I'M WITH YOU, Prince George's County.
I know it's been a while since the "Ugly Sister" piece in this paper mentioning a popular perception of your hereabouts, but I've been mulling over a nagging bit of unfinished business.
Granted that my colleague here who wrote the story was trying to make a subtle point about the irony of the glittery Reagan inaugural gala being held in a place that, thank God, had no pretensions to grandeur. What he and headline writers failed to reckon with was why the natural sensitivity people have about their homes and neighborhoods is heightened in Washington -- a town where power and affluence, and more importantly, symbols of power and affluence, reign supreme in the minds of many. Why else would anyone want to live in Georgetown or Potomac?
But, I'm with you, Prince George's County, because even if you have the good sense to be short on pretense kicking somebody's neighborhood is like kicking them. That's why you collectively saw red -- from preachers to editorial writers to kids bumping along on bikes. I even talked about the "why" with a bunch of sociologist who agreed for once. Loyaty to your community is like loyalty to yourself. Perceived outgroup hostility draws people together, even if they do not have much in common.
Let me say from the outset that I'm with you because I grew up in a neighborhood that had even fewer pretensions to grandeur. Growing up, I certainly validated what the sociologists said, because love of neighborhood drew Ann Bresham and me together in Louisville.
When we went to Madison Junior High School, just outside our nieghborhood, call California, and somebody from Smoketown threw a verbal barb at Prentice Street or St. Catherine Street in out neighborhood, she threw a figurative punch and I tossed up a cheer. Our parents had taught us well. We knew people needed to have a positive image of themselves (read neighborhood). It's part of the human condition. Talking about your neighborhood, ethnocentrically speaking, was tantamount to talking about your family. Ann and I recognized California's shortcomings, but nobody else was supposed to.
But, Prince George's County, my clippings aren't blameless, either. Unwittingly, I've occasionally angered a few residents of our city's outlying Southeastern neighborhoods. Like the time recently when some folks in Anocostaia got on my case because they thought I'd impugned their intelligence in a comparison I'd made between them and folks on upper 16th Street NW.
Even in the face of extreme danger, people rise to defend the reputation of their comunities. I don't mean ganglords and their gang wars, but solid, substantial homeowners. It was no surprise recently to hear a television report that the residents of fashionable Forest Hills off Connecticut Avenue were as worried about the reputation of their neighborhood as they were horrified at the rise in street crimes there.
And while I'm as concerned about increasing violent crime and its cures as as the next person, especially those on the street where I live, I think my neighborhood of Mount Pleasant in Washington got a bum rap when policeman reportedly said, "Every other house around here has a murderer or a rapist living inside."
Which brings me to yet another reason that I'm with you, Prince George's County. You think you get a bum rap from outsiders and it is a feeling you share with a lot of folks who live in black, Hispanic or racially mixed neighborhoods that are called "ghettos." Now that's confusing to some folks, because ghetto is one of those words that are negative when used by outsiders but neutral when used by persons within the community . The point is, people don't like to be slighted in any way. Their home is their castle their piece of the rock, the biggest investment they as working people have made, and they don't want nobody chipping away at it.
One of your August citizens, K. Dean Myers, of the Camp Springs United Presbyterian Church, even preached an "Ugly Sister" sermon. It was quite touching. And he talked of the county as a "piece of the world." Truth to tell, I suspect Prince George's touchiness is a sign of things to come. In economic hard times, people become more vulnerable and more angry. When they think that outsiders view the ways they lead their lives as inferior, they become more upset about it. As working class people, especially whites, become increasingly aware and increasingly angry at the people they perceive as better off, we might expect them increasingly to sound off.
Well, Prince George's, we won't use your little problem to go into the prediction business. But look at it this way: if your discomfort gave a lot of other people a way to blow off some steam, things can't be all bad.
To me and many others, you're really Beautiful People.