White people picking up litter

This morning we had a neighborhood litter pick-up in our neighborhood.  A woman down the street singlehandedly organized it, bought doughnuts and coffee, got garbage bags for everybody, and advertised by hanging signs on telephone polls.  She had maps so that we could all designate where we were going to go, so that we didn't double up, and she'd gotten permission for us to use the local elementary school's dumpster.  The effort was a great success:  lots of people came out, we hauled off bags and bags of garbage, and we got to meet each other.

And we were all white.

This is an interracial neighborhood.  My guess would be that these days it's probably 40% white, 60% black.  But it didn't surprise me that everybody who came out this morning was white.  This was an event sponsored by a well educated white woman who's lived in the neighborhood for less than a year, and all of us who came out were well educated (or in college) white folks who've lived here for five years or less.  We are the gentrifiers, but we were tired of the trash on the streets.

Biffle and I were in a great neighborhood group in Nashville.  Our neighborhood was mostly black, and it was poor and rough--the kind of place where, on a litter pick-up day, you might find used condoms or bullet casings.  Despite these very serious challenges, we actually had a very functional interracial neighborhood organization there, made possible by the efforts of a nonprofit group that exists solely to help neighborhoods organize.

In the absence of a functional interracial neighborhood group here, and a functional nonprofit that can facilitate that group's operations, I find that I'm feeling pretty cynical and resigned about our neighborhood in Charleston--a neighborhood that is in every way in far better shape than our Nashville neighborhood.  I'm aware that there are problems, but I feel unable to do anything about them.  I'm aware that it's fucked up that a bunch of white folks marched all over with their garbage bags, picking up candy wrappers and beer bottles--it could easily lead long-time neighborhood residents to say, "Who the hell do you people think you are?"  But I'm sick of the trash on the sidewalks.


Carol McCullough said...

Wow! Thanks for the props, Alison!

If you haven't visited the old neighborhood in a while, it will look pretty white to you here, too. Gentrification continues at an alarmingly steady pace.

emboogie said...

Hey Alison,

The cofc center for civic engagement always does a good job of recruiting students for trash pick ups. We recently did a "dash-for-trash" on the eastside and a pick up throughout the elliotborough area. I bet if whoever is in charge of your neighborhood association got in contact with them they would be able to get students to do some trash pick up on occasion. There are always a lot of students that come out to participate. At least 20-30 I would say and always a really diverse mix of students (black white, male, female, asian, hispanic - pretty good mix)

Rebekah said...

I live in western NC and am highly irritated by the people who drive down my little country road throwing their fast food bags, cigarette packs and butts, and beer cans, including an empty can of citrus-flavored malt liquor - with ginseng! (now THAT is gross!) into the ditches and my yard, not to mention along the highways, etc. In addition, if you don't live in a town, you have to take your trash to the dump and if it blows out of the back of your pick-up truck - oh well! The lack of respect and pride people have for their own environment, their own living space, is frustrating.

Tracy said...

What neighborhood are you in specifically? I am trying to remember where your house is & I can't. We are in North Central, right off of King Street (about a block up from Moes) At any rate, our street is TRASHED at any given time. I came home last night to what looked like someone had toilet papered the street. It has got to stop, but we really don't know what to do!

micahblaise said...

Whoa! It's crazy that you wrote this because I had the exact same reaction. Actually, a friend of mine and fellow guilt-ridden gentrifier called me on his way to work (around 11) to tell me there was a White lady handing things out on the corner of Fishburne and that I'd better go check it out. As someone tapped into the tenuous racial dynamics on the Westside, he was concerned she might be doing something totally insensitive or wrongheaded - an anxiety I definitely identify with.

I was really excited about the cleanup because I thought I would finally be able to interact with my neighbors without actually having to be brave. I was not so lucky - guess I have to step up to the plate and actually start conversations with neighbors that aren't young White "artsy" twentysomethings. Is that how we start "doing something"? I'm kind of at a loss too, and I often feel really ingenuine, because I think that I identify with anti-racist/-classist values but I know I'm not putting them into action like I should be. I wonder what is barring interracial relationships from forming in our neighborhood? I imagine it's a number of things.

A place to start, maybe: the Sanitation Workers' movement. The support is very diverse and I believe a number of the members live near us.

micahblaise said...

Oh, and I want to add: While Nathan and I were picking up trash, I was wondering who the litterers are. I think it's safe to assume a good number of them are the gentrifiers, especially the young beer-drinkin' ones who can roam the streets and drop trash at all hours without worrying about being hassled by the cops (a privilege not enjoyed by young men&women of color in Charleston).

The issue of gentrification is so multivalent and close to home! It's really hard for me to wrap my mind around all the different pieces involved, let alone what to do about them.

Chantelle said...

the west side neighborhood association met a few weeks ago and I always assumed was regularly tended and directed by african-americans, (the Vice President of the committee came storming into Rutledge Cafe with powerful black female feury the other day demanding that we take standard proto call procedures and attend the next meeting to discuss our hours) I am not sure what the history of this association is, or when they meet, but I do know they care about beautification! I know the next one is in Jan. and I really want to go. I have plans to plant a garden on race st. and I want to know if people in our neighborhood even like to cook with veggies?!