Comedian Daniel Tosh has a segment on his show called “Is It Racist?” That is exactly what it sounds like: Tosh decides whether or not certain things are racist. Like this.
Meanwhile, I had a couple pieces floating around in the blog queue that weren’t quite full post-able, but deserved some sort of comment. And they all had a unifying theme: they were all…arguably racist. I have a real fascination with “code words” – certain words or phrases individuals use when they want to make a point that they really can’t make – especially since I moved to DC. For example, you can’t say, “I don’t like those dirty (insert ethnic groups) here who run those (whatever…food trucks, taxis, restaurant).” You have to say something like, “I am concerned with public safety, and that’s why we need to shut that place (frequented by people I don’t like) down.” Or, “Now that we razed half this neighborhood, put up expensive new condos, and I’m living in one of them, we should designate the rest of the buildings here as ‘historic” to preserve the character of the neighborhood (and to make sure they are really expensive to renovate, and thus, keep out the people I don’t like who might open a barber shop or a liquor store).” But don’t verbalize the parentheticals.
So I decided to run a little different version of “Is it racist?” with the bits I found in various articles. But since I’m way too white to serve as supreme racial arbiter, I brought in my friend Jane. Jane is probably the most “diverse” individual I know (based completely on my personal “diversity” matrix, developed after years of intense study in Ann Arbor). We once discussed a potential career for her as “Diversity.” Basically, she would show up at corporate “diversity days” looking like Mose with his fear shirt. Except instead of “fear,” her shirt would say “DIVERSITY.” Everything else would be the same as that scene from The Office though – there would be music, Jane would try to wrestle you (wrestle with your prejudices!), and then Carol from HR would ask you to get in a coffin. You know the drill. So here goes.
Well if the definition of “crime” is “standing there,” then yes, they are criminals
Our first candidate is a comment over at the Mt. Vernon Triangle Blog. The post itself mentions a “voluntary agreement” with Chinatown Market, a liquor store here in Chinatown. This apparently upsets one Mr. Mike Anderson:
Chinatown Market attracts and caters to a crowd of people (vagrants, alcoholics and the like) who bring crime (panhandling, loitering, public drinking, blocking the sidewalk, et cetera) to our neighborhood. I encourage everyone who is concerned with these issues to attend tonight’s meeting and to share their concerns with the Committee. Chinatown Market’s ABL comes up for renewal this fall.
Jane: I really enjoy how this commenter positions his/her opinion as verifiable fact. Chinatown Market attracts vagrants! They bring crime! And apparently, "blocking the sidewalk" constitutes crime! "Everyone who is concerned with these issues?" So....you?
Nick: Here are the things that constitute “crime” in this gentleman’s world: Standing and asking for money, standing, standing and drinking, standing on the sidewalk, and presumably, other forms of standing when done by “vagrants, alcoholics and the like.” This might be my favorite bit, since I walk by Chinatown Market multiple times a day, every single day, and I have no clue what this guy is talking about. I think I’ve been asked for money twice in my seven months here.
On second thought, that’s not true. I know exactly what this guy is talking about. He just plain doesn’t like looking at…those people who hang out by that particular store. That’s why you do things like prohibit stores that “they” frequent from selling single beers, while exempting stores that you frequent because they sell craft beers you like that come in larger bottles and might not be sold in a six-pack. I’m not exactly living in a Tea Party stronghold here, but the people around me spend an awful lot of time on these little crusades to eradicate things they just plain don’t like looking at.
This should go about as well as previous attempts to keep out the Irish and Italians
Third candidate is a quote (into the ether, but cached) from Brendan Walsh, a Grosse Pointe Board of Education trustee, on Governor Rick Snyder’s plan to make every district accept out-of-district students. This scares the bejeezus out of Grosse Pointe since they border a certain city that rhymes with Tree Joit:
"I think there are a lot of details to work out," said Van Beek, who also said he believes that the proposal could make schools better because they'll be forced to compete for students. "Anything that expands options is a good thing."
Walsh said he believes that open enrollment could hurt the district if it is forced to take students who are not committed to academic excellence.
Jane: My freshman year (white, cute) roommate was from Grosse Pointe. She got an MIP when she got drunk off Jack Daniels and Pepsi, believed she was Houdini and could escape from handcuffs, was chased around the Bursley Hall lobby by several police officers, wound up in AAPD lockup, believed she was Tupac and started doing pushups in her cell, and then passed out. I'm assuming that that is the kind of academic excellence that is threatened by roving gangs of out-of-district students. Just say "minorities," people. We know that's what you mean. You know we know that's what you mean. Just say it, and then I can move on.
Nick: Jane, who was your freshman year roommate? Give her my number.
See, I actually think Walsh did say “minorities” during the interview, but the Free Press Diversity Editors went in and changed the phrase to something…well, just as racist. Yikes.
Seriously though. If you caught of glimpse of me and my friends in high school back in Grosse Pointe, we weren’t so much “committed to academic excellence” as we were “committed to taking Wendy’s five-piece chicken nugget sauces and throwing them at each other.” “Committed to academic excellence.” I gotta start working that phrase into my daily lexicon. “Sorry, I’m just not committed to doc review excellence today!”
Won’t somebody think of the burritos!
Candidate four has been mentioned here before: Chipolte’s uphill battle to open a restaurant in Capitol Hill:
The big issue raised was that fast food restaurants are a large contributor to the abundance of trash on that block of Barracks Row. In addition, the existing national chains have rarely contributed to neighborhood events, joined neighborhood business associations, and have been fairly unresponsive to requests to help improve trash and loitering issues on the block.
Jane: Jesus, is opening a Chipotle in SE like joining a sorority or something? I get concerns about trash, but "fairly unresponsive"? Neighborhood associations here terrify me. I'm worried that at some point, the Shaw community association is going to send some Joe Pesci look-alike to my house to pistol whip me for incorrectly staking my tomatoes. It's a business that wants to open, and it's not even one of the "existing national chains" y'all have been having so much trouble with. And it's Chipotle, for god's sake. Get a burrito and shut the hell up.
Nick: Unless they strip the burritos down and circle the parts of them that need a little “work,” no, opening a Chipotle in SE is not like joining a sorority. Although I think fully 60% of the world’s problems could be solved by the phrase, “get a burrito and shut the hell up.”
I’m with you on the neighborhood associations though. I never really got to experience the full brunt of these things until I moved to DC, but they’re like giant homeowners associations or condo boards, only slightly more fascist with much less of a mandate. I guess it’s nice that people take pride in and care about their neighborhoods, but so much of what I see entails eradicating or prohibiting anything and everything that people just plain don’t like.
The last line gets me every time though. These people are fighting like hell to prevent other people from purchasing burritos because the restaurant won’t join in your crusade to eradicate the people standing on the street that you don’t want to look at.
In any event, it appears these folks have lost the fight. But the funniest part: the “exemption” is limited to Chipotle. Perhaps the neighborhood association determined the people who “loiter” outside Chipotle are less offensive than the people who loiter outside Chinatown Market. Who knows.
Three-stereotype crash leaves chicken wings in a coma
The New York Times recently ran a piece on gentrification in DC. It’s a pretty interesting read, and the intracity racial tension around here reminds me of the intercity racial tension back home. But this paragraph might take the cake:
Similar anxieties sprung up on H Street last fall, during a failed attempt by the area’s majority-white neighborhood council to ban the sale of chicken wings in a newly opened 7-Eleven (the bones attract rats and choke dogs, they argued). Other restrictions, like leaving hair salons off the list of businesses eligible for future development assistance, strike Ms. Johnson as attempts to erase the traditional character of the neighborhood.
Jane: You know what attracts rats? Everything. You know what dogs will try to eat? Everything (here's a tip: watch your dog.) It's 7-Eleven. None of their food is fit for consumption by anyone ever. Their chicken wings are the least of anyone's problems. It's tremendously stupid to try to "ban" a food offering at a 7-Eleven, almost as stupid as having a neighborhood council with that kind of power. The old alcoholics who buy coffee at 6:45AM on Wednesdays at the 7-Eleven on 12th and U bother me on the way to yoga, but I'm not leading the charge to ban coffee from 7-Eleven, because I'm not a moron. Again, if you don't want minorities, just say so.
Nick: I think they pretty much just said it, Jane. Anyway, that’s gotta be some type of record for racial stereotypes in one paragraph. It’s like the neighborhood association said, “Your stereotype (chicken wings) is interfering with our stereotype (every single one of us owns a dog). So we’ll ban yours.” I’m really fixated on the dog thing because I just received an e-mail from my apartment management company that began like this:
We love our four leg residents but recently some of their owners have been behaving very badly. Incidents of pet mess in the lobby’s, elevators, and building entrances are occurring frequently.
Two thoughts: 1) White people love dogs so much that we can’t even blame the dogs for pooping in the elevator. 2) We need somebody to beg us to stop letting animals piss all over the building. Could you imagine if a homeless guy took a leak in the general vicinity of our entryway? I just hope the 48 cops that would show after the 196 calls to 911 got there before everybody in the building grabbed their torch and pitchfork. But we need stern reminders to clean up animal poop in the hallway. I hate white people.