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Race and Your Community - Eth 125 Final- U of Phoenix

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My family is Jamaican, Spanish (Castilian) and English. A first generation American, I often do not connect with the African American experience but identify as a black individual because of my African heritage and resulting dark skin. It was not until taking this course that I knew the full history of what blacks went through in this country. It was moving and alarming but explains why so many blacks such as myself are inexplicably angry towards their own neighborhoods. I have always been around predominantly white Jewish people in work and school and never experienced any overt racism from more than a few individuals in my lifetime. When I decided to move to South Florida I assumed this melting pot would welcome me just as Princeton, New Jersey had done. Unfortunately I was very wrong.
I have lived in Wilton Manors, Florida since December of 2007. Wilton Manors is an extension of the Fort Lauderdale area commonly known as the “Island City” because of the surrounding network of water canals around it. The city is approximately two square miles in size and the city’s website touts it as “quickly becoming the “place to be” in South Florida.” ("About Wilton Manors." City of)
As of 2010 the United States Census Bureau estimates the population of Wilton Manors to be approximately 11632. Additionally an estimated 71.2% of those individuals are whites, 12.4% are blacks, and 2.2% are Asians. There is a reported 1862 business firms in the area with 6% of those businesses identified as black owned (U.S. Census Bureau). Wilton Manors is predominantly white and the black community is centralized in the northern area which surrounds the public housing, public high school, and also the social security office. My local Publix grocery store has a predominantly black store staff and I probably know at least twenty of the workers there. They are always busy working but stop to make conversation with me and are very polite. For the most part the white community is more affluent and in gated portions or waterfront real estate. The areas of this town are a mirror of an obvious class system. I am black and though I do not live in what is often referred to by others as the black area, blacks are lumped into a group that is blamed for the decline of the community and the reason for many local break-ins to cars and small businesses. It is not uncommon for people to go out of their way in order to avoid the local high school which is at the epicenter of what many consider the local black community. Often I choose to drive rather than walk because black people seen walking along the road are regularly perceived as people who are up to no good. I never thought that driving would make me the victim of racial profiling. Because of the presence of over eight nightclubs in less than a two square mile area, there are often many people walking home down dark streets late at night. I occasionally hear people yell “watch out for those black guys at night,” as they part ways in the darkness of the street. The area has become known for late night robberies. One such robbery occurred this year and three black men were arrested for the crime (Freygang, Andrea). The robbers are not always black men but they always seem to get the reputation for all crime in the surrounding areas. Broward news and entertainment often reports on these occurrences. Many people who do not even live in my neighborhood know about the area and say they won’t attend nightclubs due to all of the “black crime.” I wish I could change the segregation in Wilton Manors. One such example most evident to me is at my place of employment.
My current employer is a restaurant and nightclub venue in Wilton Manors called the Manor Complex. It is a very diverse company with two owners that are Caucasian. Unfortunately, the diversity within the company mostly exists at the lower end of the pay grade. At the Manor complex, all of the bathroom attendants and security guards are black whereas anyone who provides an upper level of customer service is white. The bartenders and waiters and customer service managers/hosts are all white. I started with the company in 2011 as a promoter for events because their goal was to attract a Hispanic crowd away from some of the venues closer to the Miami area. Every Friday night, I host a party called “Bubble Gum Fridays with Oliver Douglas.” It has been a successful party and the owners often say they really like the job I do bringing an “upscale urban vibe” to the club. That is their code speak for saying I bring blacks and Latinos to the club but not too many. This club has no written cultural or diversity policy and provides no training or education for employees regarding race or ethnicity. In order to improve their tolerance and equality, they could start from management down in offering diversity training. This would teach the managers first and hopefully would create a company culture of tolerance and acceptance.
Wilton Manors is a very small community and as a result, I personally know our Mayor, Gary Resnick, who is a white man. Gary Resnick went out of his way in his campaign for Mayor to address the issue of racism in his campaign. He even went as far as campaigning with a group of individuals he labeled as community leaders of which many people had never heard. That is because these individuals were minority individuals who had performed well in school or done charitable work within the community. As a result, then Mayor-hopeful Resnick chose to align himself with them and promote those individuals as the face of the community. Many people said he did this to get more blacks to vote for him. But he seems to have been true to his word, as these community members have remained a part of his community taskforce, and can be seen around the town promoting his initiatives. The Vice Mayor Tom Green is another Caucasian fellow and the council members are a majority white group as well. In addition, Wilton Manors has an entirely white police force.
In the four years I have been a resident of Wilton Manors, I have been pulled over by police men over ten times and only once given a ticket for a minor infraction for not being able to find my driver’s license immediately. Each time, they ask me if I have any drugs or illegal items in the car and make me wait a long time before allowing me to drive away. It is frustrating because I know I get pulled over because I am driving a 2010 Volkswagen CC. In truth, it is not as a pricey a car as it looks, but it is an uncommon vehicle and not the typical car a young black man drives. So in the assumption that I have stolen it, I often get followed by police cars right up to my driveway. One police man finger printed me because he pulled me over and I could not find my driver’s license quickly enough. I told him it was probably under the seat but he immediately made me get out and wait at the back of my vehicle. He came back with an ink pad and a paper and he twisted my arm, yelling “do not resist me!” It was a terrifying experience because I thought he was going to attack me or arrest me without cause. Instead he gave me a ticket for driving without a license. I explained that if he allowed me, I could produce my license from under my car seat. He told me if I contradicted him again I would be arrested for resisting an officer. I have never in my life been in trouble for crime of any kind and I have no criminal record. I am somewhat articulate and never sloppily dressed. It is only because of my skin color that I am a target for prejudice. In Wilton Manors this is especially the case because the police seem to feel that the black community is the reason for the crime level. After this incident occurred, I approached the managers at work and asked for their advice in disputing the ticket. They advised me that I should cut my hair short and start identifying myself as Hispanic instead of black. They told me that they often explain to people who ask that I am Brazilian. I am not Brazilian. They considered this to be a compliment to me and to my appearance but it was an insult.
In my search to find out if other people felt the way I did this year, I approached community leader Eric Bello. Mr. Bello is one of the founding members of a charitable organization for minority youth impacted by AIDS and HIV in the community called Somos Latinos. I asked him if many minority individuals came to him because they felt rejected or discriminated within the Wilton Manors community. He advised me that a lot of crime was often recounted to him as the result of misunderstandings and prejudiced behavior by the local police. He said that often a police officer might pull over a minority individual and antagonize them until the individuals reacts physically with the officer or attempts to leave the scene and can be arrested for flight. I asked him what could be done to create a community with less prejudice. He said the burden unfortunately rested with the minority individuals and community members like he to educate them and help them be the best examples for their surroundings.
After living here for four years, I move into a new place in Atlanta Georgia on December 30th at the end of this year. I have been the focus of and witness to more bad experiences than I could handle. In an effort to live where there is a more diverse community, I began to visit the midtown area of Atlanta this year and I was pleasantly surprised by a warm and booming urban area. I hope to experience a community that embraces pluralism and gets to know me for more than just my pigment.

References:
City Of Wilton Manors. "About Wilton Manors." City of Wilton Manors . 24 Jan. 2010. Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <http://www.wiltonmanors.com/>.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2010,January 2). Wilton Manors, Florida QuickFacts.
Retrieved from http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/12000.html

Freygang, Andrea. "Three Arrested in Wilton Manors for Armed Robbery." Broward News and Entertainment Today. 21 Mar. 2010. Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <http://browardnetonline.com/2010/03/three-arrested-in-wilton-manors-for-armed-robbery/>.

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