Sunday, May 1, 2011

Lost in Two Cities

Originally Posted on April 1, 2007

The class continues our exploration of the issues home surrounding race, ethnicity and language this week. Another book already grabbed my psyche for Monday’s discourse. This time, it is a set of stories set in the 1960’s in Washington, D.C.’s African-American community. Yet, another familiar scenario that I have quite a bit of knowledge about!

One thing that I was looking for was the fact of segregation in the District at that time. One line stood out clearly as the book’s characters mention by crossing a certain city would put them in the predominantly Causcasian neighborhoods. Another fact of segregation came in the form of how the police handled a missing child incident in one of the stories. By telling a concerned father that his child can be considered a missing person after 48 hours, it makes you wonder what if it was a white child that was missing how quickly the Metropolitan Police would fill out a report on her?

However, the book did not cover was the reaction to Bobby Mitchell’s signing to the Redskins in 1961. It was an event that came too late for the African-American community in the city, as it would be the last “first black player” signing in the National Football League. With the expansion Dallas Cowboys signing black players the season before, it explains the roots of the rivalry between these two football teams and the reason why generations of African-American football fans would never root for the ‘Skins in their hometown.

Granted the Bobby Mitchell signing may be a trivial point, but it has a lot to do with the mindset of the city at the era the book is set in. It also explains the continuous segregation of the region, extending further into the suburbs of Prince George’s County, Maryland. These are the sad facts of a Southern city in the 1960’s before the District was given the right to self-government.

On a related topic, as I was working on my latest paper for class, I listened to my weekly podcast from ABC Radio National in Australia. Their “Street Stories” program is one of my favorite shows on radio as it serves you a slice of Australian life. If you happen to live down under, “Street Stories” airs every Sunday evening throughout the country.

This week’s episode of “Street Stories” couldn’t have come at the right time. It takes place in the western New South Wales city of Dubbo and the demolition of the Gordon Estate on the city’s west side. The Gordon Estate is one of the projects where Aboriginal people lived, separated from the rest of the town. There is a story around Dubbo that states if your car was stolen in town, you would find it somewhere on the Gordon Estate. There was a lot of drug dealing and criminal activity that occurred in the projects.

On New Year’s Eve in 2005, a riot erupted on the Gordon Estate. As a reaction to the riot, New South Wales Department of Housing decided to shut down the entire community and remove all of the families to other parts of Dubbo. Aboriginals complained that instead of destroying the entire community that the Dubbo City Council and state law enforcement go after the criminals and remove them from the Gordon Estate.

Now, Aboriginal families are facing a two-pronged form of discomfort. As they were moved into white neighborhoods, their neighbors were concerned that the former Gordon tenants would bring their problems right to their doorstep. This was compounded that the state government moved the troublemakers along with those who were law abiding. The latter did not sit well with many of the Aboriginals formerly living at the Gordon Estate.

Yet, many of the former residents of the Estate continue to visit relatives still living in the projects. The demolition is not complete and several residents remain on the property. When you hear the program, you can feel these voices as they still consider Gordon their "home."

For more background information and to listen to the podcast log on here.

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