It’s not always that when black people move into a white neighborhood, white people say to themselves, “there goes the neighborhood!” Sometimes it’s the other way around. Like the time I got caught defacing property in a black neighborhood in Brooklyn. It was all because of Michael Jackson.
I’ve had MJ on my mind these past few months. The summer holds the June 25th anniversary of his passing, and August, his birthday. These markers make me want to don my Michael Jackson earrings or King of Pop t-shirt and even sleep in them for the entire summer. It also makes me think of the time I attended film director, Spike Lee’s MJ inspired birthday celebration in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park in 2009.
The party was a deejay driven event that played all MJ songs all day in an open field to a crowd of thousands of dancing fans of all ages. Many people wore at least some article of clothing to conjure up Michael: the sequined glove, the Smooth Criminal hat. Some came in full MJ garb: as MJ, the sequined ambassador, or MJ Thriller, or MJ in Billie Jean tux. As we all stood together in the crowd chanting, Ma Ma se, ma ma sa ma ma coo sa, I had wished there was a cool t-shirt to buy fashioned after the poster graphics Spike Lee had done for the party. There weren’t any. Which was a good thing, right?–the event was not commercialized; no hawker of t-shirts or other MJ mementos were to be had.
I was already living in Providence the year of the party, and I invited myself down to stay with my friend Denise, who lives in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Bed Stuy has a rich history as a historically black neighborhood, and in fact, I read it has the second largest population of African Americans in the country. Denise’s apartment is situated on a lovely tree-lined street of brownstones, just a few blocks from the subway.
When I got to her neighborhood the night before the MJ party, I held onto the strap of my overnight bag and pocket book to help relieve some of the weight off my shoulder. Three black men passed me on the sidewalk, and I heard one of them say, well, at first this is what my vain self thought he said:
“Yeah, you’re looking really tight in Bed Stuy.”
For a second I smiled to myself, thinking I just got a compliment.
Then my mind put it all together, and I realized what he really said was:
“Yeah, hold onto your bag, tight, you’re in Bed Stuy!”
Again, it wasn’t said in a serious tone. I heard the men laugh right after they passed me. They were making fun of me. Assuming I was profiling them as muggers, since they were black, and I was the white girl, out of her element, or maybe even one of the new wave of white gentrifiers.
In the past few years, Bed Stuy, has seen a younger generation of white Manhattanites move into the neighborhood, seeking cheaper rents and more spacious digs. Brooklyn is all the rage now when it comes to hipness, and once white hipness moves in, it’s said the original character of the neighborhood changes. I suppose that is what I signified that evening in Bed Stuy for those men. No worries though, because I was about to flip all that on my way back to the train the morning after the party.
Walking briskly, still on a high from my MJ day, I gasped in awe at the sight of what appeared before me on the windows of an empty corner storefront: several 4″ x 6″ commemorative Spike Lee Michael Jackson Birthday Celebration stickers! I looked around me. I had to have one.
It was early and still quiet on the street, as I slowly lifted a corner of one of the stickers with my fingernail. Again, I looked around me. This must be wrong, I thought. This is a precious item; it isn’t right of me to take it. Just as that thought entered my head, I looked over my shoulder again, and saw a young black man observing my heist. I took a deep breath, continued, and, to my surprise, the rest of the sticker lifted off easily without any tears.
I carefully held onto the sticky back with my index finger as I pulled my journal out of my pocketbook. I gently placed the sticker in between two blank pages of the book so it wouldn’t get damaged. As I tucked the journal back in my purse, I couldn’t help but picture that young man that watched me pocket my MJ treasure, shaking his head and saying to himself, “White people stealing stuff off sides of buildings. There goes the neighborhood!”