Friday, March 11, 2016
On one of the corners of Public School 21, Paterson, NJ, an old brassy sign stands proudly just off the sidewalk, a war memorial that lists the names of hundreds of men from the neighborhood who served their country during World War II. It's five feet high, maybe a yard across, soiled by the passage of time, weathered more than a little, but proud and still readable.
The children playing out in the fenced-in yard were almost entirely kids of color, as were some of their teachers. Some of the men listed on that memorial may well be people of color too; one million African-Americans served the country in every branch of the military during WWII. But it's unlikely that many descendants of the vets listed on that old sign live in the neighborhood. When kids in PS #21 get into fifth grade maybe, and the teacher starts talking about WWII, chances are few have ever heard of it. Their stories--their great-grandparents' stories--are rooted elsewhere.
It's a disconnect that's both inevitable and difficult, inevitable because most who live in the neighborhood don't have deep roots there, and difficult because it's hard to feel a part of a story you don't share. Most of the vets, I'm guessing, were white, and most white folks are gone. I hope I'm not being racist when I tell you that when I walked by that big sign this week, I couldn't help feeling that there's very little glory in the old memorial.
If you're lily white, like I am, it's not hard to feel powerless in a neighborhood like the one around PS #21, and powerlessness a striking feeling because, if you're lily white, like I am, you really don't know what powerlessness is. It's new and it's strange and scary.
I think I understand what many assume to be the power of Donald Trump's amazing appeal. White folks are angry that we've lost something, something, well, huge, in a land that once seemed so surely to be ours and promised so many dreams--and even, quite regularly, lived up to them. Today, it's getting uncomfortable to live in any neighborhood that was once ours. In airports and on planes this week, I heard a dozen foreign languages at least.
I get it. I don't feel it, but I get it. Count me among those who believe Donald Trump threatens America like no other candidate.
But I get it. I'm white. I get it.
I was walking on the sidewalk just outside PS #21, Paterson, NJ, on Tuesday morning, walking to a place where a different story was being told, a story that brought people into each other's lives in a way that created a new story, our story.
More on that soon.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 7:00 AM