Sunday, August 27, 2006

thoughts from Up The Pike

I went down to the Silver Theatre with a friend today to see Little Miss Sunshine, which I recommend hesitantly (in the event you've already had your fill of indie films about dysfunctional families). On the way from the parking garage to the theatre I passed City Place, where I ran into five black kids, not much younger than myself. They circled us, causing me to think the worst. Then, one of them asked: "Do you have any quarters?" I said no, and they left us alone and free to see our film at the art house theatre in the gentrifying downtown. And I couldn't help but feel a little guilty for being scared.

Gentrification is messy. City Place gets a eight-story office tower on the roof, meaning that Kid's For Less will have to go; but the suburbanites still won't walk south of Wayne Avenue. I mean, I really wish my parents had never decided to move away from Downtown. Maybe then I'd be the one laughing at all these scared people who finally have a little bit of the city to call their own.

12 comments:

Rfustero said...

Your story reminds of the time Jesse Jackson was jogging and heard footsteps behind him- he too expected the worst-- he is quoted as sighing with relief when he turned around and saw that it was a white man-- you are right in your comments-- but perhaps you should of asked what they needed quarters for-- maybe a phone call, maybe some change to take the Metro home-- I have a habit of giving money to strangers- I know it is dangerous, but I sometime wonder- what if I was short on cash -

Yockel said...

Begging in a group of five is intimidating, even if it's not intentionally threatening. If five teenagers approached me then I would be scared too. Talking to one beggar is a different story.

Having said that I agree with you that people are often needlessly scared for superficial reasons.

That's why I like neighborhoods with public spaces. Especially parks and playgrounds have a way of bringing people together. I would love to live in a neighborhood with front porches.

Terry in Silver Spring said...

Good old City Place. I used to shop at Nordstrom Rack regularly and still take my shoes to the wonderful cobbler there. Marshall's is ok, Nine West is ok, that new little shop that carries the Marimekko items is nice if a bit crowded. Oh, and the soul food carryout down on the bottom level is GREAT.

I look at some of the other places, though, with mixed feelings. How many dollar stores and discount hoochie mamma clothing stores does one mall need? On the other hand, independent business people own those shops and are working hard to be successful and support their families. I want the mall to have more stores that cater to my tastes, but I appreciate the fact that those business people have stuck it out in DTSS.

I used to go to the movies in the top level regularly, mainly because it was close. Usually, I'd go to the first show on Saturday mornings. Fairly regularly, there would be a group of people at the movies who seemed to be from a group or assisted living home for folks with special needs. When they were primarily folks with Downs Syndrome, I'd chat with them in line and at the snack bar. It was nice. Other Saturdays, there would be folks who really couldn't have been getting much from the movie. Two or three people with significant special needs would be parked in one of the back rows of the theater and they'd yell, yelp, screech, and otherwise verbalize during the whole movie regardless what was going on on the screen. Talk about conflicting feelings. I knew they couldn't help it, but it annoyed me just the same.

Maryam Balbed said...

Dan,

I'm concerned about you mentioning that the kids were black...makes it sound as if that was at least part of why you were afraid. Is that true?

thecourtyard said...

You'd think I would know better . . . but we're all prey to the same stereotyping. Would five white kids approaching me on the street make me any less scared? I don't know. Then again, I don't know if they're going to be asking me for change, either.

Sligo said...

No one should be in a group "circling" strangers on the street. That action in itself is threatening, as it hides from everyone else what is happening and cuts off your avenue for escape. Maybe they wouldn't have actually hurt you, but by doing that, they were counting on you getting scared and squeezing some money out of you.

Why should you feel guilty for that making you nervous? Its good you didn't give them anything... that might encourage them to harass other pedestrians.

Maryam Balbed said...

Dan said:

You'd think I would know better...but we're all prey to the same stereotyping. Would five white kids approaching me on the street make me any less scared? I don't know. Then again, I don't know if they're going to be asking me for change, either.

Dan,

In your post you said you got concerned before they asked you for change, so it doesn't seem like it was that. I could understand if you said something about their behavior in place of mentioning race (I know you mentioned the circling along with race)...but the way you wrote it seemed as if race itself was a big issue in determining your reaction.

Yes, we're all prey to stereotypes, but not the same ones. And I think it's what we do with stereotypes...how we process them (i.e., through education) that determines our reactions. The way that black people, and particularly black boys, have historically been villified is so very damaging, and we can't hang on to those hurtful stereotypes.

I'm a small woman, I live in Downtown Silver Spring, and I walk the area whenever I choose to. Fear is an issue for me, but it's only bad or menacing behavior that makes me afraid. And I know, the circling thing...but again, it's the way you mentioned race, separating it from behavior, that caused a reaction in me.

I don't know you and don't know your experiences, but I'm quite sure some folks would fear you too, with or without any circling. And that's not fair to you either.

thecourtyard said...

I'm not happy about stereotypes - even I am a victim of them - but, then again, I don't make a habit of intimidating people in the street. Using the demeaning images of black males in our society to justify "thuggish" behavior doesn't do anything for the problem.

Maryam, you've been in my position before, I'm sure. Haven't you gotten scared? Do we need these small incidents happening when our community has already developed a reputation for things far worse?

Maryam Balbed said...

Dan, you're missing my point. I'm not fussing at you for being scared...it's the way you mentioned that the kids were black, separate from their behavior, that I reacted to. I just don't see the significance of their race if they were behaving in a threatening way.

My experience with black kids isn't that they "make a habit of intimidating people in the streets." Most of the black kids I encounter are just regular kids—not trouble-makers or thugs. (And I do a lot of teaching, so I encounter plenty of kids.) There are kids and grown folks of every race who behave badly — no race has a lock on that.

I really, really hope you're not suggesting that I was justifying "thuggish behavior." I don't see how you could possibly read that into what I wrote.

You say you're sure I've been in your position before...feeling threatened on the street? Sure. Being a woman, I have felt threatened by men—no more from black men than men of any other race.

And on the flip side, I have also been helped and protected when threats presented themselves — and very often, by black men.

I'm just not really sure why you felt the need to mention that the kids were black, or what that meant for you in terms of your reaction to the situation.

Anonymous said...

The problem with Maryam's point is that she is assuming that you should base your behavior and reaction on the belief that a group of 5 white guys is just as likely to attack/rob/threaten you as a group of 5 black guys.

This is complete nonsense.

In Montgomery County, black males made up 83% of all felonies.

My insurance company changes me more for car insurance because I am a guy and, statistically, I am more likely to be in a crash than a woman driver. Likewise, reacting differenting to a group of black men vs a group of white men is completely appropriate.

On a personal note, I was robbed outside the Mall at Prince George's by a group of 4 black men. While I do not make blanket assumptions, I refuse to surrender my personal security to PC thinking.

And just because I want to throw it out there, I work at the National Urban League in DC.

thecourtyard said...

Maryam - at what point did anyone say that black kids like to intimidate people?

The kids happened to be black. They happened to intimidate me. I think that's as far down as the rabbit hole goes . . . there are a lot of good kids in Downtown Silver Spring, don't get me wrong.

Like I said, the city is in transition. On top of that, we have a population more diverse than any in Maryland - maybe more than Baltimore. This super-political correctness and race-baiting has no place in Silver Spring. It's almost insulting to our community's diversity that we have to tiptoe around issues of race like this.

Maryam Balbed said...

Dan,

If it's just that the kids "happened to be black", and you mentioned their race in your post for no particular reason...then why do you keep talking about stereotypes, and how we're all victims of them? And what's up with the guilt you said you felt? Guilt about what?

So what stereotypes exactly were you referring to? Which ones are you a victim of?

I'm curious.