I found this discussion of Camille Peri's article
"The insidious face of inner-city poverty seemed to raise the stakes on everything -- even the simplest get-together. Should we let Joe sleep overnight at the home of his new best friend, who lived in public housing? Would Joe be a target in a tough inner-city neighborhood, or just an unlucky victim of a stray bullet? Should I be honest about my fears with his friend's mother or make excuses? A longtime African American friend of ours told us we were being too cautious, but when a man was shot down after a high-speed chase with the police on the street where Joe's friend lived, it settled the question."
With Joe's new friends in our lives, neighborhoods that we usually drove through only on our way somewhere else now became our destinations. I remember walking through double locked gates into a labyrinth of concrete halls to drop off one friend at a unit that had only a TV and a PlayStation -- no chairs, no kitchen table, no beds.
These neighborhoods became their destinations? What about taking Joe's new best friend "home" to the place one wants to protect ones child from? That what makes Joe a possible target is that Joe's friend (in that space and others) is
always a possible target.
This piece immediately reminded me of a piece that appeared in February in the Lives
section of the Sunday New York Times Magazine
"I was 7 years old, a scrawny white kid, and I was standing in front of some 30 second graders, all of them black. One after the other, the boys and girls in the sun-drenched Miami classroom giddily peppered me with questions. What is it like to live in the ''nice'' part of town? How many swimming pools do you have? Are all of your brothers and sisters white, too? (The girl who asked this last question was roundly hooted by her classmates.) I tried to answer the rapid queries, but I became shy. As the only white person in the room, I felt painfully under scrutiny and downright weird. I might as well have been a snowman. When I began to stutter, the friendly lady teacher told me I could sit down.
What was I doing there? It was 1967, and it was show and tell -- more accurately, I was the show and tell. Along with a huge sunflower one girl brought to class and a firetruck that a boy had hooked up to a toy giraffe, I was the day's novelty item. The children of my family's housekeeper, Gladys, had taken me to school. Gladys was a lanky Bahamian, an ex-model and single mother who was a weekly presence in our house.
My parents, liberal émigrés from New York, moved to Florida in the 40's. Like many other Easterners, my father and mother found in Miami an improbable setting for their progressive social ideals and entrepreneurial plans for self-advancement. ''I went to sleep in the winter darkness,'' Edmund Wilson wrote in a 1949 essay about his first train ride to this southern Florida city, ''and wake up to a dazzle of golden light on green palms and low-growing pines that drip with Florida moss.'' My parents must have felt something similar.
Although they were hardly wealthy (my father ran a small drug-and-cosmetics business), they decided that I was becoming impossibly spoiled. Too many handsome Swedish toys and swank bar mitzvahs were making me soft, they claimed, so off they sent me to Gladys's family in a poor section of Miami, the first time for a couple of weeks, later for sporadic weekends. In the 60's, it was very much a city with a racial divide. Public schools were segregated. Blacks lived in ghettos like Overtown, and well-off whites inhabited areas with mellifluous names like Coral Gables.
Gladys's two sons were friends of mine and had come to my house many times. But these sleepovers were different -- a strange reversal that raised eyebrows among some of my parents' friends. Although it never occurred to me at the time, I was a sort of civil rights social project for my parents. By today's standards, my parents were naïve reformers, comic idealists, and their decision to send me into a ghetto was of a piece with their wacky idea of letting me attend a local production of ''Hair.'' (''What was the nude scene like?'' all my friends wanted to know.)
For me, staying with Gladys's family meant days of sheer pleasure. Gladys may have been a wonderfully efficient housekeeper in white South Miami, but her own house was, to a 7-year-old, fabulously messy, noisy and chaotic. Friends and relatives dropped by at all hours. There seemed to be no observance of bedtime curfew. And Gladys's two sons treated me like a wonderful treasure, an exotic animal they had taken in. They took me to other peoples' homes and showed me off to their friends. Sure, I was a pawn in their continuing show-and-tell game, but their guided tours introduced me to a marvelous counterworld.
My sojourn in Gladys's neighborhood was undoubtedly the first time I thought about myself self-consciously as white -- as inhabiting white skin -- the sort of self-consciousness that most blacks feel every day and that many white people don't. No particular social mechanism requires it today; nothing insists on it. For years I used to perplex my politically-minded friends when I argued on behalf of national service -- on the principle that there was something beneficial in whites and blacks, privileged and not, living together for periods of time.
Gladys's kids came to stay with me, too. If I loved the cheerful clutter of their house, they liked the relatively prosperous fun of my family's swimming pool (just one). But my sleepovers came to a sudden end after a year of visits. A riot broke out in one of Miami's poor neighborhoods during the 1968 Republican National Convention. I recall my mother, crying into the phone as she explained to Gladys (who had telephoned to set up a visit to her house), saying, ''But your people don't want us in your neighborhood.'' My mother tried to explain to me why I couldn't go to Gladys's for a while, why everything had become impossible. Then she sat down at the kitchen table and cried some more. It was all a little confusing for me, but it definitely felt like the end of something, a fragile, unlikely experiment in biracial friendship across neighborhood lines." more