Tuesday, June 15, 2004

For the past half year, 5 days a week, I've walked past Long Island City high school a few times, on the way to and from work and on the way to lunch at the Bel Aire Diner- on the corner of 21st and Broadway. I've wanted to write something about this for a while, and I don't think I'll get very far today, but being as my neighborhood is being swamped by 20 something suburban brats who appear to know nothing either about the world or the streets, 16 year olds from 15 different countries, all of whom know something about survival, either here or in there homelands, make for a pretty impressive crew.
Today the scene was Hindu homegirls, or perhaps Heathers, 5 of them ranging in height from 5'7" to 6', all in saris, walking much too slowly and with staged indifference along the sidewalk, so that everyone had to find a way to walk around them. I ended up walking out into traffic to pass.

Obviously enough in the absence of major threats minor ones are amplified. I don't have much sympathy with suburban angst or its moneyed urban equivalent, but thinking of my childhood (and I've said this before) I also remember my fear and dislike of working class white kids. I grew up in a neighborhood that was largely lower middle class and black, with a large number of people who were lower, and a few who were in some other category: my parents, the French couple across the street and the commune down the block.

Urban kids understand violence, and black kids understand it more than white. The secret of the streets is to know when and how to back down without losing respect. Backing down is less of an option for kids in white neighborhoods precisely because the stakes are lower.
These days are different. The inner city is more racially diverse; there are plenty of white faces at LIC High School, though many are foreign born, but the behavior, the various responses to social pressure, derive more from black urban culture. One mark is humor, which I've always thought of as a more acceptable -both more popular and respected- rejoinder to strength and power in the black community than in the working class white community, perhaps precisely because of white racial anxiety. After all, you ever heard of 'black trash?"
But still if you want to scare someone, one thing you do is shoot a gun white pressing it against the side of his face. No one gets hurt, except for an ear ache and a powder burn. I saw a one kid being protected by his girlfriend, who was covering him with her body and pressing him against a wall, asking the 16 year old who pulled the trigger just to leave.

One added point. I remember being really pissed off by this article in the Times last year. [I just looked it up again.] I don't know what annoys me more, Mark Saltzman's ignorance, though he seems to come of well enough at the end, or the author's:
"Even at Central, among dead-end kids destined for the darkest reaches of the criminal justice system, the words still matter.

Words mean a lot when there's a lot at stake.

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