How to: Be White in Un-Gentrified Neighborhoods

December 3, 2008 at 2:36 am 13 comments

Alright people, I know this comment may come off as racist, classist, discriminatory, etc. If you have a problem with the guidelines I’m gonna lay down for these reasons, then suck my big black dick. 


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First off, so your parents aren’t paying your rent anymore, huh? Sucks. Sooner or later, it happens to all of us. If you’re lucky, they’ll subsidize your sub-23rd street lifestyle, but if not, chances are you’re looking towards the outer boroughs, or worse, North Manhattan.

Oh My God. I’m the only white person here.  After moving into your new nabe, you might notice people staring at you, eyes wide, maws agape, blabbering in foreign tongues. What to do? It’s important that, from this moment on, you never let yourself try and disappear. You live here now, too. Keep your eyes foreword, smile, do whatever it takes to let your new neighbors show that you’re apart of this community, too. But ignoring them, I don’t think, is the answer. 

As terrifying as it may be to flash those pearly whites at the Dominican who’s whistling at you may seem, the gesture does not go unnoticed, or worse, misinterpreted. It shows you’re not just another face. And hey, if they shout something at you, a well meaning “I’m sorry, I’m white and don’t understand what you’re saying but I’ll smile anyway!” shrug goes a long way. 

Make an effort. Clearly, you feel like an outsider wherever it is you’ve decided to move to. And, with lots of black and hispanic communities unhappy about the impending doom of gentrification, you can’t blame them for looking upon you with a cold stare. That’s why it’s up to you, yes, YOU, the front-runners of this WASP urban-pioneering to be courteous and kind to your community members. Keep the door open for your neighbor coming down the stairs. Say hello, hola, bonjour, whatever, to let them know that you’re a well-meaning resident and not just another rent-raising white devil. 

For example, the other day I asked an older couple in my building if they needed help taking their laundry upstairs. In Spanish. They were so pleased with the gesture that they exclaimed “Aww look, she tries to speak Spanish!” They refused my help anyway, happily shaking their heads. It was only until later that I realized what I had said didn’t actually make grammatical sense, but hey, the offer went a long way, and now we say hello whenever we cross paths. 

Don’t be afraid. Ladies, I know it is hard to not be spooked every time a man whistles or cat calls at you. I find just looking at the dude in the eye shuts them up, but if that doesn’t work, yeah, I’ll give them a smile. At first I worried that they would think I’m some loose woman that smiles at everyone, but honestly, I think they get more of a rise out of thinking they intimidate young women. I remember once I was leaving a park in my neighborhood, all sweaty from exercising, when a black dude with a hood kept whistling at me. We were the only ones there. 

“Really?” I asked him, incredulous and sweat-soaked. “REALLY?”.

He walked away. 

Another time, I had been walking up my street with my iPod when a 12 year old kid came at me, screaming, trying to freak me out. I gave a yelp, then stopped and pulled out my earphones. “Why you gotta scare me like that?” I demanded, “Why you gotta do that?” The kid ran away. “I’m sorry miss, was he bothering you?” one of the older boys asked. “Lemme take care of him for you.” And I haven’t had a problem since. 

Safety First. The most important thing about living in a rough neighborhood is, in the end, safety. If you ever witness something being stolen, someone getting in a fight, etc. please don’t be afraid to make a call to 311 unless you’re worried you will be identified later. I live with a bunch of drug dealers that like to sell on my stoop, but I always make sure to say thank you whenever they open the door for me, or say hello and be polite. While I had debated talking to the landlord, in the end, they’re not an immediate threat to me. Plus, as they like to point out to me every-time I come and go, “it’s like having a personal doorman”. 

Overall I think think the success of living in a non-gentrified neighborhood hinges on the simple fact that you have to make it your own. Talking to your local bodega owner, saying hello to your neighbors, and making an effort to use terribly-accented foreign phrases can go far in asserting yourself as a legitimate resident to be respected. A Starbucks probably won’t spring up on your block for a while, so until then, don’t be afraid to take the time to get to know your neighborhood and community. 

Should you feel threatened at any point, then yes, make some calls, even look into living in a different area. But if the only thing stopping you from enjoying where you live is the lack of lattes, then open your eyes and make an effort. The old men playing backgammon on the street might just look after your bike if you’re nice enough, the bodega owner on the corner could go out of his way to make sure the local boys don’t bug you, and the caribbean jehova’s witnesses that wake you up every week might just turn out to be amazing people: But you have to take the first step in changing how you decide to react to your surroundings. Who knows? This may be the start of a long-lasting relationship with your new neighborhood, and not the transient one you originally planned.

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Entry filed under: Olivia. Tags: , , , .

Tina Fey’s Scar Start Your Morning the Way I Do

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Betty  |  December 3, 2008 at 2:59 am

    Totally dead on. The creepy whistling/hissing dudes still piss me off, but most of the time they’re making comments and I’ll just joke back at them. Best of all, everyone is my building is lovely. It’s a lot of young families with screaming kids (okay, that’s NOT so lovely) but everyone’s friendly and will go the extra few steps to run ahead and get the door for you- and I do the same for them. My neighbor will give me my packages from UPS if I’m not there when the guy drops it off, and I’ll help carry her laundry cart up the stairs. It’s pretty sweet, and I can’t imagine that happening in Williamsburg. Empathy is a powerful uniter.

    Reply
  • 2. alisaurus  |  December 3, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    Great post, I agree entirely. Being nice is the best defense I think, if you’re worried about being a target (because people would much rather mug or attack assholes than nice young ladies. Unless they’re rapists). There are all these old hispanic guys that hang out in front of my building, and they’re all really nice so I always make a point to say good morning and hello. At first I was weirded out by the constant loitering, but now I feel safer knowing they’ve got my back and are keeping an eye on things.

    Reply
  • 3. parkrangerolivia  |  December 3, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    For realz. When I lived in East Village there was never anyone outside past 12 save drunk hipsters. Now, whenever I stumble home, there’s the whole geriatric community on my doorstep watchin out for me. Pair that with their bleary eyed elementary schoolers and it’s a joyous, safe commute!

    Reply
  • 4. miranda  |  December 3, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    this is a great post. thanks a lot. ever since i moved to the city i’ve lived in a safe neighborhood, but there are projects up the streets that get noisy and intimidating at night. and my finace’s spark plugs get stolen every night to be made into crackpipes. but those people don’t really want to bother me anymore than i want to bother them. like bears. anyway, it’s nice to be nice!

    Reply
  • 5. neekaps  |  December 3, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    I want to clarify that the hollering at yo’ girl thing isn’t restricted to the outer boroughs. It happens everywhere, in downtown manhattan, in dumbo, in suburbs, at every construction site, and landscaping project.

    Judging for collective experience, most complain of black men cat calling but it’s not just them. Speaking subjectively, Black men are the most forward (that’s a racial stereotype I stand by).

    The thing is Olivia, I don’t think that you’re targeted because you’re white, it’s because you are a woman, and a vulnerable one at that if you’re alone.

    Reply
  • 6. parkrangerolivia  |  December 3, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    Yeah, it’s totally because I’m a woman that I get cat-called. Unless I’m in chelsea, I rarely see men cruise each other as hard.

    But as for being targeted in general solely for being a woman? I call bullshit on that. It’s because I don’t look like those around me, and they’re not used to me. I definitely get more staring than the latinas in my building, and even Betty experienced a little girl saying to her mom “Wow, I can’t believe she lives in OUR building!”

    However, I WOULD like to point out that the longer I’ve lived here, the less cat-calling I’ve gotten. Maybe it’s because they know me (like my latina neighbors). I KNOW I get catcalled downtown, but come on, at 10:30 in the morning by the guy waiting for the bus? By the old men that drink coffee outside my subway? No. I disagree: It happens way more in the hood. The fact that I get it once I hit campus just augments my experience.

    Reply
  • 7. Pedro  |  December 3, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    I’m not on this boat, but maps and graphs are always impressive. More of those, please!

    Reply
  • 8. Kathana  |  December 3, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    As someone who has lived in some slightly skeevy neighborhoods, I totally agree with all of this. Just be polite and act like you belong. They’ll take care of you.

    Reply
  • 9. parkrangerolivia  |  December 3, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    Don’t worry Pedro, me and Adobe Photoshop are on it. And yeah, Kathana, frontin’ is the way to go, even if you’re scared shitless. Like how last night I opened up my door and there was a dude smoking a blunt in the stairwell. Gotta roll with the punches, ese.

    Reply
  • 10. neekaps  |  December 4, 2008 at 2:12 am

    Actually tranies definitely holler men on men too.

    Reply
  • 11. Sarah  |  December 8, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    Females can be just as pushy!

    My boyfriend ran to Duane Reade to get me medicine and he picked up flowers for me at the corner market. Walking the ONE block back countless women stopped him asking if the flowers were for them and letting them know that if things didn’t work out with me, they’d gladly fill the girlfriend spot.

    Reply
  • 12. parkrangerolivia  |  December 8, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    Hahaha, that’s pretty awesome, actually. But I think it’s different if they were actually saying phrases. Did they whistle at him? Go “Hey boy, I wanna TASTE that ass” ? I think it’s different because they weren’t objectifying him, but engaging him.

    That happens to me all the time whenever I’m carrying a heavy bag and a man offers to help “‘cos I would carry all the bags in the world for you, baby”, but I don’t count it as catcalling.

    Reply
  • 13. Betty  |  December 9, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    Olivia and I just experienced a classic catcall which was actually just a guy muttering at us as he rushed by on the sidewalk, “Once you goblackyounevergoback”. He seemed so timid! Olivia turned around and shouted “YEEEAAAAH” as he walked away. People are SO WEIRD.

    Reply

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