Chapter 4.6: Blacks and the Special Problems of Nonwhite Invaders



List of Tables, Maps, Illustrations, and Figures


1. Symbolism, Self and Urban Environment
    Residential Succession: How "Losers" Win
    Negro Pioneers and White Flight
    Relative Selectability among Minority Invaders
    Symbolic History and Self
    Symbolic History: Modern and Ancient Foundations

2. Self Selection and Urban Decay
    The Social Character of the Manor

3. Woodland to City Neighborhood: 300 Years of Change
    Indians, Geology and Transportation
    Protecting the Community: Covenant and Zoning
    Increasing Community Parameters

4. Invasion and Succession

    Irish and Italian Catholics
    Veterans: Undesirable Heroes
    Blacks and the Special Problems of Nonwhite Invaders
    Back to City Brownstones: A Confused Invasion
    The Invasion Mentality

5. Micrological Aspects of Urban Problems
    Involuntary Change: Aging and Death
    Attidues of Heirs
    Apartment Houses: The Big Change
    The Life of a Tenant and a Building
    Understanding Intricate Urban Problems

6. Stigma and Self-Image in the Inner City
    Achievement and Residentia Movement
    The Moral Careers of Inner-City Residents
    The Community Paradigm
    Implications and Applications


During the 1950s the white residents of the Lefferts Manor, of all ethnic and religious persuasions, overcame their differences, temporarily, to oppose the influx of middle-class blacks who wanted to move into the Manor, and who already had bought homes in surrounding neighborhoods. Again, as one speaks to older black Manorites the all-too-familiar tales of discrimination, and the pain that individuals felt in those years comes to the surface. The stories are stylized echoes of organized group, and random individual hostility toward newcomers, who are seen as potential threats to the definition of the Manor as a sacred and exalted place.

One black resident related how,, many years ago, he passed by the Manor on his way to work. He rode the trolley car that ran down Flatbush Avenue on the western edge of the area. He remembered how beautiful the community looked then, as he peered down the Manor streets. He and his wife dreamed of the day that they would be able to afford to live in such a neighborhood. About twelve years later, in 1960, he and his family achieved their goal and moved into the Lefferts Manor, only to be met by quiet viciousness from his new neighbors. Most of the Manorites gave him and his wife the "silent treatment." They weathered the silent abuse, but over the years have made very few friends locally. Unfortunately, for one that most would like to see as an "heroic" character, he as other Manorites, later felt that the community was being threatened by other newcomers and he joined with his neighbors to keep "them" out.

The first reaction to threat to the community from invading forces seems to be an attempt, feeble or strong, to keep out new members. Only as a last resort do Manorites turn to flight. This flight from the Manor takes place not during the present, but in future generations. It is the children of the Manor who move away. Over the fifty-year history of the Lefferts Manor there has only been a very slow rate of turnover. Here the circle turns ever so slowly.

Some of the black pioneers in the Lefferts Manor evidence resentment over the fact that the neighborhood is now predominately black. The causes of their resentment are complex. Most have moved from other areas of the city that were virtually all black. After attaining middle-class status, they desired to move into a white or "integrated" community. Later they found that an "integrated" community is merely one that is changing from white to black. Their explanations for wanting to relocate in white areas are universal. A common theme is that past experience has taught them that in black neighborhoods there is a gradual decrease in the quality and quantity of city services -- sanitation, police, and protection from landlord abuses and real estate speculation. The abandonment by city authorities of black neighborhoods, they saw, led to the growth of slums in what were once stable, middle-class neighborhoods.

From interviews, it is apparent that white people are desirable neighbors, not so much because blacks raise their social status by living near them (although for some this may be the case), but because blacks feel that the presence of whites will protect them from abuse by whites and white institutions. The great fear that black Manorites have is that once the community is all black, it will no longer enjoy its special historical relationship with city authorities. Until 1978, with the Manor having a majority of black residents, the community was still perceived by its residents as receiving adequate, if not more than adequate, city services. The slight decrease in the quality of these services in the past few years, however, has been automatically correlated with the growing number of nonwhites in the area. In general, whites see nonwhites as the direct cause, and nonwhites see themselves as more indirect causes of the decline in neighborhood appearance and viability. Since 1978 one would be hard pressed to find anyone who is satisfied with the delivery of city services.

Adding to the great degree of ethnic diversity in the Prospect-Lefferts-Gardens area, due in large part to the slow rate of ethnic succession which leaves segments of ethnic cohorts behind, have been earlier and more recent mini-invasions of West Indian, and other blacks from the Caribbean, Central America and South America. More recently, Hispanics and Asians have been moving into the blocks on the periphery of the Manor. Few of these last two groups have bought homes in the manor itself.

Some unusual community-related problems have developed because of the expressive cultural values of Islanders who have bought Manor homes. They seem, for example, to be unwilling to accept the conservative, Victorian-American visual traditions of the community, and are also seen to form exclusive ethnic and family cliques. This last charge against them was similarly lodged against Jews and Italians who came into the Manor during the earlier history. The self and externally imposed isolation of the Islanders from Manor institutions may protect them for a time from exposure to the Lefferts Manor culture of community, but eventually they too will be assimilated.

The bright colors and decorations that some Islanders apply to their homes are seen by more established residents as affronts to the subdued ambience that pervades the Manor streets. Fronts of houses are considered to be symbolic community property which reflects on the status of everyone. Individuals are not seen as having the "right" to mar the face of the community. Not only have a few Islanders not internalized the particular staid culture of community in The Manor; they have not been acculturated to the generally demure versions of the American upper-middle-class neighborhood. Their family and ethnic celebrations, for example, begin late at night and go on to early morning hours, prompting older Manorites to make anonymous phone calls to the celebrants and, on occasion, the local police precinct.

These cultural conflicts in the Manor also lead to intraracial as well as interracial conflicts; American black Manorites feel that Islanders give blacks in general a "bad name." On the other hand, Islanders, many of whom accept the negative stereotype of poor southern and urban American blacks, feel that "they" have given "them" a bad name. Whites who observe this lack of communality between black people from different cultures, see these comments as support for their own racial biases. The more racist among them give these differences as evidence that "even blacks don't like blacks." Such intragroup hostility is typical in American ethnic society as successful Reform Jews dissociate themselves from the orthodox, Irish elites from the "Shanty Irish" and Italian "prominent" from their working-class co-ethnics.

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