In response to this: http://www.soundportraits.org/on-air/ghetto_life_101/
=================( Questions & Answers - LONG )
Smoke, alcohol (both spilled and on the breath), an odor I can only name as “Sick” because it clings to chronically ill people and hospitals, baby diapers. The story doesn’t mention any cooking smells, but I couldn’t help remembering how an old friend of mine always smelled like buttered toast every morning when we picked her up from school – she lived in a ghetto.
City noise, gunshots, raised voices, television, children laughing despite everything.
d) Feelings in the project (on the body, e.g., cold)
Autumn chill, that early-morning semi-dampness that can hardly be called “dew” when there’s nothing green for it to cling to, phantom (or maybe even real) insects crawling on your arms and feet.
e) Inner feelings of project dwellers (e.g., happy, sad)
Optimistic, disheartened, afraid of giving up, afraid of dying, afraid of living another day, hopeful that you’ll be different, grief over the missed opportunities of others who WERE different and gave up, respect for the strong role models in your life, a mixture of love and pity for those who have failed you.
2.) How do you think living in the Ida B’s affects a child’s self-concept?
I would imagine it would make a child feel like an unwanted pet – something you cannot destroy, but that you’d rather not think much about, either. I would make anyone feel less than human.
a) How does it compare with how each of you grew up?
I grew up in a town that had been abandoned by practically anyone who had ever held any pride in living there. It was quite a while before those who were left had the resources to turn the community back into a place they could be proud of. At which point, it was no longer a town my family really felt at home in. I spent a lot of my childhood and youth wishing and waiting to escape, hoping I’d survive long enough to do so. Eventually, I did.
There were a few extremely lean years there in my mid-late teens. Beans and tortillas were served up three times a day. It was years before I could so much as LOOK at another Burrito again – thank God for Freebirds! I’m sure LeAlan and Lloyd had it much worse – they had fewer memories of good times and less to look forward to. The fact that they each had a strong role-model set them apart from their peers – they were the lucky ones.
3.) What can be done to change places like the Ida B’s?
Building houses and providing basic welfare isn’t enough. Maintenance must be provided to the structures and the lives within. This is why I believe that private organizations and churches do a better job of ministering to the poor and needy than the government can. The Projects need to be about the PEOPLE, not the NUMBERS. Get the number-crunchers out of it and let the people who feel led to help, whether by a Higher Power or by their own experiences, come in and take over.
a) How can we offer hope to the children of the projects?
These kids need to be exposed to more success stories of people just like them. I think schools should focus less on grades and more on futures. Too many of today’s youth believe that fame and fortune are all that matter, and if you cannot attain them, then your life is meaningless. The media both lifts, and dashes, the hopes of these kids. They need to see that life CAN be good somewhere between the ghettos and the mansions. They need to learn that happiness and fulfillment can be attained through good, hard work regardless of what color your skin, or your color, might be. Of course, it would be nice if this were still true, but then maybe the key to MAKING it true again is TEACHING it as truth.
4.) What do each of you believe made LeAlan and Lloyd different?
I really believe that the greatest asset each of them had was a good role-model. LeAlan’s was his grandmother and Lloyd’s was his sister. They also seemed to have vivid imaginations and a longing for a better life, coupled with the as-yet-undamaged belief that such a life COULD be realized if they never lost hope. Even as they threw rocks onto cars and professed a lack of concern for insurance policy holders, you could tell that they each dreamed of driving a white blazer into the suburbs, themselves, someday.
a) Do you think they would have gone to college without their NPR pieces? Why?
I never heard their grades mentioned, but I assume it would depend on what sort of grades they made. Again, imagination is a key component to success. Of course, having someone from the outside reach in and say, “your voice matters” would be a terrific incentive to stay optimistic and continue to better yourself. I really think more of that outreach is needed in the projects.
The question is, without the NPR pieces, could these boys have made better lives for themselves WITHOUT a college education? Could they have found any other way out?
5.) If each of you had to go spend 7 days and 7 nights in the Ida B’s:
a) What would you take with you?
Beans and tortillas. I survived on them before, I can do it again. Ditto for Ramen Noodles. I’d take a sleeping bag and a blow-up pillow. I’d take a gun – something small that could be easily hidden. I’d take a harmonica – no, I don’t really play, but it might give me a chance to learn and an excuse to talk to people, join in on a street-corner jam session. Maybe I’d be better off with a plastic pickle tub and a pair of chopsticks. I’d take a small Bible. Most importantly, I’d take a ready smile and an honest expression so I could look everyone I meet in the eye and greet them as a friend. That has served me well walking to bus stops in cities like Houston and Dallas.
b) What do you think the culture shock would be like?
The only shock I can imagine experiencing would be the difference between a Northern city and a Texas city. Here, people respond favorably to a friendly smile from a stranger. Would they do so there? I’ve lived in neighborhoods my own family feared to enter. I’ve walked through ghettos at night in the rain when I was forced to work past the hour the busses ran. I’ve befriended people I later learned could have just as easily slit my throat. I’m sad to say that I am more shocked, these days, by the kindness of others than I am by the horrors of this world.
6.) How does race shape identity and inform relationships between self and other?
It shouldn’t, but it tends to immediately place people into categories of “us” and “them.” It would be better if people focused more on CULTURE than race and studied the differences, and similarities, between cultures so as to better understand each other.
My family never really identified ourselves as “White” or even “Caucasian.” My mother’s family is, for the most part, English and we patterned our lifestyles around the British culture. My mother likes to tap into her “German” culture when she needs strength – she hates it when I remind her that we have no German ancestry at all… it’s Danish. “Close enough!” she says. Frankly, I think my strength comes from that itty-bitty strain of Choctaw Indian in my maternal line – the one that was kept hidden from nearly four generations and was only discovered when I was 16. On the other side of my family, there’s a heavy Scots-Irish influence, as well as some Viking that, legend has it, began when one of the Norse gods “tupped” with a human woman. I figure that’s where my weirder characteristics came from – there’s some part of me that’s not quite human. Again, this is more about Ethnicity than race.
I think race is more of an issue with African-Americans than it is with Caucasians or Asians – perhaps because there is more diversity among those two races than there is in the Negroid race (at least, outside of Africa). In that case, I suppose race shapes identity when that is all one knows of oneself and where they came from.
a) What is the relationship between race and culture?
I was taught that there are three races: Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid. The first two listed (in order by alphabet, nothing else) each include a variety of cultures and ethnicities. Some make joke that all Asians look alike, but they don’t – not if you know what to look for. There is a distinct difference in the shape of the heads, faces, and facial features – particularly the cheekbones. Not all Mongoloids have “almond-shaped eyes,” either – if I recall correctly, Native Americans are considered part of the Mongoloid race and their features tend to appear more Caucasoid. Caucasians not only come in various shapes and sizes, they include a far more diverse range of coloring, too – to the naked eye, anyway. I am unaware of the differences in the ethnicities within the Negroid race. If they are as varied, I would be fascinated to learn more about them.
Race is merely DNA… nothing more. Culture is what defines us. There are a multitude of differing practices, beliefs, recipes, songs, costumes, dances, stories, etc., that make up a culture. Ethnicity is the bringing together of nature and nurture.
b) What is the relationship between race and power?
There should be NO relationship there. Race only has power when you GIVE it power. Ironically, it is up to the downtrodden to give power to those who would abuse it. That’s what’s so special about this country – it was designed to give power to EVERYONE! Unfortunately, sometimes those who have lived without freedom don’t know what to do with it when they get it and they too quickly toss away their own personal power in return for letting someone else take care of them. Power is what YOU make of it, regardless of the color of your skin or the shape of your eyes.
c) Discuss race and what it means to be an American?
America is a country without a race. We are all mutts, here. In the Broadway musical, “1776,” Ben Franklin is quoted as saying, “We've spawned a new race here... Rougher, simpler; more violent, more enterprising; less refined. We're a new nationality.” And that was before the three races began openly interbreeding! Why, the Hispanic population is a combination of the Mongoloid and Caucasoid races that has mingled so completely that it can no longer be deemed either and it covers such a large area that several new Ethnicities have grown out of it. Here in America, most Hispanics identify themselves as either Mexican, Cuban or Puerto Rican – three very distinct cultures right there! Americans may speak English, but we are not Canadians or Australians or even British, anymore. To some degree, each State has formed its very own culture – especially here in Texas. To be an American is to be free to define your own identity, regardless of race, ethnicity, culture or birthplace. To be an American is to be Human… as wonderful as we are flawed.
d) How do notions of race shape a community? A nation?
That’s hard for me to say, really. America is such a diverse nation and Texas is one of, if not the very, most diverse States. I’ve rarely seen race have any positive, progressive effect on a community. Usually, racial issues merely tear things down, not build them up. Focus on Culture can be a positive thing, but outside the laboratory, any focus on race, is not.
e) How does race affect membership and belonging?
Again, I don’t really know. I am a Texas of primarily Northern European descent. I have never identified myself as “White.” When asked to give my race, if “Caucasian” is not an option, I generally check “Other.” Having grown up in a heavily Hispanic part of Texas, I love Tejano music, Mexican dresses and my non-Hispanic, partially-racist family has ALWAYS eaten Tamales and Chili and Queso on Christmas Eve. The only time race has ever affected my membership in anything, it was to exclude me. Or maybe I just never had an interest in any club that would only have people like me as members.
f) What is a community- a real community?
A community is a group of people who have something in common – usually, something they value. They may be families living on a military base who each come from different backgrounds and states, who worship differently and have different hobbies, whose children, if any, are different ages, but still they get together every week for a barbeque to celebrate the sameness of their commitment to protecting our freedom. A community could be people from all over the world who don’t even speak the same language, but who share a love for children who are not quite normal and a desire to seek treatment for these children so they may live full and happy lives. They may be a group of young people who have nothing more in common than being misunderstood by “polite” society. They may be lonely hearts who have never met face-to-face, yet find solace in chatrooms conversing with souls who may, or may not, actually be who they pretend to be. A community is a group of individuals who each give a little of themselves to the whole.
g) How can a community be built without race issues or anyone being ethnocentric?
I’m not sure I even know how to answer this question. It just seems like a non-issue to me. Most of the communities I have encountered are based on similarities BEYOND race. Culture, maybe, but not race, and then it is more a cause for celebration, rather than dissention. I think more Americans build communities based on commonalities these days. Race just doesn’t enter into the equation.