public space

Land of Expectations

“My my my my my! Welcome, welcome welcome to the land of Expectations – to the land of Expectations!” — Whether Man, The Phantom Tollbooth

One of the most common elements of the public spaces are the level of expectations against nonwhite people, and everyone is becoming uncomfortably aware of how fierce the expectations are. Some may explain the circumstances by assigning blame to the individuals, but since more of us have retreated from public spaces, people can no longer hide their impulses. Camera phones have added an element of surprise, but one of the traits of entitled people is that they care very little about how their behavior impacts BIPOCQ people, and some have actually profited by enacting stronger expectations on people who are doing nothing to instigate conflict. However, “public space” means that everyone can see, not just people who are supposed to be “cowed,” and even the privatization of public space will not protect the truth from being seen.

In spaces that the wealthy feel they own, BIPOCQ and the working poor are expected to be verbally and/or physically harassed. Honestly, because of the immense wealth inequality, the politics of corruption, and the lack of consequences, more spaces require an economic transaction just for access, so in some sense, the wealthy people do own all the public spaces. One of my favorite walks around town has been muddled beyond repair because before clearing the unhoused encampments due to “illegal homelessness,” I could not walk anywhere without a privileged person whining about having to look at people with housing insecurities. Ironically, most of the people complaining were the reason that such people became unhoused, but there is something about looking at a problem that rubs privileged people the wrong way. The campers would generally respond by doing their best to hide themselves–i.e., doing nothing to the people degrading their existence–so in truth, the tents may be gone, but the trash is still there. We are also expected to endure this harassment without any visible support, which is why people often approach us after incidents have occurred.

Additionally, BIPOCQ communities are expected to vacate any location that the dominant narrative finds desirable, regardless of the level of investment that has already been made. Freedom colonies, redlined districts, Black Power communities, barrios, colonias, and of course, Indigenous communities are seen as fair game for anyone who has a substantial amount of capital. The case of Mason, Tennessee was merely the most recent and the most overt, but displacement by the tech industry has been a favored practice in popular metropolitan areas for the last thirty years. Even though people fled to the suburbs to get away from, again, having to look at BIPOCQ communities, we were expected to patiently allow ourselves to be removed out of sight when people realized that walking, cycling, and public transportation were healthy ways of traversing cities. The inequality will only continue as major corporations continue to weaponize their influence to avoid being responsible for the public welfare.

Finally, BIPOCQ neighborhoods are expected to be degraded, no matter how the community looks, how stable they are, or how much history they hold. Long-term stability is seen as worthless when maintained by BIPOCQ families, which is why the emphasis is always upon crime–instead of how these areas are targeted for enforcement. Colleges, churches, businesses, banks, trades, and anything maintained without control by the dominant narrative is portrayed as “lacking,” which is one of the reasons why “slum” and “blight” clearance was a regular occurrence. Any new luxury construction is perceived as addressing an “economic and social liability,” even if people had been willing to occupy the space under different, more affordable terms. Thus, most city officials have shrugged their shoulders when decades of community development are wiped away because of the expectation that BIPOCQ neighborhoods should understand “how the world works.”

Overall, subservience is the expectation of BIPOCQ residents–the same people who work to pay exorbitant rents and inflated prices because people feel entitled to profits. After having condo residents shout, “Negro, go home!” on my way to a city meeting, I have come to the conclusion that until these expectations are adjusted, BIPOCQ individuals will continue to be subjects of contempt to the dominant narrative. A solution would be to stop privatizing areas at the expense of the public, including parks, streets, and waterways, i.e. stop incentivizing developers for building when they exist to build. Perhaps assuming responsibility for such expectations will change how people view public space, and social progress will be achieved before life becomes too difficult to enjoy it.

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