I shot this photo at the Re-Imagine Maplewood Mall block party that took place last month. It was a very hot, yet beautiful Saturday afternoon here in Germantown. Hundreds of people came out to mingle, listen to music, view art work, eat delicious food and celebrate community. (Link to photos here.)
This gentleman insisted on eating his peanuts and dropping the shells all over the ground instead of placing them in his bag. I confronted him about it because I thought he was being pretty selfish and inconsiderate. It didn’t help that earlier that morning, I had watched many of my friends clean and beautify the very space where he was sitting and chucking shells and being a complete asshole. To add insult to injury he told me that he would clean up if I went and got him a broom. Uh, no, I’m not getting you a broom, because you shouldn’t be making the mess in the first place.
We got into an argument and I decided to take his picture. Of course I had my camera. I was helping to cover the event. A steady stream of ignorant, misogynistic crap spewed from his mouth and I got angrier and angrier. He didn’t like me taking his picture, but I didn’t care, and I didn’t stop. This photo just happened to be the best of the frames I shot.
And yes, he’s a black man, and yes, I will critique the behavior of black people if it is counterproductive, anti-social or unreasonable. But here’s the problem with concluding that this behavior is only attributed to people of a certain race and not stopping to consider how class plays a role here and in other situations.
People like this exist because they are angry and unhappy. In a lot of ways, they’ve been left behind. They don’t understand or don’t care that change is happening around them, and they express their anger and insecurity by littering and other anti-social behavior. To a large extent, we are to blame for their anger. Gentrification and urban renewal programs have baited and switched, pushed people from their homes, their neighborhoods and the only way of life they knew, only to be forced to settle in communities that were benignly hostile, isolated and lacking amenities.
Many years ago, when our communities were segregated by race (and this practice was legally sanctioned – think Jim Crow here in the United States), blacks lived side by side, working class, upper class, middle class, it didn’t matter. People (and families) learned to emulate socially acceptable behavior because they had examples to model. People took pride in themselves and their communal spaces and didn’t want to be ostracized or shamed if their behavior didn’t measure up so they worked hard at improving themselves.
Well, with integration came choice, and those who could, moved to greener pastures. And those who couldn’t, were forced to stay. And since nature abhors a vacuum, the vacancies created by those who could afford to move were filled by those who had no other choices.
And that’s when the problems that we see now began.
But now, with our economic situation degenerating into what it is and what it has been, people of different classes are being forced to learn how to work together again to rebuild. Cooperation and collaboration will only happen when people of varying stripes decide to put aside their fears, anxieties, anger and other emotions to do what’s best for the greater good. Judgements based on class or race or whatever have to be put aside for another day.
The practice of “othering” must stop. OTHER people have to stop deciding that people like this poor black man don’t matter, that they don’t add any value to the community at large and will devise ways to either limit or contain their movements, or rid of them altogether, because they are too scared to confront his anger, his bluster, his bravado, his anti-social behavior.
And poor people of all races must decide that they want to join the rest of society in a meaningful way. I’m not asking anyone to assimilate in ways that make them uncomfortable, but to understand that benefits accrue to all people who accept the fact that there are rules that govern how we all are to get along, particularly in spaces that we all must share.
Conflicts emerge when different classes came together to duke it out over a shared space. This can continue to be the reality, but I think we have an opportunity to create an alternate reality, one that is inclusive, transparent and welcoming.
- Germantown Block Party (ftplawradio.wordpress.com)