Salvaging My Dignity
Friday, May 04, 2012
I happily sipped my coffee as progress continued on the porch. We had plans for fixing up the house and they were well under way and readily coming to fruition. Our garden, on the verge of full bloom, stirred feelings of pride and hope inside me. I sensed the full promise of the future lay out before me. We could accomplish anything. But then she had to show up, with her good intentions, and her middleclass perspectives. She left me vanquished inside. I cradled my cup between both hands as I saw her vehicle approaching. She was stopping and pointing, and I wondered with some interest what she was doing here. Then it suddenly dawned on me. I was on the wrong side of an admission ticket. A suburban tourists was sightseeing the local slum. I was horrified. Discomfort began to rise in my chest and I shifted my weight resisting an urge to step inside out of her line of sight. I wanted to shield myself from her scrutiny, but the audacity of what she was doing was so incomprehensible, I had to stay in search of another explanation. It turns out it was even worse than I thought. The sentiments she would later reveal to me not only justified my discomfort but also warranted my indignation. She had to slow to a stop as some neighbor kids bicycled past her. That's when she caught my eye and smiled. I hesitated returning the smile automatically because I've conditioned myself to deliberate before immediately reassuring a stranger that I approve their attention. It's a suburban middleclass norm to fall all over oneself for the sake of ensuring another's comfort. An over eagerness in the hood often casts aspersions that you believe yourself in a position of subjugation which immediately engenders the other party take on a superior attitude and a demeaning tone. Contrived kindness to a total stranger in a place filled with scheming desperate people takes second string to the ability to command respect. The more aloof and disinterested you seem the more power you can conjure. She thought the more open and honest she was the clearer it would be that she meant no harm and therefore would be treated in kind. That is classic middle class reasoning perfectly suited for a suburban neighborhood but now she was in the land of the poor. Those who are the first to advocate for diversity in culture, namely middle class women, get confused and offended when confronted with perceptions, responses and realities different from their own. She explained to me, with a modest self promoting nod, that she came to salvage the flowers from in front of the houses that would be demolished. I began to smile at what for the first split second seemed like thoughtful concern on her part, a way to rescue what beauty was left in this wasteland called the East side. This sort of self righteous reasoning would have made sense to me a few years ago when I was a suburban onlooker and not an up to my neck in it participator. I shot a look at the kids down the street. Little Leon who's always ready to help us with the garden and Lee Lee who's sweetness is pervasive when she smiles. They are the beauty that deserves to be salvaged. She was mourning our desolation in the midst of our rebirth. That's when she began to roll away. I searched helplessly for something to say but there were too many words needed to make her understand. She pulled away leaving me feeling defeated and impotent. I saw plants undulating back and forth in the back of the SUV. Other streets must have already been victims of her kindness. She's taking from us, and she feels good for it. She didn't deserve to go home feeling like she'd accomplished something. I shot a look at the red roses in front of the boarded house across the way. I had an urgency to reach out and protect them with my whole heart and soul. They wanted to pull them up by the roots, these little tiny miracles that struggled against all the odds with no nurturing, surrounded by obstacles inherent to neglect. I was wretched and turned to Jim with what must have been a wild look in my eyes. If only we had known this was coming and could have thought of something profound to say, later Jim reminisced that he could have said, "what about the copper, do you want the copper too?" That might have made her think. Instead, like powerless people tend to do, we lashed out. Jim yelled, there ain't no houses gonna be demolished on my street, that's called stealin'. I chimed in, "yeah, go buy some, like everyone else." I had the hopes of making her feel like an opportunist rather than an environmentalist. But our reproach fell flat with no recompense. She stuck out her tongue as if to say we were party poopers left the roses untouched and drove off to brutalize some other street.
This is an old OLD (2008) blog I rescued from oblivion!