Clearing the Air.

Someone left a comment (anonymously, of course) on the last post I wrote calling me a racist. It bummed me out enough that I haven’t wanted to approach this Web site all weekend. At first I thought, who cares what this coward anonymously wrote on my Web site, but then I realized that others may feel the same way.

If my last post came off as racist, it wasn’t intentional. Of course it wasn’t intentional. There were several races and nationalities present on the playground that day. There were several different classes present as well. At no point did I suggest that the fight was between a certain race, at least I don’t think so.

I live in between Greenpoint and Williamsburg, Brooklyn. This area is made up of every single race, religion, and nationality you can think of. It’s also home to several different classes, there are a lot of lower income people and then there are a lot of people who have moved in over the last couple of years that are (for lack of a better term) filthy stinking rich. Even more recently, there have been a lot more Western Europeans moving into the neighborhood. (Eastern Europeans make up a large group and have since long before I arrived back in 2000.) I liken the influx of Western Europeans to the solid Euro. But this is admittedly not my ground of familiarity.

Because of the huge and constant influx of people heading to Greenpoint and Williamsburg, the high schools become more and more diverse. At least that’s the way it appears from an outsider’s point of view. (And by outsider, I mean one without kids of high school going age.)

When I compared us moms to guppies, I meant we’re breeders. (Aren’t guppies breeders? Don’t they tend to take over fish tanks whether you like it or not?) When I compared the high school kids to attack fish, I meant that sometimes (especially when they’re in large groups, which is usually the case whenever school lets out around here) then can become really nasty and sometimes violent. There was one occasion where another driver and I had our cars surrounded by kids who had just gotten out of the Automative high school (the group was made up of several different races, mind you).

It was really scary, to be honest. And if Emory had been the car, I probably would have called 911. Instead, I looked straight ahead, as did the driver in front of me, and waited for them to get bored. (Thankfully, there are usually cops around that area because of the amount of fights and problems that break out whenever school lets out.)

The whole experience, the way they surrounded our cars, reminded me of piranha. Perhaps I irresponsibly failed to bring that up. Perhaps it came off as racist. If it did, it was unconscious to me.

So, I’m sorry if any of you thought my last post was racist. Perhaps it was a little classist. The groups represented on the playground last week may hold animosity toward one another because of classism, but I don’t think anyone could stay in this neighborhood for too long if they were in fact racists. They would go completely insane with hate. There are just too many different walks of life. Maybe my naivety is showing. But I have seen more acts of hatred due to class differences while living here than I have acts of racism. (Not that racism doesn’t exist.)

We live in a culture that promises its people that the harder you work the richer and more prosperous you’ll be, which is a load of crap. We’re not all given equal opportunities. Life is highly unfair for a lot of people living in the U.S. I see it here each and every day. Sometimes the folks who work the absolute hardest make the smallest fortune. I fall into the bitterness from time to time—hating on the really rich people buying up the waterfront real estate without a care in the world, without a care about the history of this place. Yet, I am that person to people who have lived here for decades. I took over at one point as well. Perhaps we need to redefine fortune to mean more than just money. Maybe then people will be less resentful toward others.

I’m not sure why I’m writing about this today. Perhaps the comment bugged me more than it should have. And perhaps that is exactly what the person was going for. (You win, anonymous coward.) But it always does. Every time I get a hateful email or comment it bugs me more than you can possibly know.

I’m also not really 100% today. I seem to have come down with one killer of a sickness. I woke up covered in hives this morning, big white welts. I feel worse than I have in a long, long time.

So, if you want to discuss race and class and how insensitive my previous post was to you, I invite you to do so. I would have left the anonymous comment had it held any redeeming points. Instead, the person insulted me and then walked away. I really do learn from the people who visit and post on here. I cherish each and every voice I have read. Feel free to say whatever you want, just be kind in making your points, and make valid ones.

And maybe today you could put one kid glove on, I really feel very ill.


  1. Delurking to say:
    I failed to see one mention of race in the entire post. Whoever called you a racist has issues and too much time on their hands. I don’t really see a class issue either—more like an issue of parents vs. teens which is an age-old drama, isn’t it?

    You are a wonderful mom and have a beautiful family. Emory is lucky to have been born into the open-minded environment you and your husband provide him with!

    So sorry you don’t feel well :(
    I am sending get well vibes from the Pacific Northwest!


  2. in addition to the racial and class melting pot of greenpoint and williamsburg, adding to the melting pot of those schools is the fact that in nyc not that many kids go to “neighborhood” high schools. i grew up in sheepshead bay and went to high school in manhattan; the high school six blocks from my house was largely filled with kids from brownsville and bed-stuy in addition to neighborhood kids.

    the junior high i went to was across the street from that HS. imagine every day at 3 pm when all 4000+ kids from both schools got out. in hindsight i feel very sorry for the people that lived on that street.


  3. Erica: I hadn’t realized that. See, I am barely getting my feet wet with the daycares around here, let alone the high schools and so on. I had no idea.

    How does that happen? Do you use a “fake” address? YOu know what I mean?


  4. I’m a Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies Major at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. I’ve been reading your blog for a while. We talk a lot about race and class and its intersection with gender in this major. Anyway, I’ve said a number of stupid things in my classes… They were sort of insensitive I guess, some of them racist. I think I know how you feel. There have been times where I could not figure out how what I said was offensive, but someone was offended, and more than once they were really hurt. I just try to be really thoughtful a lot of the time. It’s a learning process for me (as a white middle class straight woman) as for what the world is like for other people. I think it’s really good that you clarified what you said. That’s really all you can do.
    I hope you feel better. That hives shanannigans sounds really terrible… Sending you good vibes.


  5. When I read your last post I had a really clear idea of who you were talking about, I pictured certain kids. I swim upstream to go to work every morning as the Brooklyn Tech kids flow toward school. So many kids they can’t fit them all into school at one time and have to have staggered start and end times. When you said you got a racist comment I thought I’d go back and re-read to see which bits gave me such a clear picture.

    I’m pretty sure you’re not the racist but that anyone who read it and assumed things like I did might be. Sounds like your commenter assumed some really bad things about you and your motivations and I assumed some really bad things about which element in a diverse school would be starting such a thing. Hope that commenter has cooled down and perhaps had a chance to revisit their own motivations.


  6. Michelle, please do NOT feel bad about this anonymous ‘coward’s’ comment. But I know, I’m exactly the same. I also feel sick if someone get offended by what I said or done – and it has happened to me in the past as well.

    I’m from a country where I grew up with racism in our everyday lives and we’re reminded of what happened in the past all the time. It makes me sad that this happened at all. I know racism and I did not read any in your story. Some people, like Stephanie said just get offended without you knowing why. You merely told how it happened without mentioning race. Don’t feel bad – this is YOUR blog dammit – the whole point of it is that your share your day to day stories with the rest of us. At least you have the talent to write this down in an interesting way! I wish I could do that.

    This just go to show in what a sick world we live in. We’re about the same age and I have a 4month old boy and it makes me worry what his school days are going to be like. We’re still from a generation where we have respect for other people and want to have the best for our children. If you read other blog comments on the internet and reality shows on TV you’ll notice how little respect people have for each other.

    Anyway, sorry for the rant. Take a deep yoga breath, clear your mind and think happy thoughts! Maybe we should all just relax and be a bit kinder towards each other, then we will teach this to our children and they in return will have respect for each other on the playground!


  7. Sorry you feel sick Michelle! Get better soon.

    So, I thought back to your previous post and didn’t get any racist overtones/comments/feelings from it. In fact, when reading I had this picture of high schools students of many cultures causing the ruckus. If anything, it sounded like observations on an age group and perhaps an economic class, but not a race. Sounds like the anon commenter was projecting their own issues on you.


  8. Apparently I’m not the only lurker who is going to choose this moment to delurk – I’ve been reading you for a while now, and haven’t noticed anything racist in any of your entries. I agree that some people are overly sensitive to certian issues and are quick to jump all over something that they percieve as wrong, in this case the racism issue. But I think that was totally just someone looking for something that wasn’t even there.


  9. As the parent of a graduated high school student and a couple of future high school students I will openly proclaim here that high school students fighten me. Calling them pirahnas seems very apt to me. It has absolutely nothing to do with their color or class. It is the mob mentality that I’ve witnessed, the foul language used with no purpose, the lack of respect for themselves, each other and adults, the “entitlement” attitude, the shear physical intimidation I have witness and experienced. I don’t look forward to going back to high school with my two boys.


  10. Dude, every time I have spelled the word piranha, I screw it up. Not that I have done it a lot – spelled the word -but yeah. Going to fix that.

    That person should have insulted my spelling, eh?


  11. I’m not sure what anonymous thought you wrote, but I read an account of intimidation and violence in your neighborhood. Anyone who has read your blog enough knows that you hope to raise Emory in a peaceful, happy, safe, and creative environment filled with love and tolerance. You have mentioned more than once that you want to get out of the city for various reasons, and I thought this was an account of one more reason you feel the need to leave, without any mention of race. It sounded like you witnessed some scary, tough teenagers, but I don’t think anything you said could be attributed to any specific race. Hope you feel better soon.


  12. I used to be a substitute teacher for middle and high school students. Hoo boy, they are piranhas, at least when you get them in a mob like that. I thought you did a very tactful job of describing a scary situation that all of us who are out of high school should be able to relate to. Plus, when you don’t mention race in your story and somebody makes assumptions about what you meant – then who is the racist?

    Mean commentors are just looking to stir it up. They don’t bother unless a blog has enough readers to make it worth their time. So, I think you should take the nasty anonymous comment as a mark of your popularity!


  13. If anyone is racist, it’s “anonymous” for reading their own beliefs into your post.

    Not once did you mention, suggest, or even slightly allude to/hint at race , race attributes, or stereotypes.

    Some people are idiots, some people are assholes… your anonymous commenter was that special kind of person who is both.


  14. As a lurker, I have never seen any sign of racism in any of your posts especially not this last one. I could picture exactly was going on in that park that day. I have seen it happen between all types of people on an almost daily basis because of the neighborhood in massachusetts where I live is so diverse just like where you live


  15. “I think of those animals on nature shows, the ones that try their and blend in no matter how different their background is from the color and texture of their skin.” This is the only part of your post that mentions skin color. From reading this I can clearly see you are making a racist comment about the color of the park versus the color of your skin. You must not like green people.

    Don’t worry about what others think, most likely it was someone that skimmed the sentence and misread it, thinking you were talking about the color of the people fighting and not about the color of the background you were trying to blend with. The person that wrote that comment is most likely the same person who raises an instigator. Always looking for something someone is trying to use against them.


  16. Greenpoint Resident March 31, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    I wouldn’t call Greenpoint a mixing pot. It’s a largely white neighborhood. In fact one of the reasons McCarren pool got closed down for swimming back in the day was because the Polish residents didn’t like the intrusion of children and teenagers of other races in their neighborhood. It’s fairly common knowledge that the Poles in Greenpoint actively worked to keep other races from renting, etc. in the neighborhood.

    That said, anyone who lives in Greenpoint knows exactly what kind of population you’re talking about when you talk about the teenagers who go to Automotive High School, even if you don’t state their race or ethnicity outright. While I imagine watching that fight was unnerving, implicit was a characterization of all the student that go to Automotive, which is unfair. I’ve worked as a high school teacher in the Bronx, and still work with city kids of mixed race and ethnicities at a state college. For the most part, city teens are pretty harmless. Of course, mob mentality makes any group unnerving, but at the end of that episode, did they chase down that girl? Were weapons drawn?

    Your offhand statement that if you were to intervene in a situation like that, you could potentially get a weapon pulled on your verged on scare mongering. Teenagers can be obnoxious, but most of them don’t carry, and most certainly aren’t at all interested in scaring or upsetting a young mom and her kid. They are frankly too involved in their own personal dramas to notice you. Common sense dictates that you don’t intervene when a group is all juiced up, but not because “those people” carry knives or guns. I’ve passed Automotive when their are tons of kids on the sidewalks, and these aren’t scary kids. They’re loud; they posture; they swear. But, that doesn’t mean they’re bad kids, who are always looking for the next fight. The girls you saw fighting may have once been friends, and they may have already made up. Or you could be right and it could have been a nasty incident of bullying, but it’s unfair for you to make assumptions about those kids or that incident on such little information.

    This and the last post reminded my of Obama’s speech wherein he called his grandmother a “typical white person.” People got all up in arms about it, but what I think he was trying to say is that there is a spectrum of racism (linked closely to classism) that we have to constantly be aware of; we are all implicated in it. There isn’t just the KKK on one side and mixing pot/brotherly love on the other. There’s quite a bit of grey in between.


  17. “It’s fairly common knowledge that the Poles in Greenpoint actively worked to keep other races from renting, etc. in the neighborhood.”

    So you’re calling the Poles of Greenpoint racist? That’s not fair.

    Also, the fight wasn’t between the automotive high school kids at all. It had nothing to do with them. If you assumed that it did, perhaps you’re being a little presumptuous to guess that?

    But fair enough. I guess my having brought up the automotive high school as being a group you “don’t want to mess with” could come off as a racist statement, although, I meant it as more of a joke than anything, not that I can prove that now since you’ve taken it to mean something a whole lot darker.

    And I never said “those people” carry knives unless you mean teenagers. I don’t care where I live or what high school I live near, there’s no way I would step in and break up a fight between two teenagers. It has nothing to do with living in the city. It has nothing to do with what color they are (this particular fight, was not between two people of the race that I’m assuming that you’ve assumed it to be). I guess I’m afraid of teenagers period.

    And I agree with you, there’s a lot of grey in between and it comes from every different race, not just the “typical white people.”


  18. Your post was not in the least racist. Moreover, you didn’t use euphemisms for race either, which so many story tellers use to illustrate their narrative(not a judgment, just an observation…I know I use certain words to illustrate race without specifying). I think whomever wrote the comment is feeling a little uneasy about their own feelings about race and about teenagers and maybe even about their feelings about their neighborhood. Obviously, you struck a cord.

    I also want to point out that just because a person uses the race of a character to illustrate a story, among other adjectives, does not mean you attribute those characteristics to all people of that certain race. It’s a specific story, a specific person, a specific instant.

    You’re a great writer. Love the blog. Happy you’re my facebook friend!


  19. You know what, no, this is annoying me because you (most likely) don’t know me. You have no idea my tone of voice or the type of humor I have.

    I DO need and want to explain my automotive high school remark from the other post.

    When I wrote that, I really mean it to be a joke, like some West Side Story bullshit, they being the tougher kids – the automotive high school kids are the rowdiest of the rowdy. I didn’t picture a bunch of black kids getting tearing up a bunch of poor white mothers and their babies. It’s so fucking annoying that you took it to mean something so unbelievably racist. It’s so fucking annoying that I can’t truly redeem myself in your eyes or others for that matter.

    I’m sick. I’m sicker than I have been in a long, long time, so I maybe overly emotional today. But I’m about 2 minutes away from totally pulling a plug on this Web site. I’m so sick of offending people, saying/writing the wrong thing, coming off as something or someone other than who I am. I’m sick of the email and the comments. I am so tired of really having to think about EVERYTHING I write to make sure I don’t piss someone off. It’s tiring.

    I am NOT a hateful person. I DO NOT hate people because of the color of their skin or their class. I DO NOT practice hate or teach it for that matter. The fact that I’m giving ANYONE the impression that I am hateful or racist or close-minded or judgmental really, really frustrates me and makes me wonder if this is worth it at all.

    God, this is annoying. I should have kept that post private.


  20. Sorry, that last comment was directed to Greenpoint Resident and the person who said I was racist not Erin.


  21. Greenpoint Resident March 31, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    1) I said, one that polish groups actively sought to close Mccarren pool in the 80’s because of its use by kids and teens from places like Bushwick and Bedstuy and two, that polish groups sought to keep non-whites from renting in Greenpoint.

    2) You began the previous entry noting your anxiety when Automotive let out to lead into the story about the kids coming to the park and fighting after school. I assumed you were talking about Automotive kids. You haven’t said the kids were white. Anyway, I run on the track there, and I’m familiar with the population of teenagers who hangs out in Mccarren Park.

    3) You didn’t say “those people,” but that was the implication. I actually just looked for the line about your fear of having a knife pulled on you to clarify its context, and you seem to have edited it out. I’m curious if you agree that might have been an inappropriate assumption.

    Lastly, really, teenagers are nothing to be afraid of. I happen to be particularly protective of the way in which city teens are characterized, because I work with them, and I know that these kinds of characterizations affect them. They respond to adults based on how they sense the adult perceiving them. If you look at them like they’re juvenile delinquents, they’ll act like that, because they’re still basically kids.


  22. Greenpoint Resident March 31, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    Woah, I didn’t say nor think you are a hateful person. When I said earlier that there is a spectrum of racism on which everyone is implicated, that includes myself. It is important to think about the assumptions we make about people and where these assumptions are coming from. Again, I’m particularly sensitive to the assumptions made about urban youth because of my education background, there are certainly other things I am not nearly so sensitive about.


  23. I did not edit it out. It’s in the comments section. At least I think that’s what you’re referring to. It does state Brooklyn kids. I should have thought about that first. So, you’re right to some degree. My comment without clarification does seem to point ONLY to kids in Brooklyn.


  24. Thanks for the clarification. I am not at 100% today, so forgive the outburst.


  25. Hi Greenpoint Resident. I’m very glad that teenagers don’t scare you. But like Michele I am also terrified of teenagers. They may react to how adults perceive them but I still think they are scary. Oh and guess what? I’m barely out of being a teenager myself. I loved Michele’s post about the bullying and never once took anything to be racist. You did that within your own imagination and that is something you will have to deal with. I was bullied very badly when I was in high school and if you want to try and say it that the teenagers that were doing it were acting that way because of how the adults around them were thinking about them then you need to sit down and try and remember how it was when you went to school. I’m sorry but unless you grew up in a bubble you either witnessed or were involved in a bullying incident. Whether you were the receiver or not. As an educator you may be able to see the daily lives of high school kids but they hide a lot from teachers purely for the purpose of avoiding trouble. I really find it unfair for you to assume what you have about Michele and what she was trying to write and realize that you were the ONLY person who thought so other than the anonymous commenter yesterday.


  26. I guess Greenpoint Resident has a point, other people from Greenpoint could very easily take what I wrote as racist or judgmental because a lot of the kids who attend the automotive high school are kids of color. Although, I am not afraid of them because they’re black. I’m not afraid of them at all. What I wrote was in fact a joke and in the wrong hands can easily be taken in the very wrong way. I regret that now.

    That was irresponsible of me. I wish I could change it now. But the damage is done. Now, I only hope we can come out of this with something positive.

    Furthermore, I blame a lot of how local teens are seen on our local media. They jump at the chance to bring up violent acts that take place around the city. They tell stories about kids being stabbed for iPods, gang related fights at union square, kids being released from school because another brought a gun to class, the stories are endless. If anyone is guilty of fear mongering, it’s the media not me.


  27. Greenpoint Resident March 31, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    Mihow, I agree with this completely:

    “Furthermore, I blame a lot of how local teens are seen on our local media. They jump at the chance to bring up violent acts that take place around the city. They tell stories about kids being stabbed for iPods, gang related fights at union square, kids being released from school because another brought a gun to class, the stories are endless. If anyone is guilty of fear mongering, it’s the media not me.”

    And would extend the responsibility beyond local media to mainstream, national media, as well, esp. those ridiculous Dateline, 20/20, John Stossel, etc. fear mongering reports that so many people completely eat up and believe.

    heathercoo, I don’t think you really read my responses carefully.


  28. you are as racist as I am purple. I see racism in sooo many things, but never once did i think your article was racist. you just described what you saw.


  29. I am going to end this thread and turn off comments right after I write one more thing. If what I wrote came off as racist to you in anyway, this comment is JUST FOR YOU.

    The only way that you can, with any authority claim to see what’s implicit in a block of casual writing is when you have an intimate familiarity with the author. Otherwise, the perception of hidden nuance is undoubtably a project of your own neuroses.

    There is a difference between finding hidden meaning and assigning hidden meaning, the difference is authority. Unless you know me well enough to read between my lines you should keep your personal interpretation to yourself.

    Only one person who has the authority to state with absolution what I mean is me. My story wasn’t about race, it was about violent teenagers. Period.

    And that’s all I have to say about that.

    Thank you, and goodnight.

    I will have TWM up tomorrow and then I think it’s time for a short break. This is entirely too stressful and I’m sick of having my words twisted around. It’s unfair and it’s bullshit.


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