Wednesday, January 14, 2009

sketchy 101: the only white family in town

Silver Spring has a reputation of being a "majority-minority" area (though Census results show that whites are the largest ethnic group in almost all of Silver Spring's seven zip codes), which gives some the impression this is the "bad part" of MoCo, which others then take as proof that they're "slumming," which always makes you look cool to friends who live in "safer" places.

I wrote (but never published) the following post last summer about a teacher (a white teacher) who was doing just that:

A lot of teachers like to tell stories about their "home life," sometimes as an example for the class, sometimes because it establishes that they are real people like you or me. I usually like this, because I can get to know teachers in a way that you normally can't in the confines of a curriculum. When these teachers live in East County, however, I get nervous when they start talking about life off-campus.

In the summer class I just finished, my teacher got into this habit from the first day of class. A joke about inviting the class to a Fourth of July barbeque led me to look up where she lives, much to her chagrin. It's a pretty nice neighborhood in Aspen Hill - only about ten years old, very quiet. I have friends from high school who lived there, all of whom were white.

Today, during break, one of my classmates talked about calling the police on a group of teenage girls who were hot-boxing in front of her house. They were blonde and white, she said, and the police simply brushed them off when they arrived. "If they looked sketchy," she said, it would've been completely different. I objected, saying if I saw anyone I didn't know outside my house smoking pot, it would've been sketchy regardless of what color they were.

Teacher replies she knows what "sketchy" looks like - "we're the only white family in the neighborhood," she says, and the neighbors don't act decent: they yell at their children, play loud music, etc. "They're mad at us because we called the police on them," she said.

I stopped listening to her in class after that.

What do you think? We've all dealt with unpleasant neighbors, but it is right to place the blame on race (or, worse yet, to make those kind of accusations as a teacher in front of her students?)


Terry in Silver Spring said...

She shouldn't have made those comments in front of her class, no way. Teachers have to censor themselves in front of the class to a degree and save some comments for the staff room if they have to make them.

I grew up in southern PG and my folks still live there. One day, about seven or so years ago, the little boy who lives across the street from my folks came over and asked to talk to Mom who is sort of like an adopted granny to him. He was 9 or so at the time. He told Mom that his teacher at a PG public elementary (the one I attended) had told them that black men can't excel because whites work to keep them down. The little boy asked if that was true. He also asked if Mom and Dad worked to keep black men down.

Mom hugged him and gave him the same talk she gave us growing up, you are smart and wonderful and you can be anything you want but you do have to work hard to get what you want.

Sad to say, though, things didn't work out well for that child. He didn't finish high school, he was down in Waldorf with some friends and one of them had a gun and decided to hold someone up. The kid swears that he didn't know about the gun or that there would be a hold up. Maybe he didn't, maybe he did. Don't know. But he's up in western Maryland in jail and will be for some years.

I don't know what the moral to that story is, except maybe not to have punk friends, but it makes me sad all around. He's a smart kid and was always kind and thoughtful, especially with my folks.

Clancy said...

The teacher was way out of line, and never should have said something this inappropriate in front of her class.

There is a frightening tendency by many White residents in SS to equate being Black with sketchiness or to classify what appear to me to be fairly normal, middle class teenagers as hoodlums for no other reason than they're Black, loud, and obnoxious (the last two characteristics being a somewhat universal trait of most teenagers when in groups).

That being said, I'd be pissed as hell to have people toking up right in front of my house, and I'm pretty sure all my neighbors (White, Black, Hispanic, and/or Asian) would feel the same way. Even the drug dealer up the street would run their asses off if only out of fear it would mess with business. It's a little sad that the police did little more than my drug-dealing neighbor would do.

Thomas Hardman said...

Ah, if I am reading Dan's narrative correctly, it wasn't Dan's teacher but rather a classmate who mentioned calling the police on some girls smoking marijuana in a car outside the house.

Dan mentions a "pretty nice neighborhood in Aspen Hill - only about ten years old, very quiet". This leads me to question a variety of assumptions, one of which would be where exactly Dan thinks Aspen Hill is. So far as I know, there's no place in Aspen Hill proper that's only about ten years old. I've been living here steadily for 12 years, after a few years absence out west and downtown, and grew up here. It's remotely possible that he's talking about some infill development right at the corner of MD-28 and Old Baltimore Road near the Rock Creek Village shopping center. But if he was trying to allude to, for example, the Longdraft neighborhood, that's not all that quiet; a gang stomped a kid to death there a few years ago, and Aspen Hill outside of the single-family detached residential home section is hotbed of crime, one of the worst in the County outside of the Beltway.

As the Census shows, Aspen Hill's residents are almost 40-percent of foreign birth, and depending where you are, in the townhomes along the north side of Bel Pre Road west of Connecticut, these tend to be Africans, while to the east of Bel Pre Creek and north of Bel Pre, the black people tend to be American-born black of long history in the County. On the south side of Bel Pre Road, in the condos and apartments, the population is extremely "mixed" to put it mildly. In the "houses", especially in Harmony Hills, the vast majority of the people moving in over the last decade are hispanophone, speaking Spanish whether they come more from Castilian Spanish stock or are pure Maya "natives" form Guatemala and Honduras.

Aspen Hill, at this point in time, is considered not merely a "slumburbia" but increasingly is a ghetto, where you define "ghetto" as being inhabited mostly or exclusively by people of a specific ethnicity. Indeed, the word is out now that white people under the age of 50 spotted in Aspen Hill should be checked out on the suspicion that there's no reason for them to be here other than to buy drugs or otherwise be breaking the law.

As for those who are over 50 but not clearly elderly residents of Leisure World, comparable suspicions abound. A lot of the people my age that you see living here are in the County's "scattered site" group homes, on lifetime disability support or in supervised post-release Corrections-sponsored group homes. Most of the bums you see up here are white and my age; I am frequently mistaken for one and "accidentally on purpose" suffer significant abuse at local stores. Evidently white people don't belong in Aspen Hill, according to the staff and management. "This isn't a white community and they need to go back to their own neighborhoods" is what I'm hearing people say. This is the sort of stuff that they say in English; my Spanish isn't that good but I do know pretty well that I should not be happy with some of the stuff I hear. Getting pointed out with the remark "el vampiro es un placa" appears to have a number of translations, the nicest of which seems to be "bloodsucking narc" or "paleface ticket-writer", that's rather unpleasant coming from people who probably shouldn't be in the country. But that's Aspen Hill, 24/7.

Do I know sketchy? I dunno. To me, sketchy is the white bums down at Aspen Hill Road and Georgia Avenue. Sketchy is the people robbing people getting off at the bus-stop in my front yard. Sketchy is this guy across the street from my house. Sketchy is what the local shopping centers look like when the sun goes down. Sketchy is when you try to campaign and ask storeowners what's their opinion on whether or not crime's a problem and they either hide from you like they think you're in a protection racket trying to hit them up for donations and will trash their store just as a demonstration, or they practically break down and cry as they go on for hours about the graffiti and bums and "crazy people" and shoplifters.

Sketchy is when you have eight houses in sight of your back door, and four of them have at least two families illegally renting in the basement. Sketchy is when you have an elementary school where white girls are outnumbered 15 to 1 and the County isn't talking about busing. Sketchy is when you're shoveling snow for the old man across the street and foreign kids come up to you like they're looking to bash someone's head in with their snow shovels and then one of them says "hold it, he lives here". Sketchy is when you have to have permission from teen gangsters to do your own yardwork.

Feel free to dismiss it, and feel free to dismiss what I say out of hand, because it's not all sharing and caring and kum-bay-ya. Just actually come out here and live for a while and you might get some idea why people complain.

Sketchy is when you have to cut down half of the bushes in your yard because otherwise people get drunk and sleep there, and the female pedestrians all act as if people have jumped out of those bushes at them. Sketchy is where you can't sit outside on your porch without carloads of jerks driving by and hurling abuse at you as they blast their reggaeton beat.

Sketchy is when you don't go out of your house because frankly everything you see, hear, smell, or feel, sucks.

BTW "slumming" is when you go hang out in slums and act as if you are from there. I'm not sure what's the right term for someone who is from someplace that turned into a slum around them.

Mortis Olaf said...

The statistics have always boggled my mind. Concerning DTSS, outside of Ellsworth I rarely see white people walking around. On the other hand, I rarely see people walking around. It must have something to do with the time I pass through. Places like Woodside are a different story, but I still ask myself where all the white folk are at. Bethesda perhaps...

Dan Reed said...

The teacher lives in Longmead Crossing (near Layhill and Bel Pre) which is considered by the Census to be part of Aspen Hill and was, in fact, completed about ten years ago. I wasn't going to say where it was because I figured it defeated the purpose of the post, but there you go.

Thomas Hardman said...

I think that most of Longmead Crossing is a bit older than a mere decade, but it is indeed pretty much the "youngest" neighborhood.

It was, of course, the place where Malik McCoy got stomped to death in 2004, which Montgomery County Police Captain John Fitzgerald categorized as a "...very violent, personal crime. The kind that is very brutal"

I have to disagree somewhat with the Census map of Aspen Hill, as it includes Manor Country Club which is as isolated from Aspen Hill as it can legally make itself (privately maintained streets, no unrequested police patrol (last I checked), etc.)

Longmead Crossing isn't anywhere near as "sketchy" in most parts as are other apartment/condo communities nearby, though a lot of the sketchiness of some of those places is due to outside interlopers. For example, there has long been an open-air drug market at one or another place along Bel Pre Road, frequently associated with either North Gate Park or the Bel Pre Square condo property, which is now occupant-owned in most cases, but for a decade or two was the Housing Opportunities Commission ("HOC") development in the neighborhood. Interestingly, some of the strongest and most committed activists around here live or have lived at Bel Pre Square. Both North Gate Park and Bel Pre Square have been the focus of National Night Out Against Crime events in recent years, some of which were Nid-County Neighborhood Initiative sponsored events which had significant attendance. So it's not as if I am the only one who thinks it's kind of "sketchy" around here; the vast majority of non-countygov organizers and attendees are locals, and black.

And hanging out with some of the Bel Pre Square folks, I can see where they might get the idea that the sketchiest element of the neighborhood are the white folks; while discussing this-and-that with one of the event organizers, a fairly steady stream of sketchy ol' white men were headed in and out to the back of the property where the dealers lurked.

I do have to call "bad teacher" on your teacher for talking down about the neighbors for playing loud music. I myself have been known to sit on the porch and play guitar somewhat loudly, though the atrocious and despicable Dust Wars of 2007 sure cured me of that. It also pretty much cured me of coming outside and I don't think it's too much of a stretch of the imagination that it probably cured most other white folks from coming outside much. When you see the foreigners driving around hanging their left arm all of the way down out the driver's window, blasting the reggaeton and throwing their sign, anyone who's white and isn't crazy gets inside and under cover. As long as those assholes are in town, there's no sane reason to be outside when you don't absolutely have to be outside, as in grocery shopping or whatever.

Not to eat out, not to hang out at stores just browsing, definitely not to hire 'em to do your yardwork or building work...

I know that it was during the Dust Wars of 2007 that the first total wave of For Sale signs in Aspen Hill went up en-masse practically overnight... 'cause, frankly, nobody wants to live anywhere near that kind of asshole, much less in a neighborhood full of 'em all out on patrol.

Thomas Hardman said...

In conclusion,

Bad Stuff Happens In Aspen Hill.

We need a New Sheriff In Town.

The one we have just ain't gettin' it.