Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Black On The Block

My local book club’s selection for April is Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City by Mary Pattillo. On April 22, at our meeting, Dr. Pattillo, a professor at Northwestern University, called in to the Marcus Book Store and we discussed the book via telephone. In her book, Dr. Pattillo, a sociologist, looks at gentrification in the North Kenwood-Oakland neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois from a different angle. Most of us know gentrification to be when more affluent people, usually white, move into a lower-income neighborhood, usually occupied by blacks or Latinos. This community is being redeveloped under the guise of beautification and improving living conditions. In this case, the new folks moving into NKO were the same color as the old residents—black. The enemies were not some whitey trying to change their way of life but middle and upper-class African Americans who were critical of their way of being.

As an ethnographer, as the kind of sociologist she is, Dr. Pattillo was aware of the changing neighborhood when she moved there. According to her, sociologists, if they are able, move into the neighborhoods of the people they are studying; they are participant observers and they write books on the topics. Dr. Pattillo had two neighbors on either side of her; two women. One was a banker, new to the neighborhood, the other, a part-time bus driver and long-time residents, with three generations living in her home. The two neighbors could not stand each other. The bus driver felt the banker snubbed and avoided her neighbors while the banker resented the frequent activity she observed going on in her neighbor’s front yard. Dr. Pattillo maintains that issues of class differences are not addressed in America. There are laws against racial and gender discriminations; there are none against class discrimination. Additionally class is the elephant in the middle of the room among African Americans, yet it is there stark and plain, and truth be told it always has been.

I brought up the point that before integrations, because of segregation, in some urban cities, black people of all walks of life lived together; there would be the doctor on the corner and across the street there was the factory worker. Did they not all get along? Dr. Pattillo had some thoughts on that assertion. Black professionals made their living from black people; doctors, businesses, ministers and teachers had a symbiotic relationship with people they served and they sometimes attended the same churches. But Dr. Pattillo cited the book, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City written in 1945and other accounts that revealed there was indeed some dissent. Better educated and more affluent blacks spoke disparaging about their poorer sisters and brothers. They felt they were embarrassing by the clothes they wore (head rags in public) or talking loud on the train. Northern Negros especially looked down at the newly arrived southern migrants, having disdain for their illiteracy and country acting mannerisms.

So, why would affluent blacks move into a lower-income neighborhood that has high crime rates and try to impose their wills on folks who do not want to be bothered with their uppity ways? Many blacks cite that they want to be a part of a black community, and they have a genuine desire to improve the neighborhood and improve the quality of life. So why no kumbuya? No gatherings around the bar-b-que grill? To further dig the knife in, these newer affluent residents began charter schools and privatization of other services. And guess what, Bay Bay’s kids could not get into their schools. The applications were akin to getting into an Ivy League school.

After living in the community for two years, Dr. Pattillo joined a board, one that tried to bridge the gaps. It has been a slow process but hopefully progress is being made. Our group enjoyed discussing this book, looking at gentrification in a new light, at how the dynamics surrounding this sensitive topic is not as simple as black and white.


Beverly said...

Dera -

Sounds like an interesting meeting and discussion. Thanks for sharing -- I would be interested in knowing if there is a study that focus on the reverse -- of less affluent blacks moving into a middle class affluent black community.

Niambi Brown Davis said...

Your comment about pre-integration reminded me of my growing up years. The class divisions were there, but race was the defining factor in our lives. As I often say, we had to "circle the wagons" during that era; we lived, worshipped and socialized side-by-side.
Thanks for the recap - you live in literary heaven (lol)!

'Cilla said...

Sounds like y'all had a wonderful time and discussion. It really gives you a lot to think about

Thanks for sharing :-)

Dera Williams said...

Beverly, Dr. Patillo spoke briefly about how some urban cities are building low housing in more affluent areas and how that has caused problems.

Niambi, I have an ongoing discussion with a co-worker from S.C. who maintains that integration was the death of black life as she knew it. Black businesses died, teachers lost their jobs. She feels the black community was closer.

Girl, we did not know what we were getting into when this book was selected. It is a college textbook and folks were not feeling like being in class. It helped to have the author "present."

MilesPerHour said...

Growing up I weas reading the fantasy genre, and now auto and biographies make up my reading preferences. Although these are my choices I always enjoy checking out your selections when I hit the bookstore with Djuanna.

Despite growing up and attending a HS that was 50% minority, we still seperated outselves from one another for the most part. I would guess it had to do with "interests" as well as culture/race. We never had any animosity toward each other.

Even all the comments I read from yours and various blogs give me insight into being African-American. I know I will never "know" what it's like since I will never walk in those shoes, but I still have a better "understanding".

I'm not usually wordy, better put the coffee down! Thanks Dera.

Lori said...

Sounds "academic" but interesting. I may pick it up and take a look. Thanks for the tip.

Dera Williams said...

Thanks for your comments Miles. I appreciate your input and insight.

First, congratulations on your debut. I see my review team reviewed it a year ago. I need to check it out. We didn't realize BOTB is actually a college textbook when we chose it and initially we weren't too happy about it. Glad we decided to stick with it.

Angelia... said...

you have the most interesting meetings...which translates to very interesting blogs...thanks, I was also glad to see that you enjoyed The Help...


Lori said...

Thanks for the congrats. Yes, Ms. Menchan's comments about my debut were very kind and very much appreciated (smile).

As for your book club, I think it's refreshing that they are so open. I belonged to a club like that when I lived in the Cleveland area.

We read all kinds of stuff--fiction, non-fiction, inspirational, etc. and like your group, when possible, we arranged phone chats with the authors. One of the highlights was when we spoke with Denise Nicholas by phone about her book, Freshwater Road.

Tea said...

Hi Dera,

Thanks for writing that review. I bet that was a great night at your local book club. I'm going to look for "Black On The Block" at my library. I loved your review.

Chick Lit Gurrl said...

Sounds like a very interesting read. In thinking about Beverly's comment regarding studies of less affluent blacks moving into more middle class affluent black communities, I have the fear that that just WOULD NOT work. So many people don't want to be reminded of where they came from ... or where they could end up in their finances went south. They wouldn't want to see that alternative in their face, every day.