I live in Central Harlem and moved here about 10 years ago. This is the nicest neighborhood I’ve ever lived in—lots of elegant, single-family brownstones, and I’m half-a-block from the quite-large Marcus Garvey Park. We have an active neighborhood association (the Mount Morris Park Neighborhood Association, which is an association for all of the Mount Morris Park Historic Preservation District). On Saturday, I went to a lavish party celebrating the coming $4-million-dollar renovation atop the acropolis in the park of the oldest remaining fire watchtower in the city.
But never mind all that. The one time I saw Marcus Garvey Park on television, it was during a police drama that depicted a bad person being hunted down in the park. In fact, any time I hear Harlem mentioned on a TV drama, it’s in conjunction with some drug dealer living here. Even a feature story on the Harlem Children’s Zone for a TV news magazine a couple of years ago made Harlem sound rundown and dangerous, a place where only those from the impoverished underclass live.
The stereotype lives.
Of course people who are a little more sophisticated don’t shake in their Cole Haan’s when they hear the word “Harlem”; they know that Harlem is a residential destination of choice. But to the general U.S. public, Harlem remains a place of lurking peril because of… color—and the easy, off-hand ability of the media to perpetuate a popular myth: Color means crime.
I haven’t found that to be true. People in this neighborhood are church going and have genteel, Southern manners. Despite centuries of racism aimed in the direction of their ancestors and them, they aren’t anti-white (well, a few may be). Furthermore, in the Harlem of today, fatherhood is prized and children are cherished and well-cared for. While I might have seen a drug dealer or two—I can’t be sure—even they will open the door for or offer a seat on the bus to a woman.
The truth is we live in pretty homogenous society with some few differences in culture, but we’re still under the divide-and-conquer, blame-it-on-them yoke.
Our responsibility is not to believe everything we hear and not to take to heart the messages sent via TV. And let’s get over this color thing already. Enough. It’s simply not relevant.