Trevor Noah grew up in South America and moved to the United States after achieving fame as a hard-hitting comedian. He identifies as black, though his features could be mistaken for Hispanic or even Indian. If a man like this gets pulled over repeatedly by police when he has not committed any crimes or suffered car equipment failure, then racism definitely operates in police decision making!
I have not been to a Hempstead School Board meeting since about 2002. I did not put my children into the Hempstead school system and did not give more than a passing shake of the head to articles in Newsday about contentious school board meetings.
What I saw last Thursday, June 15, the last school board meeting before the year turns over on July 1 to 2017-2018, was embarrassing. The prime element evident was division, and I don't mean heated discussion among board members.
Yesterday, May 31, 2017, I spent 3.5 hours poring over Hempstead Village births and deaths records, 1890-1910. Afterward, I returned home so hungry that I could barely expend the effort to heat food, and once I ate, I fell asleep for two hours.
Why the intensity? To my amazement, entering the records caused me to enter a living dream, wherein these people from more than 100 years past came alive. Their children got born, while their mothers' ages and the number of living siblings revealed the wild joy and heartrending trauma surrounding a growing family, and the fathers' occupations -- laborer, farmer, butcher, reporter, banker -- shaped the home in which the family constructed daily life.
Once upon a time, someone I had trusted as a friend back-stabbed me. Since then, the places where I had encountered that friend became cues for remembering the pain of betrayal. I avoid those places and keep my face forward, disallowing those memories.
But what if your cue for betrayal is your whole nation?
I say this in reference to African Americans, but it surely applies in any location where a group has been singled out as the one to demean with impunity.
Newsday is a terrific newspaper. In my role as Hempstead Village Historian, I find that my research is made easier because past historians have preserved countless Newsday clippings. The faithful detail with which Newsday reports on our village is awe-inspiring.
But I don't agree with everything that the Newsday editors say about our village. In rebuttal to a Newsday editorial that approved the addition of many apartment units as part of our village revitalization, I wrote the following (and have recieved many compliments on it):
I have just read a lengthy qualitative study of 50 African American male teen gang members. Eleven of the 50, while not denying their membership in their gangs, nonetheless stopped gang-related activity to continue their education, with future career goals in mind.
The other 39 did not do so. They did not spend time studying, but spent a lot of time watching television and playing video games (both of which are activities that I call "zoning," which temporarily numb inward pain but never resolve it).
On Tuesday, March 21, 2017, in the Hempstead Village elections, Mayor Wayne J. Hall, Sr., mayor for three terms (12 years), was not re-elected; more votes went to Don Ryan. A commentator in Long Island Newsday attributed Hall's loss to villager anger over potholes, as if all Hempstead residents -- at least, the ones who voted for Ryan -- are village idiots who would give up a good mayor over a few potholes.
The reality is that more villagers believed it was time for a change of leadership than for a continuation of leadership, not for some potholes, but for a number of long-term and complex reasons.
I love Hempstead Village. I've lived here since 1993. It is irregular. It is
diverse. It is profoundly historic. It is ill, a dying dwarf star that needs to
believe in itself if it is ever to heal, not believe that it must become what
it cannot become.
"To cross the border from Garden City into
Hempstead and not see any difference" is one stated goal for the $2.5
billion revitalization that has finally broken ground at a location on the
upper half of Main Street.
As I research my village -- my officially 55,000 but really thousands more
village -- I keep coming to the awful question: What on earth happened to the
I can see that the demographics changed. By 1961, two of
the six elementary schools were so heavily black compared to the other four
that outsiders denounced the school board, claiming de facto segregation and
demanding that the schools be integrated. The school board genuinely deliberated
a solution. Its members then released a thoughtfully worded bulletin explaining
that integrating so that each school reflected the overall percentage of black
and white in the village would mean moving 100 black students from this school
to that, and 90 white students from that school to this other, and so
Today as I spoke to a friend who
lives on my block, I learned something quite upsetting.
I have long
pondered my sense of safety here in Hempstead, New York. The village has a
relatively high crime rate. Its 130-person police force is the third largest on
Long Island; only the entire police forces in Nassau and Suffolk Counties
outsize Hempstead's. Yet neither my family members nor I have ever suffered
personal violence. We have suffered very little as far as robbery or vandalism,
despite having resided here nearly 24 years.