On respectability

A co-worker recently old me that she moved to a rough neighborhood in Brooklyn, not realizing that it was a neighborhood I’d been raised in and still go to regularly to do community work. I was confused because the neighborhood never read rough to me and I wanted to know what was happening to terrify her so. She said she was forced to run home from the subway station because of all the random black men (her neighbors) just standing around at night. I always thought a street full of people at night was a great way to make it home without getting robbed or assaulted because of a thing I like to call community-accountability. Criminals don’t tend to want to get seen by a street full of witnesses.

Some black people go to college, speak “proper” English, listen to things other than gangster rap, and wear pants that fasten securely at waist height. But that 16-year-old black girl talking too loud on her cell phone on the bus with her baby on her lap doesn’t deserve your racist crap either. Neither does the black guy who is sitting on his (your?) stoop at 11pm drinking a 40 with his boxers partly exposed.

There is nothing inherently dangerous about having a loud mouth & tacky fashion sense or drinking a comically oversized beer after work. And not raising children as a teenager is a relatively new and bourgeoisie concept too. My grandmother had her first child at 18 or 19 (she was married but don’t get me started about marriage). So the real issue with these “bad” neighborhoods where these folks live isn’t the deviant behavior of the residents, it’s the fact that bigots tend to be terrified by anyone that isn’t like them.



3 comments on “On respectability”
  1. Rachel Elizabeth Weissler says:

    well said and important linguistics perspective

  2. Briana says:

    Thank you for this post! I’ve dealt with this from my white classmates and co-workers since time immemorial. I’m from Akron, Ohio which is a predominantly working and middle class city split almost evenly between black and white populations. Our economic bottom fell out a long time when the rubber and car industries moved elsewhere, but I never knew that my city and respective neighborhood were supposed to be so “terrible” until I went to college and heard stories from all of my white classmates who’d never even gone to Akron about the crime and “murder in the streets”. Such BS.

    As a little kid, my friends’ parents wouldn’t even allow their children to walk home with me out of fear of my neighborhood which was predominantly black and middle class. It was something that little naive me never fully picked up on until I was in my twenties, and it just burns me up. A lot of what you’ve said about your old childhood neighborhood parallels mine, people out on the street at night and so on. I’d never once felt unsafe in my own neighborhood or city. I can’t stand the bigots who buy into this constructed notion of black criminality. It’s just sickening.

  3. wolfonakayak says:

    THANK YOU!!! Oh good godds, my neighborhood is maligned ALL THE TIME by people who have NO idea what a “bad” neighborhood IS. Why? Because my neighbors are black. Because my neighbors are poor and take the bus (having something to do with being given unequal treatment under both hiring opportunties and education system?). Because the police are called here often (by scared white people … ?). Because there is crime–but a mile away is a perfect little street all full of white people with much higher rates of crime, cars being broken-into at night. Yeah, but our crime is different than their crime … because race.

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