May 29, 2008 What's Going On
So my son and I were walking home from school today, and when we were almost there I saw some garbage fly out of an SUV’s window onto the sidewalk in front of our house. I tossed a frown towards the very large woman in the front seat, who was eating chicken and throwing the bones out of the window. There was other garbage too, what looked like bread or potatoes. But it was the chicken bones that concerned me the most – they weren’t going to dissolve in the rain, or get eaten up by birds. No, the chicken bones would be there until someone – probably me – cleaned them up.
As we were walking past, my son said (rather loud) “Mommy, did you see that? They just littered!” “Yes, I saw.” “I’m going to go tell them not to do that!” “No Jake, hopefully they’ll realize it on their own.” And we went inside.
I was fuming. How dare they? And why didn’t I say something? Because they were black. It’s a weird kind of reverse discrimination. If they had been white, I wouldn’t have hesitated. But they were black, and there’s so much racial tension in our neighborhood that I didn’t want to be seen as making trouble.
We live in a neighborhood that has seen its housing values skyrocket in the six years we’ve lived here. And while that’s been fantastic for those of us who own our homes, it’s been catastrophic for a lot of the renters. Their landlords have either sold and kicked the tenants out, or have raised the rent so much that the tenants had to kick themselves out. And while this is clearly a class/money problem, it just so happens that the majority of the renters getting priced out are black, and most of the families moving in are white. It doesn’t matter that I know plenty of white people who have gotten priced out of the neighborhood, and it doesn’t matter that I’m surrounded by wealthy black professionals who have really nice cars and summer homes. The widespread perception is that its a black/white thing.
Oddly enough, so is the chicken bone issue, at least among the white moms I’ve talked to about it. While I’m quite sure that somewhere in Brooklyn, a white person has at some point thrown a chicken bone on the ground, it seems to be a black habit. Of course it’s not, it’s a class thing. But again, the perception is that black people throw their chicken bones on the ground. And with this in the back of my mind, I didn’t want to talk to the people in the SUV about it. I didn’t want to be seen as some uptight white lady who has a problem with black people. And perhaps I just wasn’t giving them the benefit of the doubt, but it’s hard to respect the judgement of people who are throwing trash out of their car.
I watched them out of the window for a while, until I was sure they had seen me. I had decided that if they threw anything else out, I would go out and try to have a friendly conversation with them. But after a few minutes I went on to other things. About half an hour later, when I left the house again, the SUV was gone, as was the garbage. I would like to think that they just hadn’t realized what they were doing until we came along, and that they picked it up.
Should I have said something right away?
Originally posted on Selfish Mom