My neighborhood is diverse (see horribly generalized and fairly inaccurate map made because it was fun to make below). Okay, most of New York City is diverse. That aside, I am living in a neighborhood that is more diverse than I am used to. I grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago, where everyone except for the low-wage employees were white, and I went to school in Madison, which is a city that loves diversity but doesn't show it in the campus area. So, living in Boerum Hill has been a change.
It's pretty obvious that a ton of people are inherently a little racist. In my neighborhood, a lot of the non-white residents view me as someone who has come to gentrify things, raise rent prices and knock them over on the way to the subway. One of those is true, but that's not the point. The point is that this bugs me. I don't want to be viewed that way, but when I walk to work in my business casual clothes listening to my iPod, it's kinda tough.
I tend to get upset when I see a Hispanic man walk right past me and then ask a Black lady for directions, which happened this morning. I was also annoyed when I was walking into a store next to a Black lady and she asked someone a few feet ahead of me to open the door, even though it was much more convenient for me to do it. These are the small things, the tip of the iceberg, but it bothers me nonetheless. So, what to do?
Lately I've been going out of my way to be nice to people. I'll say "hello, how are you?" to passerbys on the street or I'll lend someone a nickel or a dime at Dunkin' Donuts. Sometimes, I'll just talk to someone in a line. It's amazing how shocked some folks are by this.
Thus far, I haven't made much of a difference in the neighborhood. I still get ignored when people are seeking favors/advice, but I feel a little better about myself. In fact, the other day I exchanged pleasantries with a racial ambassador from the other side. Our eyes met and he smile and said "Hello, how are you?" I smiled back and said "I am fine, thanks." At that moment, I knew he was on my side. The two of us were working together, probably unknowingly, to build a racially tolerant neighborhood. Okay, so he was probably just being nice, but I'd like to think that an army of us-es could change this neighborhood for the better. One day.
This is the horribly generalized map that I spoke of above: