As I walked home from capoeira this past Saturday afternoon, I delighted in the fact that I didn’t have somewhere to be. And so I took the time to follow the Shaw Heritage trail, stopping at each of the posts and connecting the historical dotted lines between cross-street and pictured street, decade and day. It was an experience entirely vital to me, an affirmation of a new truth. For most of my 22 years of life I’ve lived amongst people with whom I acquired similar passions. We listened to the same songs on the radio, bought our dinner produce from the same grocer, all watched the same evening news on our two television stations.

This changed quite a bit upon moving to the States. Different yes, but in some ways it was very similar. The accents and many cultural references were radically different, but the pop culture was—this being the MTV generation and all—nearly identical. Another aspect which remained the same was race. I moved from a predominantly white (English, Irish, Italian) town in southwestern Australia to a predominantly white (more pan-European) town on the Eastern seaboard.

And now, scanning over these newly placed Shaw Heritage Trail posts and their tales of backs-to-the-wall Black businesses succeeding against the odds and the neighborhood’s role as heart of DC’s own ‘Harlem renaissance,’ I was struck by the notion that I do not belong. That I should be like more ‘sensible’ yuppies who know their place—whether by income or prejudice or whose settlement has followed more classical ‘birds of a feather’ sensibilities, and that I should be reading these signs perhaps as a ‘daring’ jaunt into an historic black neighborhood before dashing back out to Bethesda or Dupont.

Or maybe I was just jumping in a little too early? There are plenty of other parts of Shaw that have been completely gentrified, with nary a Black soul in sight. If I had chosen to live there, would that have made it OK? If I go to business or law school, come out with a graduate degree and then move into a condominium in Columbia Heights: that is, if I follow the developer’s rule book, is that better? Many hyper-self-conscious, counter-culture liberals describe such actions as ‘selling out.’ Generally speaking, it’s only all right to assuage such guilt by ingeniously fusing together mannerisms which connote blue-collar hygiene standards with white-collar dietary and consumer ethics. To dig out a niche that provides non-black residency, one can try wallowing in self-imposed poverty, working for a conscionable non-profit, drinking PBR at the Warehouse, or better yet…becoming an artist.

As I completed my loop and made my final stop at the 7-11 near my home, I encountered a thin, clearly drunk man accosting a quite shell-shocked, if rather disgusted, older woman. The verbal assault appeared to be motivated largely due to her skin colour, which, as the case happened to be, was white.

“I don’t mess with no white people! That’s right…Fuck you, stupid white bitch!” he spat, as she attempted to cross the street.

I attempted to do the same thing, but as it was, the foul-mouthed drunk was wandering in my direction. Unsatisfied with the pronouncement of his “No Whites” social order, he decided to inform me that in inclusive fashion, it also encompassed those deriving from the East Asian peninsula.

“Fuck you, Korea! I don’t mess with no motherfuckin’ Koreans!” he repeated, staring me down groggily as I crossed the street, his voice hoarse but still venomous.

I was half-tempted to reply: “I don’t mess with no motherfuckin’ Koreans either,” but thought better of it. Such smug riposte may not have inspired a universal humanistic epiphany and could well have proved harmful to my health. Besides, it would have been flat-out wrong.

I mess with motherfuckin’ Koreans all the time! Plus, they have cute accents.

As I dropped a couple of quarters into a woman’s cup, I wondered if the sort of violent resentment that my lighter-skinned Bolivian colleague fears from darker indigenous countrymen is limited to those below the border. A Shaw resident since 1969 recently told me that the current climate reminds him of 1965 DC. The city’s race riots took place in 1968.

History comes round full circle sometimes, as much as we might want to wish that we learn from past mistakes.