How to Move Into A New Neighborhood That Everyone Thinks is Dangerous (Part 2)

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The last post, while certainly true, was a bit vague. There was little context for some of the things I said. The post was primarily a reflective response to the conversation with our realtor. At no point did I intend to label everyone who objected to our move to Oak Cliff as racists or anything of the sort, but I did want to express my frustration at a) the racism that motivated some of the comments of the realtor and b) the fact that we didn’t challenge him on it.

Nevertheless, it is true that race, wealth, and “safety,” all relate to each other in ways that we often have trouble separating from each other. Some people (and, honestly, I’m going to stay vague with the who-said-whats because I want this series to be more about our thoughts and general ideas, and less about a back and forth with other people) with whom we have talked about our move have whispered comments about the Mexicans, but most people are straightforwardly, and exclusively, concerned with the reports of drug trafficking and violence in Oak Cliff. Which is fair enough.

Like I said in the last post, I think I can make a case for the systematic causes of poverty–and thus the drug trafficking, violence, and other social ills engendered by the lack of education and resources–in parts of Oak Cliff. I may, at a future date, do some research about the historic causes of poverty in Oak Cliff, but I am not all that interested in that discussion right now. It is more important to me how we people of privilege respond when we encounter areas that do not operate in the ways we think they should operate.

It is easy enough when violence occurs to issue the simple dictum: don’t do that! But such a response is not fully cognizant of the reasons for violence. In impoverished areas, violence is often caused by a) lack of resources, b) lack of meaningful work, and c) lack of a robust moral imagination (which is tied to having good education and having loving and supportive families). Even easier than issuing the dictum “don’t do that!” (which we see when communities increase law enforcement presence and incarceration rates), is to leverage what resources we have and move away into suburban enclaves. This is the history of “white flight” in our country.

None of this, though, directly addresses the immediate and practical concern: are Amanda and I willing to put ourselves at a higher risk of being the victims of violence? And, maybe secondarily, why? The answers to these questions are complicated and nuanced, and perhaps will never be fully resolved, but here are a few starters:

Amanda and I have each had, since living in Abilene, face-to-face encounters with those who have less than we do. There was Edna, who came begging when she had nothing left. And there is another friend, Katie, who is probably mentally-ill and sabotages her opportunities to improve her lot. There was Timothy who we tried to fix but couldn’t (and I’m not sure we had any idea what “fixing” might mean, or the implications of thinking we could). There are all of the people to whom we deliver meals for Meals on Wheels. Most of these people have fewer resources and less privilege than we do, but they are people and they have stories and they are hungry. I won’t say that I didn’t know not everyone lived like me before moving to Abilene, but I will say that I never saw it (except on mission trips to foreign countries) before Abilene.

Additionally, Amanda and I have further encountered poverty and issues of social justice in our different fields. As a nurse in one of two hospitals in town, Amanda has seen people from all kinds of circumstances. She has seen prisoners and drug addicts and crack babies. She has seen lonely old people and those without insurance and depressed mothers. She has seen the way our healthcare system, and our hospital system, treat people who need holistic care but instead get a bed, an IV, and discharge papers. While I have not been out of my bubble of privilege as much, I have spent most of my academic career thus far reading and writing about poverty, injustice, and racism. My thesis is an analysis of documents from The Open Door Community, and I hope to augment my research in my doctoral work with ethnographic and hands-on research.

Nevertheless, we are not out to do “mission” work or to sell everything we have and become homeless in solidarity with the oppressed. We (and maybe this is a lack of imagination) have a very practical, and (I think properly) self-centered and pragmatic approach to our immediate future. I am will be starting my PhD at UT Arlington this fall. It will take me five years to complete. Amanda has found a job at Texas Health Resources in north Dallas. Our goal is to live “normal” lives, but in doing so we want to be open to the diverse and suffering world around us. We have adoption and foster care on our hearts. Amanda has mused about community nursing, and I have thought about getting involved in community and developmental education work.

While we both grew up in affluent and privileged enclaves in the suburbs, we both firmly want to live in the city. We have no problem with the diversity of race, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, religion, culture, or ethnicity present in the urban core of many cities. In fact, such diversity is a feature that we actively desire. We also openly embrace urban living (smaller residences, shared/communal spaces, pedestrian-friendly areas, public transportation, etc) because it appeals to our sense that we are dependent on other people, that we must rely on more than just ourselves. That all of us, and I mean this as big as possible, are part of an ecosystem (literally and metaphorically) and should act like it. If nothing else, the suburbs create the illusion of “fortress me,” or at least they do in my perception.

So why Oak Cliff and not somewhere else? Surely we could find a place to live in Dallas, close to the urban core, that did not carry the same risks. Well, not really:

We picked the duplex in northern Oak Cliff because it fit almost every feature we were looking for in a new home. It was within our price range (which was REALLY hard to find in Dallas, by the way). It has a fenced backyard for the dogs. It is a block away from a nice park. It is only two miles from a lively urban area, in this case The Bishop Arts District. It is near a DART rail station. And, perhaps most wonderfully, it is located about halfway between UT Arlington and Texas Health Resources. It’s about twenty miles from my place of work in one direction, and about twenty miles from Amanda’s in the other.

While we are not immune to concerns about violence and crime, those concerns do not control us. There are areas in Dallas we would not live in because the cost in safety would not be worth the potential benefits, but that is not the case with Oak Cliff. How we draw that line is subjective, but is rooted in a lot of factors.

No, Oak Cliff is not as safe as living in a suburb or living in one of the wealthy enclaves of north Dallas (like Highland Park), but it is not the crime infested ghetto that is has the reputation of being (and even if it was, that would not necessarily mean we should not live there; safety can be an idol, after all). Most things I have read about Oak Cliff is that it is a mixed bag. There are “good” spots and there are “bad” spots. Most of the anecdotal evidence I have read or heard from people who live there have indicated that it is generally a great place to live, but there are places you want to be smart about.

As for crime, the statistics I have been able to find indicate that Oak Cliff is about the middle of the pack for Dallas. While Dallas as a whole has high(ish) crime for similar cities, Oak Cliff has a lower crime rate than about fifty percent of Dallas. Crime is higher in large urban areas because of pockets of poverty, the close proximity in which people live, and the heterogeneity of the city. These are all aspects of the city that Amanda and I want to be open to.

All of this to say, we are aware of the reputation that Oak Cliff has, and of the (conflicting) reports about crime and safety. For northern Oak Cliff, the crime rate and incidents of violence, theft, and property damage are at levels we are willing to tolerate, and, honestly, Oak Cliff is undergoing a resurgence. Our values are sometimes different from other people that we nevertheless love and respect. While others may put a premium on safety from crime and violence, that is not something that we put a premium on, at least not right now. We are perfectly aware that we may not be fully informed, that we may be naive, that perhaps we don’t have the life experience necessary to make decisions like this well, but for right now we trust the anecdotes from people who have lived there, the endorsement given by our new neighbor (a middle-aged, middle-class single woman), and the feeling of rightness we have about this decision.

As always, comments and feedback are welcome. The reason I post these in a public venue, and then share on Facebook, is because I want to hear what others think. We can’t do this alone. We can’t live in a bubble and pretend like we are infallible and unbreakable.

I’m confident that I will have more to say in the future. As always, thanks for reading.

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