On Leaving The Hood

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Veronica Marche-Miller on Derrion Albert:

When I think about Derrion Albert, the 16-year-old who was beaten to death outside his Chicago high school on Sept. 24, I think about the very things my dad was working to protect us from when my siblings and I were growing up in the early '90s. Our home was in Beechview, at the time a quiet, mostly white, working-class neighborhood in Pittsburgh. It made us the butt of jokes from a lot of our black friends, who lived on the east side of town. "No one can find your house!" they'd say. "Y'all live waaaaaaaay over there! Y'all live with the white folks!"

But living with the black folks--in Homewood, Wilkinsburg, East Liberty or on the Hill--was not an option in my parents' eyes. Yeah, our people lived there--but so did the local news.

It is a fact that most black neighborhoods are more violent, on balance, than most white neighborhoods. Moreover, as someone who's lived in black neighborhoods, I think it's incredibly presumptuous to attack people for moving into non-black neighborhoods, whatever their logic or reasoning. Lastly, it's important to not be callous toward black people who've felt rejected by other black people.

All of that said, I think, should you be privileged enough to grow up and become a professional writer, it's generally a bad idea to use that privilege to settle scores from your playground days. I think some sensitivity is in order for those who can't leave the neighborhood. I think some understanding is due to those who believe that living in a black neighborhood means something more than simply living in a violent neighborhood, that leaving means surrendering the streets they love to criminals. That's not a view-point that all black people must, or even should, share.

But a black boy was just murdered in the most awful way. Some empathy is due to his mother, his family as community. Leaving aside the specious notion that all black neighborhoods are violent neighborhoods, this strikes me as the wrong time to yell, "I told you so."

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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