Thursday, August 09, 2007

Life in Bed-Stuy I

This should be part one in a few articles on our new home that are long over due. For those of you who don't know, I moved in with my girlfriend Allison into a brownstone apartment in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. We had been looking for a place in Brooklyn because she works here, and I wanted to get a bigger place for a similar price as what I was paying in Manhattan. Thanks to Allison's efforts we got a great place in the heart of Bed-Stuy.

Actually, heart is not really the best term, more like a lower artery. We are in a portion of Bed-stuy which is getting revitalized. Gentrification is not exactly the right term, at least considering its implied meanings, because the area is changing economically, but it is not changing much ethically. There are white people, but they are not common, however people with money is generally increasing.

This means that there are a few new restaurants in our neighborhood, but not many. We rely heavily on three or four. Going a few blocks any direction and the area is not being revitalized, although it is surely no where near as bad as it was in the early-90s.

Overall the area has been great to me, however there is little question that we stand out. Allison and I are used to being the white people in Taiwan, so by comparison, it is not that bad. People are very friendly in general, more so than anywhere I have lived. If I see someone on the street, "Good morning" or "Good evening" is common. However, if I walk with a large group of white friends, say five or six, we get nothing be awkward looks.

The first time I had walked Fulton street, the main commercial area near by, I felt like I was abroad. Predominately the area has huge $1 stores, discount clothing stores, pawn shops, a lot of laundry places, and sweltering hot take-out restaurants. I walked up the majority of the street trying to figure out how the very different economic entities were interacting. Only a couple of pockets were completely franchise dominated like most middle-American towns. My own town, Longmont Colorado, now has every big box store and middle-to-upper-middle class eatery out there (Noodles and Company, Outback Steak House, etc). The closest to that near here has been Applebee's. However fast food is prevalent on Fulton.

Until recently, the only tension I or a friend had was a bunch of my friends who were visiting me were told to "get out of this hood." I don't know the details of the story, but it seemed positive that nothing larger than that had happened since moving in.

This was until about two weeks ago. It was the morning and I walked to the local grocery store about two weeks ago. In front of it was a fat man with an unkept beard and clothes. He asked me for a dollar when I came out.

It was a bit early so my mind was not completely fast, but I just sort of dismissed it with "Sorry, man." I have no problems giving to the community, but if this guy hung out in front of my favorite grocery store, I could be adding a lot of pressure to give in the future. Moreover, he did not appear all that old or otherwise incapable of work. Saying "man" was just stupid. It slipped out because I was trying to be somewhat friendly.

Later that day I was walking with Allison to a nearby pizza place. I pass the guy and gets up into my face and starts yelling at me, with a bunch of his friends behind both of us. He says "Hey, _man_, how are you now? Huh?"

I answer, "umm, I am okay." And we keep walking.

Behind me he keeps shouting, "yeah, hold her hand and keep walking." And then he said something about my mother, and something about "milky" which I think was in reference to Allison (who is not of the darkest complexion). There was more in there, some more threatening, and a lot more overemphasized uses of "man."

I was frustrated by the incident, but there was no reason to make this guy hate me any more, especially if he hangs out nearby and was with a group of friends. I just try to dismiss it, but it was hard not to be angry about someone who clearly lived nearby who might be a threat to Allison or me.

On the way home, he passed again. He recognized me, and said lowly, "get home safe..." We actually were on the way to the same grocery store as before. As we are in there, he comes back in. While Allison is talking about paper towels I can't stop listening to him. It becomes clear he is a drug dealer, great, I have the local drug dealer hating me.

He does not see me again while we are in there. But I end up seeing him again this weekend. However, I am writing this in multiple parts to keep me writing. So I will leave it there for now.


jared said...

So the local drug dealer was begging for money? Apparently he wasn't very high up in the drug dealer hierarchy.

Anonymous said...

When black people move into white neighborhoods, like I live on the Upper East you get stared at as well as though you are told you do not belong, or skipped in line, or followed in retail stores. This is what happens when you are the minority in a neighborhood. Think about how ethnic and racial minorites feel in majority neighborhoods or environments everyday. You moved to Bed Stuy by choice but most ethnic minorities dont have the same choice that you do, they are always in the minority wherever they go. Look around in your law school classes.

Matthew K Warner said...

Obviously I am not for racism or prejudice, I don't think my post indicates as such. Moreover I don't think it shows ignorance to the perspective of minorities living in a majority white America.

The point of this post was someone who actively harassed me and my girlfriend, I assume you are not for that either, independent of which race I am. I also hope you don't think it it made okay because I moved to Bed Stuy "by choice."

Anonymous said...

I lived in Chicago where every neighborhood save a few has serious issues with massive violence, drugs, etc. So now I'm moving to Bed Stuy and hopefully things will go smoothly. It couldn't be worse than Manhattan with it's no community policy and I'm a few stops to Williamsburg!

Good luck with your experiences and thanks for the blog!

Matthew K Warner said...

Aw, thanks for the nice comment, makes me want to write more.

I think Bed Stuy is generally safe and without a problem, but it ranges and experiences range a great deal. Despite living there for over a year, this was my only real incident where I was even worried. That said, neighbors and friends had dramatically different (and far more negative) experiences.

I recommend just being aware, and as this story taught, making friends helps a lot.