Suburban Discrimination

New York City: Wake up and it’s another day, voice or no voice, in the madness and mayhem of the city.  In a cruel scheduling irony though I had committed to speaking to a class at Sarah Lawrence College and being interviewed on the train going up and back to Bronxville from Grand Central.  This was laughable!  Whispering my way through the morning, I had just enough voice to be understood somewhat hoarsely in the auditorium where we talked about politics and the role that community organizations like ACORN and unions are playing these days.  The students were kind and generous, so no permanent harm was done.

 Professor Ray Seidelman drove us back to the train station from the college, and we inquired about housing prices.  The sky seems to no longer set the ceiling on prices in the suburbs.  Modest frame homes were pushing a million.  Brick with more appointments soared past that mark and farther than the mind could grasp.  Ray shared that the demographics of Bronxville thanks to the quick 25 minute odd train ride from there to Grand Central still make this area a rare suburban enclave that was still mostly white, still staunchly Republican even compared to the rest of Westchester County, and still almost as anti-Semitic in fact as its reputation had made it for many decades.  Who says rapid transit doe not matter to the upper middle class?  It was a casual, but profound, lesson in how the more things change, the more they seem the same.

 I was reminded that for all of the issues in our cities, suburbs are still dangerous and frightening places on some very basic social and human justice issues.   Recently, ACORN’s Long Island office, based in Hempstead, released a report that on housing discrimination by race and ethnicity in Nassau County for example.  ACORN has used “testers” in dealing with real estate rental agencies in order to see if African-Americans or Hispanics would be dealt with in any different fashion in securing apartments in Nassau that whites.

 Here is what Long Island ACORN found.  White testers sent into real estate agencies were told there were apartments available 93% of the time, while black and Hispanic testers were told the same thing only 53% of the time.  Furthermore, nearly a third of the minority testers were steered to different, usually less affluent areas, while only 2% of the white testers were steered elsewhere.

 Tragically for our communities and society, we all know that this problem is not isolated in Nassau, but is ubiquitous in suburban — and even urban — America.  So common that many African-Americans and Hispanics simply can not have the time to devote to filing complaints about each occurrence of discrimination.  Eventually, people become hardened, if not inured, to this problem.  They try to get on with their lives, scars and all, or their lives would be nothing but waiting in one line after another, at one agency after another, watching their lives leak out while filing another complaint about discrimination which is obvious, systemic, and increasingly trivial when measured against enforcement.

 Meanwhile Westchester home values soar, Nassau tries to maintain some level of exclusivity, the national housing crises goes unabated, overcrowding in cities accelerates, generations of Americans are scarred and diminished permanently, and the train runs like clockwork into Grand Central Station.



 Brooklyn, New York: Today I woke in Brooklyn at 530 am – good time for running in Fredrick Law Olmstead’s Prospect Park on a raw spring morning in the big city.  A mile or so out – I felt funny, and came in.  Something was happening weird. 

8:00 a.m. conference call – voice felt funny, like something was stuck in it.  9:00 a.m. and I convened a meeting of the Management Council, and by noon the voice was virtually gone.  That feeling that you need to clear your throat, but for some reason, you just cannot do it. By mid-afternoon, I was reduced to a whisper!  I virtually needed a translator to bring the meeting in by 5:00 pm. 

Strangely, when a cold lodges in one’s larynx, you feel all right generally, except for the fact that one is squeaking and bleeping instead of talking.  One second I was speaking, and the next I was hoping that someone could understand my quiet gasps over a cell phone line.  No way to live and a worse way to work!

I always remember reading frequently about President Clinton in his time or Howard Dean more recently and the common complaint of one politician after another whose voice suddenly disappears.  But how could that be me?  I would swear I was neither talking that much or that loud – trust me!

Advice came through the email from New Orleans:  vitamin C – and lots of it – tea with lemon and honey and citrus in mass quantities.  And come home, which is the only thing they in fact do not sell at a health food store.

What a drag?

Every couple of years about this time this will spring up out of nowhere and silence me in some irony of rough justice.

How does one keep this from happening in the first place?