Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

"Hiya do, Miss Lady" - a simple greeting, given by a simply dressed older man, on my humdrum daily commute from my house to the bus stop, five blocks away.  It's pretty basic: I say hi to my neighbors, they reciprocate.  Well, unless they're white.

I'm not conducting anything along the signs of a scientific experiment, mind you, just relying on a 2 1/2 year body of empirical evidence.  Whose house have I been invited to?  Who greets me from their stoop?  Who says hello in the corner bodega?  Who makes eye contact at the bus stop?  The neighbors that are people of color, that's who.  Almost without fail.

So what?  Who cares?  Well, I think this behavior gets to a larger conversation about what it means when a neighborhood "gentrifies" (a term I'm not totally confident in using about my 'hood, which saw it's share of tough times but was never a bad place to live) and new people  - white, wealthier, younger - invade what were often traditionally Black or Hispanic neighborhoods.   You see it happen in DC all the time, and we're not the exception.  Harlem in New York, Pilsen in Chicago - both have experienced similar "white in-flight" and the concomitant neighborly attitudes that go with that.

I don't know how to force people to greet one another on the sidewalk.  And after being ignored multiple times by any particular person, I just give up.  I will continue to work to build stronger relationships with those neighbors who are friendly and who do respond to a simple "hello."  And let's be honest - I'm smack in the middle of the demographic I'm talking about: young, white, relative newcomer to the 'hood.  So the least I can try to do is set a good example for my incommunicado brethren.

Is it so hard to say "hi"?  For some, I guess so.


IMGoph on December 9, 2009 at 1:26 PM said...

a-freakin-men. it's all over DC, not just in a "gentrifying" neighborhood. the majority of white people do not say hello here. they avoid eye contact as if looking you in the eye will give you a disease. drives me up a damn wall.

Markus Stocker on December 9, 2009 at 2:26 PM said...

I love this post and I would like to just add this: I spent a little bit over a year of my life in the US and my impression over there always was: boah!! people here greet on streets, people make eye contact, people even smile! I didn't pay much attention whether those wonderful-sidewalk-greeting-people where black, white or whatever, I was just amazed this actually exists somewhere on Earth. I'm from Europe and currently in a country where people adopt the same rules like with cars, on sidewalks: they walk on the right side (on generally fairly large sidewalks). In doing this, they not just avoid saying hello or eye contact but they even maximize the distance between each other. The interesting part is, as far as I know, if you greet you are quickly identified as foreigner and apparently some get upset about it, after all, "I don't know you, why do you greet me!" I suppose, every society has its peculiarities and I don't want to judge what is better: just saying, it's kind of interesting. But believe me, the US is far from a no-greeting-on-sidewalks-society! Of course, this doesn't invalidate your observation. (Mind you, me too, no scientific experiment here, just between some months and some decades of empirical evidence.)

Ryan Eades on December 9, 2009 at 2:44 PM said...

Wife and I are 3 years into living in Bloomingdale. My experience is the same with the whities (of which we are two). I try to stare down and "read" or anticipate and if I can catch the person's eye I try to smile or say hi but I don't go out of my way anymore. So I guess I'm on complacency highway trying to avoid exiting onto Curmudgeonly Road.

EmilyHaHa on December 9, 2009 at 4:05 PM said...

Like I said, we're definitely not the exception to the rule, but I find it sad nonetheless. Were we all raised in suburbs or apartments where nobody said Hi to one another? I don't think so! I remember knowing most of my neighbors growing up, even remembering what a lot of their living rooms and kitchens looked like.

We've talked about having a block party in Bloomingdale before - maybe it's definitely time to make that a priority?

Scenic Artisan on December 9, 2009 at 6:20 PM said...

hello everybody.

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