take your racism out of my yard

 I was seated at my desk when I heard lots of noise in my front yard.  Honestly, I figured someone was probably trying to cut a bike lock so I got up to go check it out.  I looked out the window and saw a lot of white people, with trash-bags and gloves, all wearing the same shirt that said “United Way” and “We Care”.  I was surprised at how angry I felt at seeing them. My chest pounded and I thought “If one of those fudgers picks up any trash from my yard I am going to scream.”  They didn’t because there wasn’t any to pick-up.

People wanted to know why I felt so angry, here is a list of reasons:

1.  It is patronizing and insulting that you think you care about my neighborhood but that I don’t?  I know my neighbors, they know me, we take care of our neighborhood.   We are not some lazy slobs who can’t take care of ourselves and need you to fix our woeful problems.

2. This reeks of gentrification. Do you think our neighborhood would only be nicer if we cleaned it up a bit;  then your investment on those overpriced new college student apartments on the corner will be worth it?   Just protecting your investment are you?

3. Our street doesn’t have any trash in fact street sweeping people just came through yesterday, so why do you think we need your help? Thanks for being so condescending.

4.  Want to help our neighborhood? Ask what we need. Who are  you to tell us we need to clean?  Actually you didn’t even tell us let alone ask you just did it.  You know what our neighborhood actually needs?  More street lights, better sidewalks, and for you not to drive 45mph on our 25mph street as you use it as a thoroughfare to your jobs.

5.  We are a mixed race neighborhood. It spews of racism and classism at the idea, that you know what is better for us, and send out white, well dressed people to take care of us.

6. A complaint as much as a question, does your sense of entitlement that you can walk into my yard and decide what is appropriate come from your racism or your classism?  Or are they so intertwined that it is impossible to know where your entitlement comes from?  I am glad you didn’t try to take away my compost pile.

7.  You made a judgement call, and although your intentions may have been good, your judgement of my neighborhood, of me, was insulting.  Let’s say you came over to my house uninvited, came into my kitchen and started to organize mop the floor, your intention may have been to help me clean-up but it would be insulting and unsolicited.

So yes this list could be shorter (and most assuredly a bit redundant) but I think El Pocho Abogado summed it up best:

I think when people do the basic kind of services in your neighborhood and UW doesn’t ask if you want to participate or give you notice, then it’s pretty patronizing. Most people don’t like to be thought of as charity cases. It’s pretty rude to assume they are. A lot of times those assumptions are tinged with racism.

One thought on “take your racism out of my yard

  1. You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about this since you posted it. And the questions that arise in my mind are: a) should they have been able to anticipate your reaction? b) how should they respond to the knowledge of your reaction?

    For A, I’m struck by what you already have here, about the parallel scenario about a guest coming over and cleaning your kitchen unbidden. I think about my own life and how my annoyance about that would be entirely guided by our pre-existing relationship. There are friends from whom I’d appreciate that but with others I would take offence. So, I’m sort of glad that there are people in the world who think you have it like that–who feel such a fellow-feeling they didn’t think you’d mind their picking up garbage in your neighborhood. It doesn’t make them right, but it does make the place they are coming from more ambiguous than you identify. Maybe it’s condescending, but maybe it’s something else too, something much better.

    I also initially thought that it was more maternalistic than anything. You live in a college, or college-adjacent, part of town. Maybe they assumed it was a messy college street, or that the mess they saw there was made by college kids that live nearby, and they were just cleaning up after their collective kids. Or maybe that’s what they thought they were canvassing and didn’t know how to react when they got to your street that didn’t seem to be part of that. I don’t know, and neither do you.

    For B, I sort of want to know what would have had to happen for it to have been ok. Who should they have asked? Or should they just not do this at all? Should they do something else, or nothing?

    You also don’t know that someone from your neighborhood did not request that they come. In which case you’d have to ask yourself if you can be spokesperson for your neighborhood, can’t others too?

    I think we should talk too, about your “they”s and your assumption of the “they”s they are making use of…

    Anyway, this is all to say that I hear and understand your point and your anger, but don’t think the situation is as clear as all that. I’m certainly not wholly on the other side of denying there is any problem with what happened, but I’m not wholly outraged either. And I’m sort of struck by the fact that though you are mad at the liberties they took, those liberties, the way you yourself see it, come from a feeling of oneness. They have not recognized your feelings of separation (which come from a long history they ignored, I get that), which is bad, but it also communicates to you that they don’t feel that us-them in the combative way you do. It’s hard to have it both ways here is what I’m saying: the transgression comes from a lack of proper recognition of us-them for you; so while it may be inappropriate or feel annoying, it can’t be wholly from a feeling of combative separation for them.

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