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‘White Girls’ on a park bench in Harlem

Reading Hilton Als today in the globally warmed sunshine, I was approached by three people.

  1. My pot-smoking neighbor who uses cigar papers when he hotboxes our lobby. He’s maybe my age, always friendly, pleasantly blind to the trash and ash he leaves in our shared space. He approaches me and asks me what the book is about, if it’s about racism. I reply that it is more about seeing or seeking ourselves in others while dismantling labels. My neighbor replies that he likes to get deep into books, too, but that books about racism bother him. He hedges his comments a bit, but comes around to owning that he really doesn’t like books about racism. They bother him. He asks me what I like to read, and I say fiction and writers who love words and books about how we perceive.
  2. An older man with a massive dog. This man sees the book title and informs me that he has lived in the neighborhood 30 years and that everyone is the same and that we are all genetically as alike as any other. He also introduces me to his dog, a brindled mastiff of some kind. He has just rescued the panting dog via a lawyer friend. The dog had been living on Long Island with several other aggressive breeds and when the dog attacked a co-habitant rottweiler, his owner stabbed this dog five times with a kitchen knife. He informs me that he had had a rottweiler who recently died and his friend the lawyer knew this. The man had wanted a Scottie, but when he saw the photos, he had to rescue him. The dog, he says, came with a B-word name that was just not to be endured. So he renamed him Bond. The dog continues to pant.
  3. Another man from my neighborhood asks to see what I’m reading, but also just takes the chance to introduce himself to me. He is one of the people who always recognizes me with a smile on the street corner. He lets me read.

Does it matter that these men are black and white? Does it matter that I am labelled by the book whether you know what the book is or you don’t?

After I get up from reading, a young teen in a pack of other teens (girls and boys) gets my attention as I walk by. Either “Can I” or “I can see your pussy” he remarks as I look back across the street.

 

Words are words, but for whom are they said? What structures do they support or perforate?

I’ve lived within same ten-block radius since I moved to New York almost ten years ago. For most of those years I lived on Claremont Avenue at LaSalle (approximately 123/4). Since August, I have lived on 129th St. To be a white girl reading White Girls on 129th Street. Object Subject Objective Subjective. I don’t especially like talking about categories but I don’t always get to choose the conversation.