So I’ve been hearing a lot about people tearing up their own neighborhood. Mostly negative about those people who would shit in their own backyard.
Now I have to confess I have never seen Michael Brown’s neighborhood. I’ve never lived in Ferguson. To my knowledge I have never met a single person who lives or has lived there.
But I’ve been told it is a poor neighborhood that is predominantly Black. And that sounds like home to me. I went to a school that boasted eleven hundred ninety–eight Blacks, seven Puerto Ricans, three Chinese, and me. As a half–breed Native American Indian with blue eyes and blond hair I served two purposes: I was both the token Indian and the token Honky.
I’ve heard some white people say some of their best friends were black. Well all my friends were Black, best or otherwise, and all my enemies were also Black. That is just the way it was.
Now we know what I’m talking about lets look at that neighborhood.
It was our neighborhood by convention of language and culture. We lived there.
But was it our neighborhood in the same sense as the white people’s neighborhood belonged to them?
Not one person in my neighborhood owned a piece of property in that neighborhood. Everybody rented. And we weren’t renting houses, we were renting run down apartments in tenement buildings. We rented from people who lived in nice white neighborhoods where everybody owned their own house.
Not one person who lived in “our” neighborhood owned or ran a business in “our” neighbor hood. If any of us had tried they would have run afoul of zoning laws, licensing laws, health codes, and what not. When one man in the neighborhood was caught working on someone’s car he was told, “People down town pay fees to the city to protect themselves from competition from people like you.” My mother did baby sitting and took in laundry, cooked, sewed people’s clothing, and did house cleaning. In those days anybody could baby sit. You did not have to be state certified or have a license. Not sure about her doing the laundry. Cooking, sewing, and house cleaning were all under the radar.
Not one person in the neighborhood was employed by any of the businesses that were in the neighborhood.
Not one person in the neighborhood had any say about zoning laws, parking rules, or anything else in the neighborhood we lived in. We had no say in the running or “our” neighborhood. Why? Because we were renters. We did not own any land. The zoning commission, the city fathers, the town council, did not listen to, or want to hear from us. We did not own any land. they only listened to the people who owned the property we lived on. They only listened to people whose only concern was profiting from our neighborhood but would never deign to live there.
So while it was “Our neighborhood” in the linguistic sense, was it our neighborhood in the sense that we had a stake in it?
Was it our neighborhood in the sense that we loved it and cared about it?
Was it our neighborhood because we chose to be there?
I currently live in a small town, I don’t think it is even incorporated, in a mixed race neighborhood where some people own and some rent and everyone around our house is friendly and watches out for each other. This is where I am. But I remember where I was, who I was with, and how we felt.
Is there a solution?
I believe there is.
There are businesses that are employee owned.
There are gated communities and condominiums that are resident owned.
These work for the people who do them, but they are largely limited to those who start out financially set up. People buy houses in gated communities. People buy condos. Employee owned businesses are initially set up by a group of people who can pool together enough money to buy it, or who can somehow get banking support.
I don’t see why these same concepts could not be applied to poor neighborhoods.
I think if all the money that had been poured into building projects that shoved the poor out of sight had been spent on putting people in charge of, and owning, the communities they lived in, then we would not have the same situation we have today.
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