Friday, October 17, 2008

Book Review: Home Girl: Building a dream house on a lawless block, pt 2

See part 1 here.
One chapter says it well, "Nice Bones, Rotten Organs". Besides the drug trade going on outside the author's house the other main drama of the book is the renovation of the house she bought in Harlem. I have to say I've been lucky. I found one main contractor for the big stuff and I have stuck with him and it has been a good relationship. The author, Judith Matloff, sadly has a multi-ethnic, multi-skilled, multi-competent, crew tearing her house apart at any one moment. Old houses are like old people, they are charming but they do have problems that come with age, and poor maintenance. Part way through fixing the place up she calls in some experts who come up with a laundry list of things that needed addressing.
I'm also lucky in that I got to live in my house long enough to have a clue of what it needed and how I wanted to live in it, before taking on major renovations. I know, for me, that my bedroom only needs to be functional, and not some oasis or retreat from the world. And then there are a bunch of things that I wanted to customize to the way I live and want to live (radiators, claw foot tub, Corian counter tops, etc), that no developer could ever foresee. But enough about me.
The second major theme is the business of drug dealing and it is a business. It confirms Sudhir Venkatesh's work in looking at the drug dealing that goes on in the streets of Chicago, NYC and DC as a business with a hierarchy. In Gang Leader for a Day, the manager of the drug trade was J.T., in this book it is Miguel. Our street has one too, and so reading Matloff's and Venkatesh's experiences, re-affirms what I am (thankfully) seeing less of, on my street each year. Managers, main drug leaders, whatever tend to be a little older (in their 20s or early 30s) and keep their foot soldiers, the younger men selling, running, looking out, etc in line. A manger's primary interest is to move product with as little interruption as possible. Which on the good side means they are not interested in starting up turf wars or any other activity that would bring greater police presence. This is illustrated (in a chapter I'm currently at a loss to find), when the author is very pregnant, is threatened by a female crackhead and her boyfriend on the author's front stoop. She calls the cops, however Miguel lets it be known that if she had just informed him, instead of calling the cops (bad for business) he would have taken care of it.
I know it sounds strange, but in these situations it is not unusual to work out some sort of 'peace' with the dealers, while at the same time battling the drug trade through other channels. As a middle class (white <- gets you extra bonus points) homeowner, you are a factor to be managed, just like the drug runners are managed. Maybe fear motivates you, or maybe a desire for peace and quiet. You're too expensive to buy off or not needy enough to buy into the underground economy. If you're white, I and a few others, perceive that your calls to the police carry greater weight. So the manager of the drug trade has to 'manage' this factor.
This working relationship is an aspect I really appreciate about Home Girl. Matloff, I believe shows how these things come into being, and explains it in a way of why such a thing is maintained. This is just one of the many issues and challenges of moving into and living in a transitional neighborhood.
I'll follow up with more, when I get around to it.

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10 Comments:

At 10/17/2008 7:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

". If you're white, I and a few others, perceive that your calls to the police carry greater weight."

Why is this the case when the majority of the DC police force is black? And the mayor? And the city council? And most of the city workers? And the majority of the city residents? Is it because the black people who run the city have more respect for white people than they do for people of color?

 
At 10/17/2008 7:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

whoops! the above comment is from Jody.

 
At 10/17/2008 9:19 AM, Anonymous snowbunny said...

Hysterical! "you are a factor to be managed, just like the drug runners are managed..."

Jody, here's something that works. If you bodily go to the police station looking frightened, you can get a cruiser to your site much faster than by phoning. 99% of the population have cell phones and it's not that hard to dial 911. Put some muscle behind your request.

 
At 10/17/2008 9:21 AM, Blogger Mari said...

Yeah, I know it doesn't make sense. It's a perception and the problem seems to be that we (black folk) are supposed to put up with crap from other black folk.

 
At 10/17/2008 1:34 PM, Blogger Shizz said...

Jody, I was wondering if you think that the police treat black professional that are moving in to the city vs. the white professional?

 
At 10/17/2008 1:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sean? I didn't make any statements or assumptions about how I feel, nor did I make statements or assumptions about how anybody treats anybody else.

I simply asked Mari why she thinks white people receive better treatment from a city government that is mostly black.

Mari provided an insightful answer. Did you see her answer?

Jody

 
At 10/17/2008 3:27 PM, Blogger Mari said...

Okay some of y'all are getting confused. Please note who is saying what. I, Mari wrote: "If you're white, I and a few others, perceive that your calls to the police carry greater weight."
Jody asked me about it. Snowbunny's comments confused me, so I just let it pass. Shizz directed his/her question to the wrong person.
As an African American professional, my answer is I dunno, depends. However, I can't help but notice that with the greater influx of anglos in Ward 5the city seems to be taking pleas for city services more seriously. AfAm and the miniscule numbers of white professionals who had been pleading long before some of us showed up in the 2000s, seemed to have been ignored. AfAm professionals were here for years dealing with the crime and the crap. Now there are more of us and way more of you.

 
At 10/18/2008 7:26 PM, Anonymous Neal said...

I don't want to be that guy, but please don't call white people 'anglos.' White people are whites and 'anglo' makes no sense. Most of us are not from England, and I think it's safe to say that most black families have been speaking English longer than us as well.

 
At 10/18/2008 11:30 PM, Blogger Mari said...

Your complaint has been noted. However, I'll probably keep using the term until I find other vocabulary that suits my needs or when the term becomes too burdensome. As of this time those conditions have not been met.

 
At 10/19/2008 6:23 PM, Anonymous Gianni said...

Oh my, Negros are racists too?!

 

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