Excellent piece and very true. I have an Italian friend who was a FL transplant like myself. We moved for different reasons, but we both were middle-class I’d say with me being from the South, she being from Pennsylvania. She was talked about all of her memories of her small close-knit Italian community back home, the variations of people (poor & not so poor). I could identify with that. I take it from how she talked she wasn’t one of those poor people. In any event, one day on our way to the White beach (yes….there are STILL White Beaches and Black beaches in the South, especially where the uber wealthy live). I needed to stop on the Black side of town to buy hair car products for my natural hair (yes, not all stores carry Black hair care products here in FL, because they don’t really consider our hair (or us)…at all).
On the way through this part of town inhabited by many working poor Latino and Caribbean folks, she complained about how run down the area looked, suggested that the city buy it up or over regulate it to run “those types of people out” and how those people needed to make their parts of town look like the places she liked to frequent in the swanky retirement town we both resided in. These people needed to conform and assimilate to something else (yet again, the can’t even exist in peace). I was livid. It was the first time we argued about her privilege. I talked about gentrification, and how no matter where Black and Brown people go, it’s a problem. I proceeded to tell her about Flint MI, how low income family homes were built on contaminated lands and sold to poor Blacks all over the South. I told her how Whites have burned Blacks out of thriving communities for centuries a just because they felt like they were coming up and trying to assimilate. I told her how my ex-boyfriend’s great, great, great grandfather was hung and had over 400 acres of his land stolen from him because he wanted to be paid the same as whites for his cotton. At the time he was one of the richest Black men in South Carolina. White people still live on this stolen land today. An early form of gentrification no doubt, but gentrification none the less.
My friend wasn’t having it. She proceeded to tell me how hard she had it being called a WOP (Italian without papers) as a kid, and even took to comparing her plight with mines.
Nothing I said could convince her that forcing people to conform to her norms is asking people to assimilate to her standards, culture, and beliefs, even if those same beliefs kept them in bondage, in poverty, as chronic “underachievers,” and unable to attain the same wealth and statuses that she had. Wealth attained and accrued through the passing of generational wealth & job opportunities most of us get passed over because of our first or last name or the college we attend (i.e. an HBCU).
I will never forget that conversation because in my opinion she was one of the realest down to earth White people I had met in a very long time. I thought she got it. Boy was I wrong. On that day, the nature of our relationship changed forever. I no longer saw her as an ally. She was a silent enemy. She was one of those Mothers of the Resistance that come out when she thinks things are getting to dark or things need to change so she and her offspring can feel safe, even if it harms others.
I retreated back to that place where Black folks go (yet again) after discovering that their White friends aren’t as “Woke” as you thought they were. The struggles continue.
Good work Sam!