In the Mall Killers thread, I contend that a sense of personal safety has a lot to do with whether or not people will frequent a particular place. If people come to believe that the presence of large groups of X sort of person significantly increases the likelihood that there will be an outbreak of violence there, then they will cease to frequent that place. This is rational behavior, even though it makes many of us squeamish when it comes to race. Most people in most cases are not prepared to put their personal safety — especially the personal safety of their children — or their property are serious risk for the sake of an abstract principle. So much depends on whether or not you have skin in the game.
I’m reminded of how different the world looked to me when I became a homeowner for the first time, in Dallas. We bought an inexpensive house, because it was all we could afford. It was in a transitional neighborhood — in the ’70s and ’80s, it had been crime-ridden and drug-infested — though one that had already undergone its first wave of urban pioneering. We wouldn’t have bought the place if we hadn’t had good reason to believe it was relatively safe there. Many of our friends thought we were ill-advised to buy in that neighborhood, but we thought we knew the risks well, and believed it was a risk worth taking.
I still believe it was. We never had any problems during the years we lived in that good little house. Our neighbors were great. Life was good.
But lying in bed some nights, I could hear gunshots from the poor Hispanic neighborhood on the other side of the main road, half a mile or so away. Every now and then, we’d see gang tags painted on the sidewalk. I started thinking, “At what point would I decide it was unsafe for my family to stay here, and move?” More clinically, I wondered if there would come a time in which the tide of the neighborhood’s renaissance would turn, and it would begin to revert to the bad old days. How would I judge that was coming, so that I could sell the house and move before it lost its worth? In so doing, I would be contributing to the very decline I feared, helping to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Still, these are the thoughts I had as the holder of a mortgage and the protector of my family. In our part of the city, the crime was mostly a Latino thing. Our next door neighbors were Mexican-Americans, and fantastic people to share the block with. Most other people in the neighborhood were white. I know how to read Anglo culture. I didn’t know how to read Latino culture. I wouldn’t have known if a Latino family moving in down the street would have been the kind of people who’d you’d want to have as neighbors, or the kind of people who will bring with them a dysfunctional culture. We did have a white family that moved into a rental house down the street for a short time, but they were a big mess, and not the kind of people you wanted as neighbors. Had the street begun to fill up with those people — white people, understand — I would have had to think about leaving before the street went to hell, my family was threatened, and my investment was at risk.
To be sure, I would not have been excited to have a bunch of snobby SWPLs as neighbors, but I wouldn’t have considered them a threat to the security of either my family or my investment.
Around that time, I heard from an acquaintance in Dallas, a white woman who was a strong liberal, an often a forceful critic of my own politics. Years earlier, she had bought a house in a transitional neighborhood in Dallas. It was affordable, and, I guess, it suited her personal politics. She wasn’t going to be like the typical Dallas white person, and light out for the suburbs.
But the neighborhood turned, and was now a high-crime area. She told me that she was a prisoner in her own home — too afraid to leave at night, and unable to sell the place without taking a huge loss that she couldn’t afford. She was stuck there, and she bitterly regretted her decision.
Another story from those days. A decade ago, I talked to this man who lived in Irving, a Dallas suburb rapidly filling with Latin American immigrants. He and his family lived in what he called a “dream house” in the old part of town. Absentee landlords began renting homes on the block to male immigrants, who would stack themselves up 20 or so to a single-family house. (This is not uncommon in the Dallas area). Unsurprisingly, working-class migrant males from the Third World living together like that bring with them certain cultural habits that are not conducive to tranquil middle-class suburban family life. The crowding, the noise, the drinking, the carrying-on, all disrupted the neighborhood. The homeowner complained to the city about all the code violations going on there. As a reporter, I went down to city hall to ask them myself why they wouldn’t do anything. If memory serves, the answer I got was along the lines of as long as the inhabitants aren’t violating code during the code inspectors’ office hours, there wasn’t much they were willing to do about it.
One day the homeowner came home and saw men with machine guns — a SWAT team — on his block. More trouble at the rent house. That was when the homeowner decided it was time to sell the house and move his family to a safer place. And so he did.
It wasn’t having Latinos on the street that did it. One of his neighbors was an older Latino couple who had lived there for many years, and who were as fed up with the immigrant nonsense as he was. But this homeowner — the Anglo guy — felt with justification that those in political power (by which he meant the media as well) didn’t care about people like him and what they stood to lose, financially and otherwise, by illegal immigration. They didn’t have skin in the game, not like he did.
It’s interesting how much less willing one is to be broad-minded and tolerant when the personal safety of one’s children, or the security of one’s investment, is at risk.