Back Because of a Bang

So, I’m back.

Like every other aspiring writer with an internet connection, I firmly resolved that 2014 would be a productive blogging year for me. I also resolved to make good headway on my dissertation, which just so happens to be the reason why blogging fell by the wayside for the remainder of 2013. Hopefully I can budget my time in such a way that I am able to write for pleasure more frequently this semester. I do not want to suggest that there is no pleasure in writing a dissertation – if there was not, I would not do it. But it is work, and once you label something “work,” it inevitably becomes that thing you HAVE to do every day, even if you enjoy it. And the thing you have to do can take extraordinary amounts of time and energy. Example: How did the process of writing one sentence–ONE–become so intellectually, emotionally, and physically taxing? Jeezy Creezy. I have nearly finished my first chapter, though, so my hope is that as I get the hang of this dissertating business (to the extent that one can, anyway), I will be able to devote more time to the blogosphere.

But, to be honest, I did not originally plan to return to Positive and Promise tonight. The day’s events prompted me to do it, in part due to the BWD situation that resulted. Late this morning, there was a shoot-out directly outside of my apartment.

No one was hurt, thank goodness, and no stray bullets hit the apartment. It was, however, terrifying. Paul was at work, so I was alone with the cat (who, while frightened of well-meaning, cooing visitors, is apparently immune to the sound of gunfire ripping through the air). I learned from my downstairs neighbor that, for as long as he can remember, there has been some sort of turf war between two local groups, and drugs are likely involved. Lately I had noticed a little graffiti across the street that suggested some sort of extant dispute, but I didn’t think much of it. As it turns out, that graffiti–completed by two different people, each representing a different group–may very well have been evidence of the turmoil that led to today’s near-catastrophe. The shoot-out was so close that it is a mercy no stray bullets flew through my downstairs neighbor’s window – the window he sits behind almost all day (he is wheelchair-bound). And while the altercation occurred a couple of hours after Paul left for work, I still…well, I can’t even finish this sentence.

So, needless to say, I have not been a paragon of productivity today. Paul came home from work early because I was so distressed, and we discussed whether or not we will remain in this neighborhood. We are not sure right now. Frankly, two graduate students have to go where the rent is cheap, and because neither of us own a car, we rely on public transportation. A one-bedroom apartment walking distance from a metro stop in a decent neighborhood? In this area, that would cost more than what one of us makes in a month. Obviously this is a matter that will require far more discussion and, if we do decide to move, some significant budgeting to boot. Furthermore–and as will become clearer–I have mixed feelings about leaving a neighborhood that has become special to me, in spite of the caution required to live here.

Before Paul returned home, I occupied myself by searching through various news sources, to see if anything had been posted about the shoot-out. Nothing. I wasn’t surprised, especially since there apparently had not been any injuries. But since the event occurred in broad daylight, I thought that it may have piqued the interest of a local reporter. However, I did find tucked deep into the online crevices of the Washington Post, a brief article about an 18 year old boy who had been shot and killed recently. He lived nearby. In 2014, there has apparently been one other, relatively local homicide, and a stabbing that resulted in critical injuries. I would not have discovered this information if I had not been looking–carefully–for articles on violence in South DC. And I am nearly positive that there will be no article on the shoot-out in tomorrow’s paper.

Paul and I live in a historically black area, and most of our neighbors are lower-income. And, for the most part, it is a happy, close-knit community – one that we have come to love. Some of our bus drivers live nearby – they pick up their children from the local elementary school during their shifts, chat with them about their days, and deposit them at a family member’s house en route. Our downstairs neighbors immediately took us under their wings, providing us with safety tips and, during the holidays, stuffing us with cookies. A warm, sunny day means cookouts on every corner – and that we’ll be listening to Marvin Gaye at full volume, well past nine p.m. (we do not always love this, although it is endearing). One of the little girls two doors down initiated a routine where, upon seeing “Mr. Paul,” she curtsies and he, in turn, bows to her. Ninety-five percent of the time, I end each day perfectly content to live in a cozy apartment, surrounded by friendly neighbors.

But today, after the shoot-out–and after I did a little reading around on the Washington Post–I was reminded of a truth as dismal as the above paragraph is precious. We do live near the most violent section of Washington D.C., not far from one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country. Lives end frequently around here – generally young, black lives. To some degree, everyone in the DC area knows what happens “over here.” None of it is considered newsworthy because it is expected. In Precarious Life, Judith Butler writes about the difference between lives perceived as valuable and those that are deemed–consciously or not–expendable. She emphasizes that this is a global trend, but we also see its effects locally in a deeply profound way. When we do not recognize the violence inflicted upon black bodies, the socioeconomic circumstances that perpetuate cycles of violence and pain, we endorse a hierarchical system that privileges some lives over others.  I do not pretend to know what we can do in order to ensure more visibility for people of color in DC. And living in this neighborhood does not affect an ounce of my privilege. But I cannot tolerate a world where any life is regarded as expendable, and I am determined to find a way to do something, however small, to help this–my–neighborhood.

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