Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Daily Images

1. While on the metro, a doting father sang a sotto voice version of "With or Without You" by U2 in a pronounced Jamaican accent to his baby son, seated before him a stroller.

2. The poverty of Anacostia, a working class neighborhood turned extreme urban blight. All white until the 1950s, it has now has one of the highest crime rates in the entire city. They measure progress there by the fact that the district now has merely half the homicides it did in the early 1990's. Condemned buildings, decay, run down churches, a lack of much infrastructure, and almost no places to eat or shop is the reality of the entire area. The one restaurant, a fast food fried fish joint that is as worn out as everything else advertises that it is black owned and black operated.

As you arrive on the Green Line metro, you walk out of the station and are promptly dumped out onto Martin Luther King. It reminds me of that Chris Rock routine. "If you find yourself on 'Martin Luther King Boulevard', run!"

Stepping off the stop and walking out into the neighborhood, I knew I was traveling out into the H-O-O-D. I have, however, learned a few things along the way and enough knew not to make eye contact with any of the passer byes. When I was in college I dated a woman who lived in a rough part of Birmingham. Her grandparents had owned the house when it was a reasonably safe working class neighborhood. Along with white flight outward in all directions from the city center, the area turned into a ghetto. I can't say I ever felt completely safe when I'd visit her, but at least I know how to minimize the likelihood of being the victim of a crime.

My destination was the Frederick Douglass house, about a ten minute walk away. While having a Harlem Experience (i.e. noticing I was the only white person within a six block area) I followed the signs to the house, which was the residence for the last few years of the life of the noted African-American abolitionist and social reformer. Apparently they don't get many Caucasian visitors to the site and to his great credit the tour guide was nice make a point to accommodate me, though it makes me a little nervous when someone points out race in any context to make a point. Cedar Hill is well maintained and stands out in great contrast to the rest of Anacostia. It's the highest point in the area and one can see the Capitol building, the Washington Monument, and the Navy Yard across the Anacostia River in the background.

3. Embassy Row, right off of Dupont Circle. The Irish Ambassador used to throw massive street parties to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. He even went to the trouble to have six Port a John's set up in front of the Embassy for use by visitors. That's hardcore. Unfortunately, he was replaced by a much stodgier representative and the parties are no more. Alas.

4. Sex Stores off Dupont Circle. Most underwhelming, unless you are into leather or like dressing in skimpy negligée. I didn't go into the gay male themed store which was completely BDSM and/or bondage oriented.


DG said...

good description of Anacostia.. although it is certainly clawing its way back to being a nice neighborhood. check out my blog about it at

Anonymous said...

I'm glad the Frederick Douglass house is being kept up as a museum, even if it isn't on the list of Stuff White People Like.

The pedagogical ghetto of Black History Month was necessary back when it was introduced, but one of its consequences has been to lower the historical significance of Frederick Douglass, who I think belongs in the first rank of commemorated Americans. I didn't learn anything substantial about Douglass in school. Had to figure it out for myself — in my forties.

Combine that with our morbid fear of "black neighborhoods" (I thought of the book "No More Prisons" by W.U. Wimsatt) and I guess it's no wonder that white folks aren't lining up to visit Douglass's home in Anacostia. Thanks to your post, though, it's first on my list next time I'm in Our Nation's Capital.®

Anonymous said...

I love the vignette of the father singing to his baby.