General


This morning I walked to the 7-11 to buy the Sunday Post. Whilst waiting in line, I found a not uncommon situation, that of somebody without sufficient funds pleading for the cashier to let her have the goods regardless.

“Go to the Giant. It’s much cheaper there,” instructed the young Hispanic women behind the counter.

But the little woman, with her bottle of Pepsi-cola and pack of overpriced American cheese slices, did not wish to do so. And after a little while, the cashier attempted to keep the line moving, directing her gaze toward me. As did the little woman, who looks North African but whose accent I could not place (she could well be a Shaw native), who asked me to pay for her $4.49 packet of cheese.

When I did so, she gave me an unexpected hug, holding on to me surprisingly tightly. I put my arm around her, and I wondered how it must feel to have to have someone pay for something as ordinary as cheese, especially when she could have walked the three blocks to the Giant and maximized her limited purchasing power.

Earlier in the morning, I had woken up to a new vintage silk dress in my closet, a pair of cowboy boots, and some throwaway LPs from a Takoma Park shopping excursion the day before.

And as I walked back to the house, I felt the familiar, bitter bile of self-disgust rising in my throat as my conscience drew lines between my spending habits and office work geared ultimately for people “over there” (the developing world), reconnecting the disparate dots to include the myriad homeless and working poor in this neighborhood.

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When I first moved to this country six years ago, in the Summer of 2000, my first American friends were made, naturally enough, through the basketball court. They lived across the road, in some of Howard County’s rare government housing, a self-suspended example of Columbia’s largely unsuccessful attempt at planned Black/White cohabitation.

These boys wore long denim shorts, spoke in loud, brash jibes, and soon began referring to me as “Australia.” Standing under that pounding Maryland sun, I loved the exoticism of it all: playing ‘pick-up games’ that I had previously only read about in SLAM, wearing my teal and black Air Jordans, mixing with a group of street-savvy African-American teens.

My mother was not so thrilled. When she eventually observed the rather unkempt appearance and casual manners of my new acquaintances, she attempted to steer me clear of them.

“MUM, YOU’RE SUCH A RACIST!,” I remarked, jubilant in my teenage self-righteousness. She wasn’t sure quite how to react to the unexpected and rapid politicization of her son.

Unable to conscionably banish me from the court, the organic pull of my parents’ intentions eventually worked their desired effect. Following several residential step-ups, attendance at a competitive, largely Caucasian high school and consequent completion of a B.A. degree, I now find myself entering into a position at a comfortable non-profit working in international development. I now also find myself—not without a shade of socio-economic irony–in a similar situation to that six summers ago.

Two weeks ago, I moved into the neighborhood of Shaw in Washington, D.C. Where earlier a matter of geographical happenstance led me to my initial b-balling partners, on this occasion a desire for affordable housing and ‘suburban flight’ has drawn me to this gradually gentrifying borough, where police sirens pepper the evening chatter and daylight muggings recur like sweat lines down a white cotton blouse.

Upon first sighting, my parents’ response toward my new digs was muted at best.

“It’s not too bad,” I told them, as they drove away towards the sleepy refuge of SUV-urbia. And it really hasn’t been.

But now I have the opportunity to do more than trade cross-over dribbles. I’m enthusiastic at the opportunity to explore my de facto status as unclassifiable ‘floater,’ to drift across lines of class and race. As the boundaries blur, I feel compelled to do more than yuppify in oblivion, and hoping rather to engage with my new community and deconstruct false dichotomies, all whilst working towards a practical theory of pro-poor gentrification.

Welcome.