Safety part 1

A woman rushed up to me and in a breathless flurry enveloped me in a hug and said "I saw more bad things happening in Chicago on the news. THANK GOD YOU ARE HERE!"

Amidst questions about our family, people are always intrigued to hear we are from Chicago. The conversation turns into knowing nods and half smiles accompanied by "Of course you wanted to leave there! You must be so relieved to be here in Winston." 

People have even cut me off while Im literally answering their questions about our cross country move to interpose their own commentary on safety and how I arrived in the epitome of it here in North Carolina. Ive been reminded often of this white cultural love affair with the idea of SAFETY.

Sometimes I sigh in resignation and let them talk themselves around, sometimes I attempt to explain lofty theological concepts like "The Christian life isn't one of seeking out and sitting in safety" or "Safety and comfort are purely American values, not Christian ones."

One time I even ventured out to plainly say "I don't think you mean, what you think you mean, when you say safety."  

Im pretty sure "safety" is one of those code words that some white people are using to mean something else they don't have the courage to say.
You know, like "Inner City" or "Under resourced" or any of the other words we come up with to cushion the blow of when we want to discuss people that are not as "Safe" as us. 

The Avery's are loud and proud about being from the South side of Chicago. Woodlawn, specifically.  We moved from a neighborhood where I was one of very few white people, to a neighborhood where my son and husband were one of very few not white people. We have moved again in the same city, to a somewhat more diverse neighborhood and its been a relief, but we are located on the predominately white side of the city still. 

I think we all have a tendency to think where we are, if we WANT to be there, is the best, right?

Hometown pride and all of that. Im down with it. I have a little fancy North Carolina blue HOME sticker on my fridge to encourage us to settle down and bloom where we are planted here.

There is an added layer of that neighborhood or hometown pride that I find diverting and worthy of contemplation in homogeneously white communities. The idea that this white community harbors more "safety."

What is this inherent safety-ness? I have contemplated this for years. 

In Chicago, my grandma live in the very NW corner of the city. Decades ago, her and my grandfather moved there specifically to that very street because it is the last street inside the city limits and thus satisfying the requirement of my grandfathers job as a fireman to live inside the city limits. After coming up in the busy, loud city as the children of Austrian and Irish immigrants they were ready to move out as resources allowed. What was a bustling Polish and Irish immigrant neighborhood upon their arrival has now mellowed into a quiet, built up, tree lined, yard impeccably maintained, nondescript ALL white neighborhood.

So much so, that when a split level house across the street from her was bought by two joined families of Latino descent and all of the neighborhood discussed "The Mexicans" there was not any question who they were talking about. This neighborhood was seen as a bastion of safety and rated year after year as one of the top neighborhoods to raise your family by local newspapers.  Every year my aunt would send my grandmother this neighborhood rating list, prominently circling that neighborhood at the top of the list and then Woodlawn, where we lived, which usually was located a few places from the very bottom of the list. It wasn't helpful, to say the least.

But who was this neighborhood Safe for?
Was it safe for me when I moved back in with my grandma in my mid twenties to get my life together? My car got broken into in the middle of the night three times on her one block long street, and her garage was broken into while I lived there at least once. Many of the neighbors also had garage break ins, car break ins, etc. A ladder was stolen from my grandma's back yard also.

Was it safe at that time for my Mexican boyfriend- who upon arrival at our house to pick me up for a date was redirected by next door neighbors who were sitting on their porch. He was sent across the street to the house where 'the Mexicans" lived because surely, he was there for them. Quite the confusion ensued.

Was it safe for my African American friends who took the bus and had to walk three blocks to my grandmas house? Apparently, it was the safest for them because someone called the police to escort them alllll the way to my door. Gracious. 

When we first moved here to Winston Salem, we lived in a wonderful little house in a charming, curving road, rolling hilly neighborhood with backyards and long driveways.
No street lights.
Our second night here my husband had an evening meeting to attend. I sat in this new house, on this silent, dark, empty street and was TERRIFIED.
I texted a woman named Wendy that had befriended us before we moved here. I told her I was shook.
Where were all the people? What were they doing?  Had I missed the rapture?
The silence and stark vacancy of the public street was scary.
I couldn't even see across the street, the darkness was so unbroken by almost any light.
She was unavailable at the time, but offered to send over her teenaged daughter to be with me in my overwhelming fear. I remember thinking, "she is going to send her daughter out at this time of night over here?" I laugh as I sit here remembering it was 7:30 pm. Our former neighborhood here, Ardmore, is consistently touted as the safest. (In this post, I'm not even going to touch upon the heavy use of code words to describe neighborhoods that are deemed not as appropriate or safe for families. Perhaps that will be part 2) 

Im not shy about telling people the truth, I do not feel safer here in Winston than I did in Chicago. Anywhere in Chicago. Chicago was my home, and I understood the communication style, the actions, the neighborhoods, the whole scene. I knew how to get where I wanted to go. I knew my place.

But it was and is more than that. 

In neighborhoods of a lower economic class, people are out on their porches and on the street. The entertainment is community. People enjoy and relish in community happenings and relationships. You know ALLL your neighbors.

Its glorious.

Im used to the eyes on the street mentality, if I needed anything I just had to step outside of my door and there are a bunch of people there. We always had great relationships and multiple neighbors looking out for us. Safety was never an issue, even as a woman walking alone from the train at all hours of the day or night.
*I want to be crystal clear that a part of that was a level of white privilege I was afforded, and part of that was I knew how to carry myself...but I didn't ever have a sense of fear on the street.

I felt safe. 


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