Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Goofus and Gallant

So, we have these new neighbors next door, and we love them. After so long of feeling fairly isolated, we have these people who greet us when we come and go, who do that good-neighbor tit-for-tat, where you do something nice for them, and they respond by surprising you with something nice in return. Soon enough, it’s an out-of-control love fest; no one remembers who started it, and no one wants to stop it.

Most recently, and highlighted by the problem-people across the street, we’ve felt an alliance with neighbors we haven’t felt since we moved here. Even though we have a Neighborhood Watch in our area, Sue and I were apparently the only ones on our particular block who ever reported or complained about anything. It made us feel like outcasts. If this were a Survivor episode, we’d be the ones voted off the island. We were the misfits. We kept our yard nice, we actually worked for a living, we kept quiet, we didn’t engage in illegal activities. We called the cops on everyone else.

But that’s changed now. And glory be, I’ve felt an incredible sense of healing going on inside my heart. For one thing, we don’t feel so isolated. We have these people next door who call the cops as much as, or maybe even more than we do. Together we’ve formed a little alliance for keeping watch on the street, taking care of our yards, fixing up the place, gardening.

Another healing thing is that they are a multiracial family; the wife and mother-in-law are white, the husband is black, and the wife and husband’s children and grandchildren—both were married previously and have been widowed—have various skin colors, all beautiful. It is a loving family.

And I hate to say this, but living where we do, and seeing what we have seen in this neighborhood, it was becoming a habit to think in terms of “black people are trouble.” “Black people don’t work.” “Black people make lots of noise at two in the morning.”

Realize: I’m not racist—I have always tried hard not to be. I have a long history as a true bleeding-heart liberal, Second-Wave feminist, politically correct, blah-de-blah-de-blah. I have always carefully checked my attitudes, my language, my stereotypes, trying to eliminate racism, sexism, and other hurtful distortions. Honestly.

But when it’s two in the morning and the bedroom windows are rattling from the rap music from the local drug dealers, who so often happen to be black, it’s easy to think of very unkind thoughts. In your anger and sleeplessness, you think of the meanest, nastiest names you can think of. If they don’t have jobs and live on public assistance, then you start to think of all the stereotypes in the book.

It has made me especially angry at black people who live the stereotypes, because their irresponsible, ignorant, disrespectful, disgraceful, often illegal lifestyles were gradually turning me to racism.

Don’t get me wrong—currently, the worst problem-types on our street have been white people, and I wish there was a kind of “n-word” I could apply to white folks that is strong enough to express my disgust and anger toward them.

But on Friday afternoon, these scuzzy types finally had their court date, the landlord succeeded in having them be evicted, and so they’re leaving.

In fact, they might already be completely gone. Donald, our wonderful neighbor next door, filled me in on what they saw (and indeed, subsequently reported to the police in a signed statement).

When the creeps were arriving home from their court appearance, they screeched around the corner and tore up into their driveway, hitting the garage door. Then, they backed up a little, and gunned the car to hit into the garage door again. They repeated this two more times, the last time breaking through the garage door. The door now hangs diagonally and is completely broken in at the bottom. Lovely.

They removed some of their stuff from the premises, including their trashy cars (two cars, with one license plate for both), a big microwave, and their television set. Supposedly the electricity’s been turned off by now. The cops keep coming by to try to find them, knocking on the doors (duh, slow). By now the creeps are certainly living with some friends—and driving the people in some other neighborhood crazy.

If you’re familiar with the Highlights comic strip “Goofus and Gallant,” you’ll understand the contrast I’m talking about here; in the comic strip, the two boys of opposing behaviors, Goofus and Gallant, look almost identical, except that Gallant’s hair is neatly combed and Goofus’s hair is always scruffy. They’re both little white boys. It’s not like our neighborhood, where so many of the Goofuses have been black.

And I’m finally experiencing—not just thinking about, but experiencing—a wonderful reversal in skin-color stereotyping that is erasing the racism that had been festering inside me. This evening, Donald told me that the creeps had screamed “nigger lover!!” across the street at them—his wife, their family, their little granddaughter—and even now I’m fuming internally.

More on this in another post. I’m ready to talk more about the good stuff.

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