Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"How do I Identify if I'm in the Hood or Not?" [from The Blackberry Chronicles]

Prologue: I loathe the term......or rather misuse of the term "GHETTO." The common or rather collective, normative (same shit, but I like all those words and couldn't decide which one to use) usage today is thrown around to mean "cheap, inexpensive, half-assed, make shift" and even worse but basically "negative." I won't get into the whole eptimology, but prior to the 20th century, "ghetto" meant (short-end) a low end community comprised of a specific ethnic group, and more commonly associated with Jews in Europe (look it up yourself). So post civil rights movement (which I think did as much damage to black ppl as it did good, but thats another conversation), industrialization compiled with the proliferation of the highway matrix/suburbanization/"white flight," the term "ghetto" has been stripped down is now associated primarily with blacks, poverty, and violence. Not everyone in the ghetto is black, poor or violent, so I hate the umbrella grouping associated with the word. So when I refer to a poor violent neighborhood, I typically use the term "hood" (a hybrid derivative of "hoodlum" and "neighborhood").....[dismounts from soapbox A, gets on soapbox B]

With this mass gentrification/ reverse exodus going on nationwide (naaaah homie its not just your hood) many "hoods" are turning around and becoming trickier and trickier to identify these days. This is a good thing however this can be very dangerous. Many "hoods" these days are not as easily identifiable as the blatant hooditry of the 80's and 90's (i.e. Crack vials, abandoned buildings, crackheads and homeless ppl rampant, thugs posted up on the corner, ppl drinking 40's and other liquor right in the street, etc). Rather than large masses and clusters of hood, we're seeing more and more common, patches with a chance of scattered hood in the forecast. You could live in a really nice house in a decent neighborhood........and have that one suspect house on the corner. You can live on a really nice block......just don't cross one avenue east. Great community.....but walk three blocks down and you'd swear insurgents crossed the sea.

Folks, we're in a new era. Don't be fooled by the old signs of good neighborhoods.
Sidnote: White people walking through the ghetto alone at all hours of the night was the first sign that the ghetto was being turned around. Especially if they're walking a dog cus then you know they live nearby. But don't let that fool you. Just bc the Euro's are moving in... it's still pretty much Bedstuy, Harlem or [insert local hood thats being gentrified here]

Sidernote: I'm half joking, half serious from here on out.
So, what I've decided to do is put together a comprehensive list of iconic yet subtle signs so that when apartment hunting or visiting your friends, you too can identify whether you can listen to your mp3 player, or pull out the headphones and dial 911 and keep your thumb on "send." These hood landmarks have not changed in 30+ yrs regardless of who's in office or what economic cycle we're in. This has taken years of research and travel and investigatory investigation to compile. The thesis first hit me in the mid 90's when I returned to Brooklyn after spending a week in long island by my cousins. I noticed certain staples in the hood were unheard of in the suburbs and vice versa. Also, traveling city to city its harder to spot hoods; example, in NYC, project typology is tall brick buildings grouped together. In New Orleans and Connecticut, projects are a bunch of low rise buildings. In Cali and Tennessee, they have projects that look like NYC suburb houses....that is when no one is around.

Now don't get all alarmed and worried about your property value plummeting bc you recognize one or two things. Rule of thumb: you have to have at least 5 or more of these within a 2 block radius or strip to classify as a hood. 2 minute drive for more rural driver based communities.

The 10 Quintessential Iconic Marquees of a "Hood"
1. Check cashing places. Outside of a busy metropolitan area, you'd be hard pressed to find these unless in the hood. Typically bc of high immigration/lack of papers, ex-incarceration (the penal system in this country is SO cruel how non-violent convicts are treated upon release, but thats another conversation), bad credit, high rates and fees, tax evasion (stuffing the mattress) and a plethora of other factors (sometimes plain ol, "don't trust the system"), many ppl in the hood don't keep checking and savings account. The check cashing place is swamped Thursday through Monday with ppl dying to cash paychecks, pay bills, play lotto or wire money to family "back home".......a Caribbean epithet of endearment for back to our native country.
2. Hair SalonS/ BarbershopS. "Now wait a minute! Barbershops are everywhere!" That is true, but ask yourself can you stand on a particular corner and identify 5-10 barbershops and/or hair salons in visible range?
3. Korean shops. I decided to lump the "Korean vegetable store" and the "Korean variety store together." Add to the list Hair supply stores.......and nail salons.
Sidenote: It is a crying shame that so few black ppl are capitalizing on the collosal market that is black hair. I previously said "there are fewer procedures on earth, shy of surgery, more complicated than the black mans facial grooming ritual." Here you go. This is one of the most complex subjects.........sciences in the world. I know grown women who are older than me and know less than I've learned on my 11 yr journey of hair. Everything matters from what you eat, how you wash it, EVEN WHAT YOU SLEEP ON.

Sidernote: Give it up to the Korean pioneers that strong armed the black community and cornered all the markets of highest consumption in areas with low property value. They only missed out on one industry which leads to # 4
4. Bullet-proof chicken spots. Sidenote: This probably should have been number one, and as much as I hate to perpetuate ppl eat a lot of fricken chicken. I remember in college I use to go eat my home cooking by myself bc every time my classmates saw me I was eating chicken. But that's another conversation.
Every neighborhood has Chinese restaurants and wing spots, aka "wings n thangs," but when you see a 1/2 inch Plexiglas btwn you and the merchant, with some double windows or revolving drop box, congratulations your in the hood. I remember the first time I walked into a Chinese restaurant and there wasn't a foggy layer of plastic btwn us, I was shocked! Wings n thangs, aka "the A-rab spot," box chicken, or wing spots may come under the name of Kansas fried chicken, Kennedy fried, crown fried, royal fried, kantaky and even of late Obama fried (to much protest), basically any fried chicken that aint Kentucky, where you can get anything from fried chicken, bbq chicken, pizza, hot dogs, burgers, apple pie, ice cream, gyros, cheese fries, milkshakes, ice cream, cake and fish.......and salads. I'm just talking for NYC. Names vary from city to city. But what surprised me is that other cities serve in similar red and white boxes.
Sidenote: the A-rabs have the stronghold on oil in the middle east and oil in the black community. Crying shame that there's not one black person capitalizing off the distribution of chicken.

Sidernote: To help understand why black ppl rock with the bird so much, understand this. Chicken is a cooks blank canvas and its cheap. Idunno where the saying "tastes like chicken" comes from. Chicken doesn't taste like anything until you give it flavor. You can eat chicken 3 days in a row and have 3 entirely different meals. Wanna know how: baked chicken, stew chicken, jerk chicken, curry chicken, fried chicken, stir fry, bbq chicken, hot wings, chicken fingers, teriyaki, orange, pineapple, mango, grilled, etc. But I digress.
5. Storefront Churches. When you see what looks like it should be a store, a house, garage or apartment, and you see a "chuch" name as long as a bible passage itself, that is one of many chuches in the hood. Hood ppl love them some "chuch" and aren't limited to steeples and traditional church structures. Don't be surprised if you see someone posted in front of a van with a megaphone singing and sharing the gospel.

6. Bootleg movies. Like Jadakiss said "we in hood like bootleg movies." The bootleg is the answer to the age old question, "why pay $25 for the two of us to see a movie (yeah, NYC is ridic) when I can get it on dvd for $2-$5 (sacrificing some a/v quality) and watch it wherever, whenever we want?"

7. Liquor store. Typically a with a big yellow sign with black letters with creative names like "Liquor" or "Wines and Spirits." Very subtle.

8. (In some states) Gun close proximity to homes, churches and schools.

9. Pawn shops. There MAY be pawn shops in some good neighborhoods but A: I've never seen it
B: check again. They may be on the "border"
Sidenote: I'll never forget, I was in DC and I saw a Check Cashing/Pawnshop/Liquor Store all in one shop. Congrats. That was a kami hami uber hood!
10. "Tags" or "Tagging" (not to be confused with Graffiti) aka some cornball who knows nothing about the art who feels the need to scribble his/her name all over your neighborhood (back in the day, these ppl were known to the graffiti world as "toys"). Ppl who actually own property have a greater respect for public property and are less inclined to badly tag up schools, garages, churches and houses with markers and cheap spray paint.

Close tie for # 10 and honorable mentions: quarter waters, 50 cent sodas (aka "kill-baby" sodas, as we used to call em back in the day), 50-99 cent beers, and malt liquors. Try me on that. Someone please find me a nice neighborhood that sells Tropical Fantasy or St. Ives! All over this country I have yet to see one [interesting article on crimes n malt liquor].
"Drinking one 40 oz. bottle of St. Ives is equivalent to drinking a little more than five shots of whiskey."
Now if you happen to have ALL of these, congrats, you live in the UBER hood, but by now, I'm sure you already knew that.

Sent via Raphael  "I am Raphael Charles and I approve this message"


Camille said...

I was close, but I JUST missed finding out that I indeed live in the hood. lol, I started getting nervous when I got to number 9. and woo for me I commented!

R said...

If you "just missed" chances are, you're in the hood, if not a quasi-, sudo-, meta-, closet-hood. Remember, at least 5.......

I was going to list the ones in my neighborhood, but its just easier to say the only thing we're missing is Gun stores bc NY state wasn't having it.

Shameka said...

Slight correction my dear friend. St. Ives is a company that makes beauty products i.e. Apricot Face Scrub. St. Ides is the Liquor company.

Carry on with your blogging. I love it!

R said...

I was on the fence, but my sources actually made the typo. Thanks for the catch.

Latrice said...

This is my first time reading your BA-blogs!!!

You make a lot of interesting points.