Monday, September 22, 2008

Paranoia or Reality

I'm new to Memphis, and over the last two years I have encountered more fear of the "other" than anywhere I have ever been. When I lived in Cleveland and worked as a volunteer and then a staff person for Habitat for Humanity, I hung out in dicey areas (including the ward with the highest crime rate in the city). I knew families in those neighborhoods. I wouldn't go wandering around at night, but I'd often walk in the neighborhoods by myself, out to see how building was progressing. I sure wouldn't walk around at night unless I was with a group from the neighborhood. But I knew people; I knew that if I got into trouble or was afraid, there were houses I could go to. I went to church in Hough area (the one that went up in flames in 68) lots of times.

A parishioner, a young woman, is working in a rough neighborhood, about a mile from where I live. (Our neighborhood has been described as the doughnut hole in midtown, as being relatively crime free because we have a private security guard who cruises the neighborhood 24/7.) She works for an organization that has an after school program for 6 to 14 year olds. She talks about crack houses. The neighborhood president will no longer go to her agency because the president called the police on the crack houses and the president is concerned that people will associate her with the agency and the agency will be attacked. The parishioner thought about bringing some of the children to our church for a Sunday school experience but decided that would be dangerous for the congregation. The children might tell their fathers, brothers, etc where the church is and they might come and do something at the church. She is concerned because someone blew up a car in the street the other night.

Now, there is a real difference between Memphis and Cleveland. In Memphis, bad neighborhoods abut good neighborhoods. The city is segregated, but on a block by block basis. Children of white liberals go to the city schools. So, I just don't know whether Memphis is as dangerous as folks tell me it is. Is it dangerous or is it simply racism? I don't know how to sort it out. I ask people I trust and they tell me it is as dangerous as I've been told, but I just don't know.