out - I don't trust you."

So as we were driving past, the teacher who'd lived there commented on how the neighborhood had declined quite a bit, and she said something along the lines of "I hate to say this... but most of the people who live here now are black." Now the way that it came out wasn't that she hated that black people lived in her old neighborhood, but that she hated to sound racist because she was making a connection between the condition of the neighborhood and the race of the people who lived there.

That made me uncomfortable, but I was absolutely floored by the rejoinders!

- "They just don't take care of things."
- "Ahuh. It's sad. And lazy? If you go to McDonald's and they're working, it's so slow!"

I was just... horrified. I look up to these women like you would NOT believe. And here they are, my role models, saying things that (I felt) were just incredibly ignorant.

Now, quite often, there ARE common threads between neighborhoods, and even between the behaviors of people who live in similar types of neighborhoods, but I'm pretty firmly convinced that the commonalities are based on class, not race. Middle-class black families have jobs, houses, cars, etc. that are far more similar to middle-class white (or Asian, or Hispanic, etc.) families than they are to, say, working-class black families. People in the same socioeconomic class tend to face similar problems, and as a result, they develop similar strategies to cope with them.

In fact, earlier that weekend one of the other teachers had expressed her frustration at her husband's brother, who was still infatuated with his ex-wife, despite how badly she'd treated him - cheated on him, walked out on him, took the kids so that she would qualify for WIC and he'd have to pay child support, and seemed quite content to live on welfare. This woman's behavior parallels the judgements made against blacks - but she's white.

And I know that every other teacher in that car has had similar experiences, because we live in an area that has a lot of welfare-class families, most of them white. I just... I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it was happening.


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