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.
Our safety, I thought, was in spite of our being white in a majority-minority community. We took precautions, of course, but although my oldest son frequently had to come home from the LIRR at 1:00 a.m., and I have walked home from the Greyhound depot at midnight, we have never been molested. One sunny afternoon, a teen tried to life my son's wallet at the LIRR station, but he ran off when my son yelled.
My friend is a dark-skinned woman whose ancestry is from India. Her native country is Trinidad. She leaves early each morning -- 5:30 a.m. -- to take a bus to her job as a teaching assistant. This afternoon she commented to me that once when she was going out the gate for the bus, and another time when she came home after dark, a black man (different guy each time) stumbling up the block saw her and cursed at her. She hurried away, believing the man was on drugs.
She has been saving up to buy a little condo and says she does not want to live in Hempstead.
Why has such a thing never happened to me? After all my research, I now believe that my safety is not in spite of my being white, but rather because I am white. Nonwhites are more vulnerable to crime from everyone, including each other, perhaps because the penalty for harm to a white person is still greater than to a nonwhite person.
My essays about the relative safety of Hempstead Village, and the unfairness of its dishonorable reputation, now seem the uniformed discourse of an ignorant person; or at least, of a person not in a position to realistically evaluate what is going on around me.
Were I to ask a nonwhite person to confirm my perceptions, would it shut the conversation down or open it up? This depends on the particular person I ask. But I need to know.