Friday, May 08, 2009

You mourned insufficiently for the bodega!

Via Rita: Embracing diversity means getting victimized and liking it?
During a recent crime wave, I'd kept the bat by the front door, somehow imagining that I could use it to defend my family. Then, earlier this same evening, I had heard a scream outside. I grabbed the bat and ran into the cold dark streets. A young woman cried out "I've been robbed!" She pointed at a shadowy figure running across Tremont Street, the boundary between my turf and alien turf. I chased him. ... In a flash of panic, I swung the bat, and he fell.

Later, sitting in my dining room, all I could think was: I'm no hero. I hit a man with a baseball bat. A brown-skinned man. A poor man. Was this the "diversity" I had bargained for? This was the bat I had used growing up in relentlessly suburban, middle-class Lexington, Massachusetts, where diversity meant playing with a few Catholics and an occasional Jew. Six years ago, I had moved my family to Boston's South End, reveling in its economic and racial variety. Did I feel virtuous living there? Our son's school was a model of statistical integration: one-third black, one-third white, one-third "other." We met with neighbors on the multiracial council. Our boys played with black kids who lived down the block. The Latino guy across the street repaired our car. We sat on the front stoop on summer evenings and sipped Chardonnay while the world cruised by.

And now, I had raced out into those same streets and knocked a man down with a baseball bat. I had demonized the muggers and the burglars who were preying on our neighborhood, and now I had descended to their level. Or worse. Doubts welled up in my mind. Did I really understand what it means to live in a diverse neighborhood? Or did I just want cosmetic diversity as a backdrop for imposing my white, professional-class ways? Was our experimental elementary school serving the kids from the housing projects as well as it served the kids from the townhouses? When we celebrated the opening of a new trattoria around the corner, did we mourn for the bodega it displaced? Did we really appreciate the smell from the all-day backyard pig roast next door and the salsa music blaring from open car windows?

I looked at the splintered shank end of my Little League bat. This is what it means, I thought, to try to impose your will, your ways. If you really care about diversity, embrace it. And change.
What's the "change" that should have taken place? Calling the police (we've already heard that this is a swipply thing to do)? Ignoring the screams of your neighbors?
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