Does this place challenge your beliefs?

Chatting with another resident, he mentioned that he used to have certain beliefs or ideas about poverty, crime and such but then he moved here. It is one thing to see people from the comfort of your car as you drive back to your homogeneous neighborhood, pass people of different social classes in those brief encounters, or hear about situations on TV or read about it from journalists, it is another when you have to live with the diversity of people and ideas and not on your own terms.
Poverty takes on a whole different dimension when you live next to or on the same block or around as people you would describe as poor. Your encounters with the homeless are not in a soup kitchen where you are volunteering or a fund raiser. Your relations with people who struggle financially are deeper because they are your neighbors. In some strange way you may be forced to relate to them as equals. Appreciate them, be annoyed by them, and they with you, as equals. No distant pity here. And I think equality is a good thing.
Prostitution seems to be a victimless crime to some people but when it is in your back alley it really isn’t. I have heard, mainly when listening to Libertarians, that recreational drugs should be legalized and then we wouldn’t have the crime. Well I’ve never believed that, but does one keep that kind of thinking when your neighbor’s car is broken into by a crackhead? Would a legal crackhead not break into cars? Yes, alcohol is legal and strangely we’re not so fond of all the liquor stores in the neighborhood.
Now I’m debating to touch race. After deleting and retyping, and deleting and retyping, I’ll write this… There is a diverse set of people in this neighborhood. You have middle class blacks, poor blacks, folks directly from parts of Africa or the Caribbean, Anglos from down under, and, but not limited to Protestant Koreans from G-d knows where.
But back to my point. Has living here changed your point of view on certain issues?

13 thoughts on “Does this place challenge your beliefs?”

  1. If by here, you mean DC, then yes. It has opened me up to a mosh pit of new cultures and ideas.. being a down-southers, used to a diversity of BBQ huts.

    If we mean “shaw,” i’d like to know how many folks moved directly to shaw versus a warm-up stint in some neighborhood norther or wester.

    On days when pieces of brick aren’t being tossed at me, i can keep some objectivity about the poverty in this city.
    -south of shaw

  2. I could probably talk for hours on this and still not be able to clearly articulate my evolving reactions to things in the neighborhood, nor pinpoint exactly what I believe about poverty. As background, I was pretty liberal before moving into Shaw. Not anarchist-liberal by any means, but I was comfortably left. After my time here, I’ve been quickly retreating to the middle. And here’s why in a nutshell… at least this is my interpretation of why. And, maybe this is just me.

    Living in a more economically diverse area makes one more sensitive to the issues surrounding low(er) incomes. You see the consequences of it daily. At first, it’s tough to see and know that there is only so much that you can do, barring becoming Mother Teresa. That wears on you. However, over time you become more desensitized. Then you start to get aggravated by what seems to inevitable. It’s frustrating because you see the vicious circle of poverty and you’re, largely, impotent to change it as an individual. Then you get frustrated that some people in the poverty cycle aren’t more proactive at trying to change things. You want them to be better off and you know their success depends on their actions, not what others or the government does for them.

    I do recognize, and understand, the social and economic histories of people that are in different economic strata. However, I am given pause when I reflect on how hard immigrant groups have worked, and continue to work, to improve their lots; and, how that sometimes contrasts significantly with some of the actions of the impoverished that I see daily in Shaw. Unfortunately, I have become less empathetic to a portion of the neighborhood poverty. It’s wrong, I know it. It’s not very Christian of me, I know. But it’s a reaction I get sometimes.

    There, I said it. That was hard.

  3. sos– bricks bad. no one should throw bricks at anyone else.

    What’s with the Christian stuff you were a godless heathen when I brought you on board….
    Anyway, yes, I know that impotence to do anything about others poverty and circumstances because of the stuff that goes on in my own family. You have to acknowledge that people have free will and the right to make decisions, and we can’t make those decisions for them because we don’t stand in their shoes. Like the fan in the stadium who has a different view than the player seeing something that the player on the field may or may not see, but we don’t know the conditions on the ground.
    Evolving ideas and feelings? That’s everyday.

  4. Living in shaw has made me much more conscious of class. To answer your question, Mari, we moved here after living in Adams Morgan for 5 years. While there we were friends with only one of our neighbors on our floor.
    What amazes me about living in shaw is how great my neighbors are– we have a much wider and deeper circle of friends.

    what is different though is that that loose group of friends is surrounded by people we will probably never break bread with– not because we’ve tried and they were bores, but because we’ll probably never try.

    This does not include sidewalk buddies– people we regularly chat with on the street. But when neighbors get together in our homes i notice distinct similarities.

    we’ve all bought homes in the last 10 years, have similar educational backgrounds and prefer fancy eyewear. the majority are white, but the group includes “new to shaw” African Americans, and immigrants.

    that final leap, from sidewalk buddy to dinner and late night conversation is all about class.

    And i can’t even pinpoint what would move me to invite one person to dinner and not another. it’s a shared language, manner, set of expectations, whatever, but it’s definitely at play every moment in the ever swirling land of shaw.

  5. While never one to make excuses for the questionable behavior from some of the poorer residents of shaw, I do ask you this, how easy it is for one to change his/her own mentality. Sure to me or you looking in from the outside, the “ghetto” poor could lift themselves at least partially out of the squallor they live in by getting an education, stop having babies as teenagers, stop worshiping thuggery, start cleaning up the neighborhood blah blah blah etc. etc. Of course all of this is true but if you were raised in an environment where all of the afore mentioned was the norm how hard do you think it would be to pull your own actions and own thoughts out of the gutter when it is the only thing you have ever known. Yeah of course its easy for me and you to realize what the problem is and what needs to be done but then again, I was raised by two working parents in suburban Virginia. You could relate the same argument to slavery in the US how could so many Americans stand by and watch as other Americans were forced to work against their will, murdered raped and terrorized as routine everyday matters. The answer is simple they did not know any better.

    Ok.. so maybe that wasnt the best analogy but hopefully you see my point.

  6. People can be locked into certain self-destructive mentalities regardless of race or class. Think the abused spouse who can’t think of leaving.
    Personally, I came from a poor neighborhood, not from the solidly middle class background as many of my neighbors. Of course, at the time I referred to myself as lower middle class. So I don’t have some of the same angst that some of y’all struggle with. Luckily, I had a bunch of college educated aunts who at points in time were school teachers with high expectations from me. Also I have to note that they were also a bunch to take over and there were whole summers spent with said aunts. On the otherside I lived in the same area as the relatives that criticised me for “always having your head in a book…”
    The problem with trying to live out the American Dream is that you need a support group. For education, it helps when you don’t have friends and family getting on your case for having your head in a book or questioning why you’re borrowing so much money for college (you could buy a good car for what you’re spending on books and classes). It helps if they strongly discourage you from dropping out and don’t provide good excuses for you to put a “temporary” hold on your studies to help out at home. It helps if they let you go to live in the city or state far away where the jobs are.
    Some paths are easier than others.

  7. I can’t help buying into this one. My beliefs have most certainly been challenged since living in shaw….I come from a long way away.

    The division in american society is so deep and so rife I cannot see how it can possibly be. It is as if there is two different societies in one country. One is wealthy and the other lives in third world conditions, deprived of all but the basic neccesities, mainly health care and education And yes, it really is similar to the third world, people sleep and die on the streets here.

    How can the lucky ones of us not take responsibility for this situation.

    so living in shaw has challenged my beliefs. I never realised how ridiculously privleged I was and that people in developed counties lived in such poverty. i am also challenged because I feel powerless to help, against such a massive problem.

    I would like americans to acknowledge that the poverty in DC (and around the states) is not normal in the developed world. They have a country which, within it, exists a third world poverty stricken society. This is something that all americans ahould be deeply, deeply ashamed of.

    I would hope that the people around here concentrate on this, rather than the fact that a kid sells a dime bag of dope on the corner, or a woman has to resort to selling her body for 5 bucks in an alleyway. This is not saying that i don’t wish that they didn’t, it’s just that I feel pity rather than anger.

    I enjoy the diversity of people in shaw and I think that this is something to be cherished. I would much rather live here than the generic areas around dupont/logan.


    Empowering these people, starting with education and health is the only way to fix our shared/combined problems.

  8. I respectfully differ. Not to be flip about international conditions but I believe local action has a greater impact than trying to manipulate things from afar. As the bumper sticker says, “think globally, act locally.”
    The things going on on my block, in my neighborhood, in this city and in the metro region all impact my life and well being. Also I can impact what’s going on my block, in the neighborhood, and in the metro region. I can’t make it all go my way but I can nudge it in a positive direction. I can see the results with my own eyes. And seeing the results strengthens me to deal with the hassles over and over.
    I could take a few weeks out and join one of my churches’ missions to somewhere in Latin America or Haiti or South Africa. But there are obligations I have here, now, that prevent that. So until I deal with the problems, here, now.

  9. I agree that the contrast between the rich and the poor is so great in the US– it’s far too great. And it’s not just in DC. What is so shocking about DC though is that you have some of the wealthiest and most powerful individuals in the US living and working a stone’s throw from some of the poorest.

    The District of Columbia misrepresents US society because it largely shows the extremes. What makes the US so unique is the “middle”. Our income inequality gap is (too) big, but the two ends are buffered by a comfortable middle. That is a major difference between other nations with such a big income inequality gap.

    The US is far from perfect. I’ll be the first to admit that. However it’s telling to look at the immigration numbers over the past two hundred years. People have flocked to the US and continue to flock to the US because of the economic opportunities the country provides. Not everyone makes it from abject poverty to the infamous upper-middle class or upper-class, but a lot do and anyone can. I have come to have a enormous amount of respect for the US economic system after spending more time with immigrants and second and third generation children of immigrants.

    We’re not perfect, we have a long way to go. Here’s a graph that shows, roughly, how the US stacks up in income inequality with some other countries since WWII:

  10. I agree Mari, local action is about the only place we can act effectively…that was my point that it is here (DC/USA) where there is something we can do. Maybe one way of putting it is that the problems are deeper than those immediatly visable on the street (drug/prostitues). They go to the very core of the US society/culture.

    Truxtonian, I looked at the graph and it seems to say that the ony countries with greater disparity are china, brazil and mexico. This doesn’t really seem like the land of opportunity to me!

    anyway, one of the reasons I like it around here is that all the people here are far more generous and open-minded than elsewhere in DC.

    I just want people in the US to acknowledge that there is something that doesn’t ring true in those peachy images of the american dream.

    ……meanwhile, down here in Oz, the sun is shining, another beautiful winter’s day. 🙂


  11. I found it amusing that in the prior post you noted that you didn’t want section 8 tenants move next door, or that you didn’t want a Howard Student Ghetto, yet you now post about how you love the diversity of the neighborhood.

    Irony of it all is that I have Section 8 tenants and they are sweet, responsible and good people.

    Typical gentrifier.

  12. It has been said that hunger will drive a person to do anything. Yet those who visit the soup kitchen in our neighborhood are the most benign among us.

    It is those who are comfortable in the welfare state; those with the ability to purchase food using government subsidies, that appear to be the most malevolent among us.

    Grown, able-bodied men and women who do nothing except loiter and litter. Children of all ages with no sound adult role models to emulate. Drug abuse, idoltry, shameless materialistic perspectives, crimes of opportunity are all every day facets of life in this area.

    People who could walk, or ride a bike, or ride metro for two miles in any direction for a refreshing change of scenery; or travel 20 miles to see that there is so much more to life than what is tangible in the ghetto. Yet the die is cast.

    The *choice* is made. People choose to behave in unethical and immoral ways, and then blame it on productive citizens and use skin pigmentation as a justification; whites like me are “crackers” and the root of all evil, yet I make concious decisions every day that do NOT trammel upon any other person’s rights or dignity.

    Is the inverse true? Do my neighbors make conscious decisions which respect me as a person? No. I’ve had objects and insults hurled at me. I’ve been threatened by children and adults alike for merely walking down the sidewalk. I’ve been the victim of identity theft from a neighbor who stole my mail and subsequently my money by filing fraudulent forms and making false statements.

    Yes, it has challenged my beliefs. I too have moved away from the left. Personal accountablity is where civilization begins. I see little personal accountability here.

    –Seriously contemplating leaving

  13. Okeey. When I have to hit the F11 key just to read the comments… it’s time to shut it down.

    Thinking of Leaving- I am sorry for the treatment you have received. I regret that it has led you to want to leave.

    Oh and regarding the comments about my feelings on diversity…
    1- I lived in 3 college towns, my tolerance for places where college kids in their 20s is the majority goes down.
    2- Clarification- Bad section 8’ers. If you look you’ll find where I point out the difference.
    3- Yeah, I like diversity on my own terms. And the mix here is decent.

    OK folks, shows over. Go home.

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