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Mind the Gap in Crown Heights

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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Four Radio Rookies, who are all very recent immigrants from the Caribbean, now attend high school in the heart of what was the epicenter of the Crown Heights riots 20 years ago.  But, as newcomers, the Rookies know nothing about the neighborhood’s fraught history. 

Watch the full multimedia story to see and hear the conversation when Selena, Chantell, Tangeneka and Sabrina meet a group of teenage girls from a yeshiva school in their neighborhood.

When we first came to New York we thought everything would be gold! We thought we’d see celebrities every day and life would be easy, but none of this is true.  New York is dirty.  It’s nothing like the Caribbean--fun on the beach and dance parties almost every day! 

We all attend the High School for Global Citizenship in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Around the school, there are different types of people.  It’s like a mini world in one neighborhood. We thought everyone in this neighborhood would be friendly like in the Caribbean. Wrong! Asking for directions is hard, some people tell us to speak English because of our accents.  

Of all the people in this neighborhood, we were most afraid to ask a Jewish person because we heard that Jews are mean, they don’t take showers, they’re all rich, and they own everything in NYC.

“People like to stereotype,” our US History teacher, Ms. Ali told us, “so when you don’t know something, then you tend to create a lot of falsehoods, rather than asking the community, well what is life like? Now with the Jewish community in Crown Heights they are kind of like a very close knit group so they really don’t allow other people to come in.”

Ms. Ali asked us, “have you spoken to any of the Jewish people in this neighborhood?”

We haven’t. But we found out that our music teacher, Mr. Aldouby is Jewish. We couldn’t believe it! We thought he would have long hair on the sides, a beard, a little black hat, and wear all black. But he dresses regularly, with pants and a dress shirt. And he’s clean shaven – even his head. He told us there are different streams of Judaism. “We have Orthodoxy which is the strictest one, and then the conservative movement, the reform, reconstructionist and humanist one.”

It’s just like how there are many types of black people in Crown Heights, you can’t really tell where a person is from by just looking at them. We watched a short documentary called “Living Apart”—it was about the riot between the Blacks and the Jews in Crown Heights 20 years ago. We couldn’t believe there was a riot.  And all because rumors spread like the flu, you can pass it on till everyone catches it.  

We spoke with someone from within the community like Ms. Ali suggested. Ilana and her husband David are Lubavitch Jews who live in Crown Heights. Ilana told us, “Lubavitch is separated from the rest of Crown Heights because they have a belief that it’s important to preserve Jewish culture and Jewish tradition. And there’s a belief that in order to do that we have to shelter the kids, and maybe even the adults, from outside influences that would take away from that. There’s a feeling like preservation of Jewish culture and Jewish thought is extremely, extremely important -- almost more than anything else. And many other things are considered a threat to something pure.”

At first we thought they were being racist, but now we realize that they’re separate because they want to preserve their religion. Like David told us, this can lead to a lot of misconceptions, “a lot of Jews feel that non-Jews in general are anti-Semitic – and especially when you’re dealing with 20 years ago one of the worst clashes between two cultures. Healing from that is a very difficult thing. It is hard, I think, on our side to have people who really have the drive and really want to build bridges.”

It’s really hard to communicate with people from such a different culture, especially when you’re new to the country and trying to find your own place.  Just for us to even learn more about the Jews in the neighborhood, it took a lot of digging up.  First it was scary because we didn’t know anything about them.  We went to the library and we had to ask questions to strangers around the neighborhood. It was a lot of work but we still don’t fully understand.  

In the beginning, we felt a certain way about the Jewish people because each of us had a bad experience or was given the wrong information. And from then on we just made generalizations about a whole group of people.  Now, when we see a Lubavitch person in the neighborhood, we won’t think they’re racist.  But just because we’re learning about each other doesn’t mean it’s going to be like a party where everybody is happy and having a good time.  If people just talk it out and listen to each other things should be okay in Crown Heights.

 

*Editor's Note on video: The Crown Heights Community Mediation Center works to improve inter-group relations in Crown Heights by creating a safe space where people of different backgrounds are encouraged to discuss hard conversations, through activities and workshops.  For example, the scene in the video where Amy Ellenbogen, the Center’s Director, poses a statement about co-existence in the neighborhood is a part of a game, “The Human Barometer”, where participants move to different parts of the room to show if they agree, disagree or feel neutral about the issue.

 

Support for the Neighborhood to Neighborhood project comes from the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund, a collaborative fund started by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The New York Community Trust.

Produced by:

Sanda Htyte

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Comments [24]

real deal from NY

Sorry, this piece was totally wack. Especially mention of the "riot between the Blacks and the Jews in Crown Heights 20 years ago." It was not a riot between two groups of people, nor were there any lynchings. But it was a (post)modern form of pogrom that convinced many Jews that most black folks hate us. Sorry, but it's true. Among the most antisemitic, vile, Jew-hating rhetoric comes from Afrocentric blacks.

Also, while it is certainly true that blacks have a history of lynching at the hands of white mobs. For at least the past forty years, you are far more likely as a white person to be attacked by a black person than the other way around. This is not a statement of opinion, it is a fact. The FBI crime stats. are readily available online to verify this.

May. 03 2012 02:01 PM
Tene

Congrats to the young women who produced this piece!

Knowing them, I know that the process of making this piece has been a transformative one for them as they have become more open-minded and exposed to a world they had no idea about before. They also gained more confidence by sharing who they are and their cultures with others who did not know about them. As an educator, what I appreciate more than anything is the process of learning that we all go through and the opportunities to grow as human beings. This experience did that for the girls involved-- and we should all support that.

May. 03 2012 11:52 AM

I wish I had a high school teacher like theirs! Amazing work

May. 02 2012 07:03 PM
Neo

The Radeo Rookies did a fine job. My original post was about how the actual words said on the radeo about jewish stereotypes, which made me wince, could have been edited by NPR to not actually say the hurtful words. It is also my observation that NPR and comedians, hollywood types will freely say things that are hurtful about race's, religions or anything that they don't agree with and it's OK... If there is some kind of thought process out there that thinks because of all the wrongs done in the past it's OK to not give the same treatment to the percieved wrong doer, then there is no hope for relations of different groups today

May. 02 2012 03:51 PM

I also agree with Zac,

Good Job Girls!

May. 02 2012 03:44 PM

@Jane

Can you provide some supporting evidence that 250 Jews were lynched and attacked? I see evidence that around 250 burglaries/robberies were reported (with no indication as to which groups initiated the attacks) , but no where have i found anything that indicates that "nearly 250 jews "lynched."

I urge everyone to use caution when they use words like that. Lynch is not a pretty word, and if it didn't happen, the word shouldn't be tossed around freely.

I ASSURE YOU, MANY MORE BLACK PEOPLE HAVE BEEN LYNCHED THROUGHOUT HISTORY BY WHITE PEOPLE, THEN WHITE PEOPLE BY BLACK PEOPLE.....

That being said,

Why should four girls of caribbean descent, whose ancestors were in Jamaica during the riots, be held accountable for the actions of similar-skin toned people living in BK at the time?? Is that fair? is that what you want to teach your children?

Should all Jews be despised because of the action's of Bernie Maddoff, who's crimes effected THOUSANDS, maybe tens of thousands of poor people who were the beneficiaries of charities that subsequently had all their money stolen?? That's robbery and burglary right there, and its on a grand scale too...I can assure you, more than 250 people were attacked and robbed there...

or maybe....

We should blame All whites because of the actions of the Nazis? By your own logic, blacks should be blamed for what blacks do, and whites should be blamed by what whites do?

Of course, I am only being sarcastic. It makes zero sense to me to clump all people together because they seem to have the same color skin. (Mind you, skin color comes in many different shades, not just black and white.)

My ancestors are not responsible for slavery in America, even though I happen to be white. My forefathers were in Russia and the Middle East during that time. I hope you don't blame me for what the germans did either because I am white,

(I am also Jewish, but by your argument, because of my skin color, me and my race are to blame.)

Instead of blaming groups for actions, why don't we just blame people for actions?

Doesn't that make a lot more sense?

May. 02 2012 03:43 PM
jane

"especially when you’re dealing with 20 years ago one of the worst clashes between two cultures"

Clashes? You mean blacks lynched two people, attacked children with bricks, seriously injured 50 people, and committed over 250 muggings and were never brought to justice? All these people were targetted for being Jewish (or suspected of it). This is a clash? Is it a "clash" if whites do the same thing to blacks and never are held accountable?

"we felt a certain way about the Jewish people because each of us had a bad experience or was given the wrong information. And from then on we just made generalizations about a whole group of people. Now, when we see a Lubavitch person in the neighborhood, we won’t think they’re racist."

I've had hundreds of bad experiences with black people. So what? You assumed the Lubavitch were racist against you while at the same time admitting you were racist against them. Someone doesn't have very good insight into their own hypocrasy, do they?

May. 02 2012 03:24 PM
Zakiyyah from NYC

I really commend Radio Rookies for having this program and for allowing students to have a voice. I believe the young ladies did an excellent job in doing this story. I find that you have been able to address your own stereotypes and to also quell your curiosity by asking questions of those that intrigue and mystify you as we all should. Here is a BIG hug to each of you on a job well-done!

Obviously there have been some very ignorant comments posted and futile finger-pointing that will not change the fact that human nature is flawed beyond comprehension. The only way for us to fix it is to work diligently on becoming better individuals and not keeping score on who perceives that they have suffered or been more vicitimized than another group. I could spend the rest of my life discussing the atrocities bestowed upon people of African descent, past, present and the future plans/schemes being drawn up to make sure that we are forever limited in this world, but for what? It wouldn't matter to most of you anyway. And, life goes on.

Ms. Ali

May. 02 2012 02:30 PM
andrew

Yankel Rosenbaum=Emett Till. Google Isaac Bitton and his son. If this a a white on black crime would we'd be hearing about it with such a non-judgemental tone? No way.

May. 02 2012 02:21 PM
Neo

New Black Panther Party puts a bounty out on Zimmermans head... Where's the outrage???

May. 02 2012 02:03 PM
jane

"Finally, I am confused as to why you are not as outraged that NPR chose to air the footage of the religious girl's suggestion that Caribbean people are violent and do all the shooting around the neighborhood."

Maybe she thinks almost all violent crime in the neighborhood is committed by young black males because it is. Maybe out of every Jewish person she knows who was a vicitm of violent crime almost all the perps were black. Are you claiming black on Jewish violent crime isn't more prevelenent than the other way around? Facts are facts. Young black men do committ almost all violent crime in this neighborhood. On the other hand there is no evidence that Jews shower less, or are meaner then blacks.

May. 02 2012 02:01 PM
jane

Crown Heights pogrom was the worst anti-Jewish hate crime in US history. Funny how when blacks lynch, attack, and mug over 250 Jews the emphasis is on their feelings. Funny how when whites did this to blacks we were never taught to see it as a "dispute between communities" but as a "hate crime". Enough about the perspective of those from the community who caused this hate crime. How about an ephasis on the community that was victimzed, and how about a full description of the hate crimes? If people think that they can push the idea that black on Jewish (and black on Asian) hate crimes are not hate crimes and turn it into a pity party for the perps, then turn around and expect it not to affect how I view white on black incidents they are wrong. This was just blacks acting like the KKK. And there is a long history of black on Jewish and black on Asian KKK like behavior over the last 50 years. Stop turning it into a pity party for black people. They are the perps in these cases, not the vicitm.

May. 02 2012 01:53 PM
Jane

""we were most afraid to ask a Jewish person because we heard that Jews are mean, they don’t take showers, they’re all rich, and they own everything in NYC."

How about a Jewish person who says this "We were most afraid to ask a black person because we heard blacks are violent, stupid, rape anything that moves, and will mug anyone at any given opportunity". Amazing that there is so little condemnation about black anti-semetism yet a Jewish person who said the same thing would be demonized at the drop of a hat.

May. 02 2012 01:48 PM
Neo

Cheers

May. 02 2012 12:38 PM

@Neo

Nope!

I was commenting specifically on the partiality/impartiality of this particular story, not NPR in general. I did not realize your initial comment was reflective of your overall impression of NPR general programming. From the wording , I surmised that it was specific to this story.

That being said, I'm not in a position to comment on NPR general programming, as I do not tune in every day, so I won't be bold enough to comment on your opinion of that.

Will keep your thoughts in mind when I tune into NPR, as I surely will now. Thanks for the interesting exchange.

N

May. 02 2012 11:32 AM

@Neo

Nope,

I was commenting specifically on the partiality/impartiality of this particular story, not NPR in general. I did not realize your initial comment was reflective of your overall impression of NPR general programming. From the wording , I surmised that it was specific to this story.

That being said, I'm not in a position to comment on NPR general programming, as I do not tune in every day, so I won't be bold enough to comment on your opinion of that.

Will keep your thoughts in mind when I tune into NPR, as I surely will now. Thanks for the interesting exchange.

N

May. 02 2012 11:31 AM
Neo

nic
Do you LISTEN to NPR everyday?

May. 02 2012 11:17 AM


@Neo

YOUR Question: "Really NPR you play a clip of someone repeating jewish stereotypes that re-enforce these very stereotypes. Will you do the same for Blacks? Gays? Moslems? Your limited objectivity is showing again."

Answer: By airing the quoted stereotypes of caribbean/black people , yes, NPR is doing the "the same," and repeating stereotypes about groups other than Jews. There happens to have been no gays or moslems focussed on during this story, but another minority group, afro-carribean, was mentioned and stereotypes were broadcast.

May. 02 2012 11:09 AM
Neo

nicoglee
What a ridiculous comment. It's a shame you can't recognize courageous reporting when you encounter it. These girls were not PROMOTING stereotypes, but simply acknowledging that they do exist.
If you read my comment there is nothing there about the girls "couragous reporting" or about the girls "PROMOTING" stereotypes and I fail to see the "outrage" in my comments either. My point is with the even handedness of the editing of this story and many NPR stories. You can acknowledge stereotype without repeating them. That's called editing. As with many news outlets and pundits and comediens and hollywood types,It's OK to say negitive things about some groups but if ANYTHING degogatory is said about select groups, Blacks, Gays, Moslems for instance the backlash is severe and unforgiving.

May. 02 2012 10:57 AM

@ Neo,

I'm not sure I agree with you. Let me explain to you why.

I think it is extremely dangerous to suggest that we should edit out every reported stereotype in the current/historical record.

What would happen if we never again mentioned any white person's stereotyping of blacks during the days of slavery? What if we rewrote our civil war history so that it looks like we all just always got along, and that's the way its always been? Would this make race relations more or less tense?

Admitting you have a problem, and unveiling stereotypes, is different than reinforcing stereotypes.

I'm not sure why you felt these girls were reinforcing stereotypes about Jews? If anything, they were pointing out how ridiculous these stereotypes were, and in part, how ridiculous stereotypes are to begin with.

I think it is evident that, by the end of their exploration, the girls realized that their stereotypes about religious Jews were ignorant and unfounded. If anything, they were embarrassed by their ignorance.

By mentioning the stereotypes they once believed to be true, they are unveiling the dangers of ignorance, and are pushing people to learn about one another to overcome these ignorant stereotypes.

Everyone, even the most intelligent and well-educated people, are susceptible to succumbing to stereotypical thoughts. It's only when we talk openly and honestly about it that we can combat it.

Finally, I am confused as to why you are not as outraged that NPR chose to air the footage of the religious girl's suggestion that Caribbean people are violent and do all the shooting around the neighborhood.

Surely, that is just as devastating a stereotype as any mentioned in the program, and you should be as outraged about that being aired as any other stereotype mentioned on the program.

respectfully,

N

May. 02 2012 10:36 AM
Neo

Dana
We've heard stereotypes of every different group out there all our lives, (which was built from hearing those stereotypes)which in good conscience should NOT be repeated for shock value, political value or anything else. Would NPR dare repeat in a story with hateful stereotypes about Blacks??? about Gays??? NEVER... It's not censorship it's called editing, and NPR like FOX and all the entertainment news outlets out there edit to their audience...

May. 02 2012 10:06 AM

@ Neo-

What a ridiculous comment. It's a shame you can't recognize courageous reporting when you encounter it. These girls were not PROMOTING stereotypes, but simply acknowledging that they do exist.

The first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one, and these girls should be commended.

They had the courage to report the truth, even when it might be uncomfortable. All of us in America, including orthodox Jews, have stereotypes about other ethnic or religious groups. You heard it in the video yourself . (I.E, the orthodox girl asks one of the reporters, "Are you people violent? Well then who goes around doing all the shooting around here?" If that is not a shockingly insulting stereotype, then i don't know what it is.

Growing up with orthodox Jews , I can assure you that stereotypes of other groups do exist.

Might I also remind you that Rabbi Akiva stresses that the most important tenet in all of the torah is to LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR LIKE YOU LOVE YOURSELF. ( "veahvata reacha kamocha")

I think these girls are on the right track with what their doing...

Respect comes from understanding,

Understanding comes from reaching out and listening.

Hopefully, all groups can learn to grow and respect one another with the help of works like this program.

May. 02 2012 09:38 AM
Dana from Jersey City, NJ

Fact for the girls: Sean Paul is 1/4 jewish.

Neo - As for playing a clip of someone "repeating jewish stereotypes"... would you rather censor? the girl's perception (which was built from hearing those stereotypes) lends important context to the piece.

May. 02 2012 09:03 AM
Neo

"we were most afraid to ask a Jewish person because we heard that Jews are mean, they don’t take showers, they’re all rich, and they own everything in NYC."
Really NPR you play a clip of someone repeating jewish stereotypes that re-enforce these very stereotypes. Will you do the same for Blacks? Gays? Moslems? Your limited objectivity is showing again.

May. 02 2012 08:03 AM

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