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AlumNews: Talon Articles

Say What?!

Friday, September 7, 2007  
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By Jill Ramsey

Stereotypes are not fair, but they seem inescapable. And I couldn’t even begin to understand how it felt to be stereotyped until I visited Mott Haven, a neighborhood in the Bronx that is said to be the ‘deadliest.’ As a young white woman, walking down those streets was unlike any previous event in my life. For the first time, I didn’t look like the people around me, and no one was happy to see me.

I knew it was going to be different when I got on the subway that morning. I watched as fellow passengers stared at me, wondering why I hadn’t escaped into Manhattan with the other ‘white’ people. The man sitting across from me looked like he was going to warn me that we were headed to the Bronx, so I gave him a half smirk to tell him I knew what I was doing. I stepped off the subway at Brook Avenue, and headed up four blocks to Public School 30.

Mott Haven has an established way of life that is void of preppylooking white girls. Typically people that look like me only visit the Bronx on accident or to ‘help the less fortunate.’ They do not see me as a friend, because it has been a long time since they have met a white person that didn’t view them as a community service project or a waste of space.

In the Bronx, people live surrounded by poverty and trash. Their streets are not kept as clean, their parks are not as pretty. They have seen waste plants built in their neighborhoods and a lack of consideration for their general well-being.

In the South Br o n x , mo r e than 40% of the residents live below the poverty threshold, compared to Oklahoma City with only 14 percent and Dallas with 17 percent. Nearly half of this area’s residents live in housing projects, huge apartment buildings cramped with people. The city maintains the housing projects-another reason many of those living in the Bronx were not excited to see me.

See, these families know that white, preppy-looking white girls have rich dads that encourage the government to invest in business rather than fixing their bad living conditions. They assume correctly that I have never had to worry about my next paycheck to get my next meal, I have always had my own bedroom, and I have had a great educational experience. I do not completely understand it, but I know that I have to earn the trust of those living there. They don’t want to be my outreach project and they aren’t interested in my advice. They have seen people like me walk in and out of their neighborhoods trying to ‘help,’ thinking they could make a difference in their new clothes and big sunglasses. And they have seen these same people leave without a trace; with the only change being an additional reason not to trust middle class white people.

I wish I could blend in. I wish I could have looked every person in the eyes and said, “You can trust me; I’m not like everyone else.”

But I couldn’t, and I couldn’t stop them from stereotyping me. There was nothing I could do, nothing I could say to let them know that I knew I wasn’t better than them and was sincere.

In the past two years, I have frequented this block. I have gotten used to the stares, but I am still frustrated. I hate not being trusted because of my race, my gender, and my age. I get sick of being judged for what other people have done, and it hurts my heart to know that there will not be a day when I walk down those streets as a member of their community.

I want to be there because it is where my ‘kids’ are. It is where my heart is.

This summer I learned not to be held back by the stereotypes, of me and of others. I’m not like ‘them’, and I was constantly forced to prove it.

The South Bronx is not the only place you will find a Public School 30. We all walk around under speculation, being stereotyped for the actions of other individuals that appear to look like us, and are unfairly stereotyping those that walk past us. The problem is real, and can even be seen here at Oklahoma Christian.

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