Wednesday, September 10, 2014

When Teachers Marry Police Officers- Reflections on Race and Neighborhood Culture

During the controversy over the teachers who wore NYPD shirts to work in protest against their unions participation in the Staten Island March mourning the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, numerous commentators noted, correctly, that it is quite common in New York City for teachers to marry police officers.

This pattern is particularly common in certain New York Cit...y ethnic neighborhoods, many of which I became quite familiar with during my 15 years of  coaching Catholic Youth Organization basketball and sandlot baseball in Brooklyn Queens and Staten Island. Among those which immediately come to mind are Marine Park and Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn, and Belle Harbour ( particularly St Frances De Sales parish) in Queens. In those communities, it was ( and in some cases still is) quite common for young women to become teachers, and young men to become firefighters and police officers, and for the former to marry the latter

I have great affection for these communities and the people in them. All produced more than their share of heroes during 9/11, some of whom were personal friends whose deaths I still mourn.

However, there is one feature of all these communities which has to be faced honestly- they had few if any, Black residents. People growing up in those neighborhoods had almost no contact with Black people unless they went to school outside their neighborhoods, and rarely had Black people as part of their social networks or extended families. This did not make people openly racist. The teams I brought into these communities, which were multiracial, were normally treated with hospitality and respect, though there was one important exception to this instance in a parish which was adjoining a Black community
What it does mean however, is that in those communities, people did not have a first hand, direct exposure to how Black New Yorkers saw the world, their nation and the city, and how their views and experiences might differ from those of most whites.

Fast forward to the death of Eric Garner. Given such a racially sheltered upbringing, it is easy to see how teachers who have police officers in their family might not grasp how difficult this event was for their African American co-workers, or the families of African American children in the schools where they teach, and what feelings of vulnerability it triggered.

The main point here is not to explain or excuse but to suggest we all- even the best among us- pay a price when we live segregated lives and live in segregated neighborhoods.