Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Why do they have to be black?

The passage that, for me, revealed the most about Tess's character was on page 15 when she says, "'City kids-' she had started to say 'poor black kids,' but caught herself." This, along with several other parts of the novel expose Tess's ignorance of her surrounding community. Her later interaction with Jackie proves this ignorance when she blatently asks for Jackie's help merely because she is black. Jackie tries to explain the case of Treasure and Destiny to her but she does not quite seem to be able to grasp it.
Why is it that we automatically think of black people when we think of inner cities? Although not many people are willing to admit it, I'll bet that one of the first things a person thinks about when they hear about the inner workings of a city is African-Americans. For whatever reason, they symbolize the urban poor. I can speak for myself too. Student teaching in an "urban fringe" school, I think of an urban school and I think of Black students- and I'm not wrong either.
What bothers me even more is that not only do we immediately assume that a conversation about cities is a conversation about black people, but we assume that when we talk about a city we talk about its poverty. In this class, we seem to always return to the poverty and hunger that plagues every major city as if it is the central theme of the class. Cities are much more than that. A bus ride into baltimore is not just about the disinfranchised of our community, but also everything else. Its all of the good parts of a city too. When we read Lippman's novel, we confront the urban poor, the African Americans of the city, but we also encounter Tess's coffee stops, her dinner dates, her descriptions of surrounding communities. Baltimore is as much Fells Point and Loyola College and Charles Village as it is African American row houses and drug ridden neighborhoods.