On Monday I had a veritable tour of Brooklyn. Having no car of my own and an MTA month-pass burning a hole in my pocket I decided to take care of some errands via the NYC bus lines. I began in Kensington (South Brooklyn), went up to Prospect Heights (a yuppie section southeast of downtown) and around to Carnarsie (a middle class, heavily black neighborhood). The whole trip took me about 5 hours (!) but it was a great opportunity to see some of the parts of Brooklyn I had only seen on maps (or on the 6 o’clock news).
One of the most interesting things: Obama posters all over the black neighborhoods. It is funny how often people expect minorities, from blacks to latinos to women, to mindlessly adhere to candidates of their specific minority, but this primary season has shown people of all types being conspicuously careful of this. This is especially true of the Obama campaign, where we have seen polls of black people steadily inching upwards. They are, in effect, making Obama earn their vote.
Most enlightening was the part of my trip from Prospect Heights to East New York (a heavily black, high-crime area). I traveled on foot from Vanderbilt, a typical gentrified neighborhood filled with coffee shops and fair trade bakeries, most with posters and stickers on their windows announcing the latest in greenwash, anti-globalization messages, and dull Bush-hating snark. I walked several blocks to the east for my transfer and, as is common in Brooklyn, found myself in a completely different neighborhood: diners, soul food restaurants, produce markets. And of course the populus went from snappily-dressed 20/30-somethings to normal, residential black people of all ages. I instantly felt more comfortable. Ha!
It was surprising and enlightening to find that on many store-fronts, there were posters of Obama. I am not just talking about the official big blue O poster/sticker. There were homemade posters, printed photos of Obama, and posters taken from events where he spoke. It was pretty cool. From there until Canarsie, traveling through what is likely the largest population of African-Americans in the country, I saw Obama’s face over and over. Now, I’m not saying it was on every store-front, but seriously, on the window of almost every shop that had any sort of community aspect: barber shops, restaurants, nail salons, there was something to do with Obama.
There has been much speculation as to whether Obama might win NYC, even though he is expected to lost the state of New York on Super Tuesday. If Brooklyn has any say, he will.
Although, what was most surprising to me on my little East Brooklyn tour was that those “bad neighborhoods”, the ones we hear about on the news, the ones we are told to stay away from, are actually not that bad. They are something like 95 percent black, but I didn’t feel unsafe and I wasn’t treated any differently than I would have been if I were on a bus in Park Slope or Manhattan. For about 3 hours of my travel I was the only white person around and it didn’t really matter. I felt totally comfortable. Most of these neighborhoods are just full of working people doing their thing, I see way more thugs and gang members in Manhattan. The only time I was sketched out was when night fell and I was walking a mile, on foot, in Brownsville, carrying an 88 key MIDI controller on my shoulder. But whatever, I would have been worried in Midtown. Nobody fucks with my gear.