Shithouse rat

I'm a bipolar writer in the Naked City. I'm not playing with a full deck. I don't have all my dots on the dice. My cheese is sliding off my cracker. I don't have both oars in the water. I'm a bubble off plum. In other words, I'm crazier than a shithouse rat. These are my stories. Comments--short or long, nasty or nice--always welcome!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A day at Fordham University, Bronx NY

On Tuesday, I attended a forum on shrinking housing affordability in the Bronx at Fordham University's Bronx/Rose Hill campus. It was a perfect spring day, so I took my camera and after the conference took some shots of the campus and the students. Here's one.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Should the "N" word be banned? Part 2

When I posted my original “N” word article on Blogcritics some two weeks ago, I didn’t anticipate that it would merit a sequel. As it was, the gist of the original premise seemed preposterous if taken literally. Of course, no one could “ban” a word here — this is America, and that kind of thing just isn’t done.

Indeed, though a few who perhaps didn’t read further than the title didn’t realize that the question was, in essence, a rhetorical one, the piece did generate hundreds of comments. Some of these, along with my replies, were longer than the original piece itself.

But most of what was discussed veered from the original question and onto other related concerns such as the state of bigotry — both black and white — in 21st century America. One of my “theories” was that some young African-Americans who bandy this word around so freely and publicly are akin to disenfranchised Muslim youth who both despise the country they live in but are perfectly free to criticize it. Unlike other Americans (with the exception of Native Americans, who of course used to call our country home), African-Americans were originally brought here against their will as slaves. Other Americans originally arrived as immigrants who came here eagerly and voluntarily in search of better opportunities for themselves and their children. As such, they tended to embrace the “American dream” with fervor, and many flourished and gave their children the best that their new country could offer in terms of education and opportunity.

American-born children of immigrants are generally very well assimilated from the get-go, and many, in fact, can’t wait to emerge from their parents’ “ghettos,” eschew the old ways, and embrace their status as full fledged Americans on a par with their peers.

However, there are some — and only some — young blacks who are, in essence, not fully “assimilated” and still reside, both physically and mentally, in a ghetto which they voluntarily embrace, at least to some extent. Those who eschew education as the purview of the “white man” and relish bandying about a word which has such horrible connotations for all Americans has resulted in a tragic, self-defeating cycle. Moreover, the fervently held belief of some African-Americans that there is no such thing as black racism and that they are still left wholly out of the socioeconomic loop is, in my opinion, a strictly 20th century concept. Elders who still pass this self-destructive, counterproductive belief system on to their children are, in essence, harming them grievously and compromising what could otherwise be a bright future, albeit a future with some struggles and challenges along the way.(READ MORE HERE)

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Should the "N" word be banned?

On February 1, the first day of Black history Month was ushered in with a bit of local media brouhaha here in New York when Queens Councilman Leroy Comrie, hip-hop artist Kurtis Blow Walker, and other community leaders headed a press conference calling for a symbolic, non-binding resolution urging New Yorkers to stop using the "n" word. Though no one could possibly imagine this could be made into a real law (just for starters, the First Amendment implications would be huge) it did give people of all races ample food for thought.

Black spokesmen such as the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have spoken out for decades about racism in America. Bill Cosby has been very open about the willful rejection by many black youths of education as a way out of poverty and the peer pressure faced by those who study hard and are mocked by their peers for “acting white.”

The point we are at now in America, Jackson and Sharpton claim, is that most whites feel that racism is now a non-issue, while many blacks know it’s just been pushed under the “PC” surface. The frustrating thing about this underlying, even unconscious, racism is that it’s so insidious that white people don’t even realize they are still bigoted.

So if Black History month is to live up to its name, it seems logical to assume that the implications of the “n” word, its role in racism, and the black struggle for equal opportunity are vital issues to explore. Bringing this topic into the light of day has considerable merit to it, especially since young people who use the word as a term of affection seem unaware of the negative historical connotations. They didn’t live through the civil rights movement and may be unaware that some dedicated people, black and white, died for this noble cause.

They may have little clue as to the horrible and shameful history of discrimination, segregation, lynchings, redlining, and slavery that decimated the black family unit and perpetuated a tragic cycle of multi-generational poverty. The repercussions of this appalling American legacy are still being felt today.

Save for the equally-oppressed Native American, all Americans' roots lie elsewhere. Our ancestors fled oppression and lack of opportunity in the old country and braved the journey to the new land with its siren song of “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to break free.” The crucial difference between African Americans and other "immigrants" is that blacks were brought here against their will in the service of oppression rather than liberation. Conversely, the vast waves of European immigrants who began to arrive in earnest at the turn of the twentieth century personified the typical road to assimilation taken by those from other countries and cultures who come here.

My grandparents, for instance, came from Eastern Europe and settled, like so many others, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan early in the last century. My grandfather worked hard to support his wife and five children, but died at a very young age, leaving my non-English speaking grandmother to care for her American-born children in a cramped walk-up tenement.

In order to survive, my mother and her older brother had to complete their high school degrees at night so they could work during the day. My grandmother insisted that everyone finish high school, as she knew this was necessary in order to move ahead and succeed in America. Like many children of new immigrants, my mother, aunts, and uncles wasted no time in trying to escape the ghetto life they had been born into. As fully assimilated Americans, they wanted to move out of the old neighborhood at all costs.

My mother and her youngest sister were especially adamant about this. When they double dated, they didn’t want their dates to pick them up from home. They broke from their Orthodox Jewish religious traditions, spoke perfect English, and succeeded in fulfilling the American dream in earnest. Only one of my aunts — an Orthodox Jew — still lives in the old neighborhood (what my other aunt also refers to as the “schtetl”). Like some others of her generation, she chose to stay in a working class co-op development that had been designed by Jewish union leaders early in the century to provide the working and middle class with decent, affordable housing and an escape from the cramped tenements a block or two away. For decades — until a discrimination lawsuit changed all that — the massive high rise co-ops up and down Grand Street on the East Side were, indeed, virtual Jewish enclaves.

In this safe haven, American-born Orthodox Jews could escape the pressures of full assimilation and retain their essential “Jewishness” without shame or apology. As a result, it is quite easy to tell at first sight (and sound) that my aunt is Jewish. She talks and looks like a stereotypical Jew, though she worked for years in a mostly Chinese school district as a secretary and got along with everyone. But until recently, time really did stand still — at least culturally — on Grand Street. READ MORE HERE