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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

'The Stroll'

My interest and participation in the NY music scene used to find me driving through some of New York's sketchier neighborhoods.  On more than a few occasions I went 'uptown' to catch an act at The Apollo Theater in Harlem.  And quite frequently, gigs out on the south shore of Long Island required that I take 'the back roads' through some of the poorer areas of Far Rockaway.

One of the more un-nerving things I experienced in both of these areas was something I came to think of as 'the stroll'. 

Simply put, 'the stroll' goes something like this:

I'd be driving along a street in one of the neighborhoods I mentioned above, when a local pedestrian will step out into the street and stroll ever-so-casually directly in front of my car... all the while glaring at me.  If I return their stare they might even slow down and jut out their chin a bit, as if daring me to impatiently inch forward.

Over the years I developed several working theories about the causes/origins of 'the stroll', but my best guess centered around a single word:  'existence'

You see, despite decades of progress with civil rights and integration, there are still vast areas (physical, social and economic) where people of color don't mix with whites.  In fact many African Americans don't even register on most white 'cultural radar'.  Obviously we've moved beyond separate drinking fountains and lunch counters... but the cultural gulf between the 'haves' and 'have nots' in the U.S. is still too easily drawn along color lines. 

And the result is that for many of the 'haves'... the 'have nots' simply don't exist.

So, my best theory about 'the stroll' boils down to culturally invisible individuals imposing their physical presence on an outsider (like me) in order to force them to acknowledge their existence. 

To be clear, I rarely felt physically threatened.  Rather, each time I encountered 'the stroll' I felt a mixture of fear and anger... as though I was being metaphorically grabbed by the shoulders and shaken while someone yelled into my face; "Look at me!  I exist!!!".  But when I stopped to think about what it must be like to be culturally invisible, I quickly learned to just suck it up and deal with it.

However, here in Israel, I've been experiencing a local version of 'the stroll', and I'm not sure it is entirely benign. 

There are actually two versions:

The male stroll:  As I'm driving through a predominantly Arab area or near an Arab village/town, a young Arab man (almost always dressed in secular clothes) will step deliberately out into my path, often glaring pointedly at my face.  He will slow his pace once it is clear that I am giving way... and on a few occasions I have had to swerve dangerously onto the shoulder in order to avoid hitting one or more of these strollers.  I have a suspicion that most of these male 'strollers' are motivated by many of the same feelings of anger and disenfranchisement as their African American counterparts.

The female stroll:  Similar to the male stroll but for some reason it is almost always a lone woman... and ALWAYS wearing traditional garb (at least a hijab (headscarf), but more often than not a full abaya and niqab... or even a burqa).  The other way in which the female version of 'the stroll' differs from its male counterpart is that the Arab woman steps out into the roadway and NEVER looks towards the oncoming car.  At first I thought that these women were simply being inattentive.  But on busy streets with fast-moving traffic I find it hard to believe that a brutal form of natural selection wouldn't have put an end to such a risky practice.  Also, each time I have had to stand on the brakes to avoid one of these women strolling slowly across my path and staring straight ahead through the slit in her veil, I've noticed that they never react the way someone would if surprised by an oncoming car.  They just keep walking casually with their eyes pointed forward and their pace unchanged.  I can't help but wonder if there isn't some small desire for martyrdom at work in these cases. 

To be clear, regardless of what I may feel about the violent tactics used by Arabs in their struggle for (or support of) self-determination... and despite their presence in almost every Jewish town and city, one can't really argue the fact that to most Israel Jews, Arabs are worse than invisible... they are viewed with nearly universal suspicion.  Obviously, much of the responsibility for this state of affairs rests on the Arabs themselves because of the tactics they've employed to advance their agenda.  But the net result is similar to what many people of color experience day in and day out in the US; a strong sense of disenfranchisement... and 'otherness'.

In order to write about this topic I have obviously tried to set aside some of my personal  feelings of suspicion towards Arabs as potential terrorists in order to try to get inside the head of an Arab pedestrian.  But the more I dwell on it, the more I can't help but think that a chilling parallel exists between 'strollers' here and in the U.S. ... a parallel that has created a potential detonator for violence.

Think back to the Crown Heights riots of 1991.  Obviously anger and bad blood had been festering for years between the black and Jewish community in that section of Brooklyn.  But all it took to light the fuse on the powder keg was a tragic traffic incident where a Jewish driver ended up accidentally hitting and killing a young African immigrant.

Imagine for a moment what would result if (G-d forbid) an Israeli Jewish motorist (like me) were to accidentally hit and kill an Arab pedestrian (especially a religious woman) performing the local version of 'the stroll'.  Do you think it would be viewed as an unfortunate traffic accident... or do you think perhaps the result would be 'spontaneous' rioting and calls for widespread retribution and attacks against Jewish Israelis?

In Far Rockaway and Harlem I understood the anger and disenfranchisement behind 'the stroll' and resigned myself to it.  But I never felt that the goal there was to create an opportunity for martyrdom.  However, driving through places as dissimilar as Yaffo and Beit Omar, I can't help but wonder if 'the stroll'  - especially the female version of it - hasn't evolved into something beyond an angry expression of existence... and into a game of political 'chicken' where the goal is to be hit, rather than missed, by the oncoming car.

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Posted by David Bogner on September 20, 2006 | Permalink

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Do you remember what "sparked" the first intifada?

http://www.myjewishlearning.com/history_community/Israel/Overview_IsraeliPalestinian_Relations/Intifada.htm

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Sep 20, 2006 12:58:42 PM

Back here we have ‘the roll’ and ‘the bounce’;
The Roll is actually quite interesting, in underprivileged neighborhoods we have ‘stuntmen’ who will risk their lives for some cash, they wait for a driver coming their way and in a bicycle ram into your bonnet and roll right across, he’s friends then come over and demand for some cash to take him to hospital. P.s. 1. Rarely do they get hurt 2. Only men do it. 3. Practiced only in 2 continents.

Again in underprivileged neighborhoods, we have cliques of guys that seat in certain spots (called bases) all day and are normally upto to no good, so when you happen to walk pass-by them you do so in the bounce (walking as if you have a pair of Air Jordans on), you actually show some nerve (suggesting something like “Don’t mess with me, I’ve got a nastier clique!”) P.s 1. It only works for some 2. It’s Unisex… 3. I’d recommended you use it when walking in a not-so-volatile Arab neighborhood.

Posted by: pk | Sep 20, 2006 1:08:31 PM

i don't think they're invisible...as a matter of fact i think they are so visible that they don't blend in at all any more in any country...they pose a threat...whether they like it or not they pose a threat and until they become 'american muslims' rather than muslims living in america...or 'israeli arabs'rather than arabs living in israel, they are going to be noticed, and singled out, and feared...see we don't know which one of them is trying to kill us and which (if any) of them wants to live in peace with all the neighbours...but one thing you are right...don't knock 'em down or G-d forbid hurt one of them as they are strolling...look what they did to the poor Pope!...now who would ever believe i would put 'poor'in front of the word Pope...oh btw...if any of you are interested in writing to the Pope...here is his email...emmess...honestly here is his email address:
His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI
[email protected]
stay safe and a sweet good year...what a blog...what a blog

Posted by: marallyn | Sep 20, 2006 1:25:07 PM

I have lived in Israel for 30 years and have witnessed how Israeli Arabs have become more belligerent over time. As you mentioned - the road is a good example - this is particularly visible when driving up North (Route 65 through Um-el-Fahem where a car will pull out of the village across an intersection that has a fast flow of traffic, causing you to slam on brakes and swerve around them - this has happened to me more than once), to further up on Route 70 and 85 where Arab cars will deliberatly bait bus drivers by either swerving in front of them and slamming on brakes or by 'pushing' them off the road. I use the word belligerent and not disenfranchisement because I fail to see how these actions stem from feeling culturally invisible.

Posted by: EDW | Sep 20, 2006 1:40:49 PM

I use the word belligerent and not disenfranchisement because I fail to see how these actions stem from feeling culturally invisible.

Israel is a Jewish state and they're not Jewish. And then add in the honest-to-goodness nationalistic struggle between peoples, and it just makes it worse.

Posted by: Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) | Sep 20, 2006 2:03:03 PM

I drive some of the same roads as Trep, and have often expressed my fear of becoming a headline in the next day's paper: "Jewish settler mows down Arab farmer." Between the donkeys, the cab drivers, and the "strollers", I find myself driving very defensively.

Posted by: Andy Levy-Stevenson | Sep 20, 2006 2:03:12 PM

Steg,
As Trep pointed out - these actions seem to have evolved beyond an expression of frustration at being a minority ('into a game of political 'chicken' where the goal is to be hit, rather than missed, by the oncoming car')

Posted by: EDW | Sep 20, 2006 2:18:37 PM

The funny thing is, they have adopted the same 'stroll tactics' here in 'peaceful' London (or should I say 'Londonistan'?) I often have to slam the brakes on as I drive around here... I didn't know there was oppression, racism, disenfranchisement or any other reason (valid or not) to do this here...
:(

Posted by: NN | Sep 20, 2006 3:10:33 PM

Today when I drove to work there were four HUGE turkeys strolling the road (seriously!) Maybe they were creating some awareness prior to the Thanksgiving turkey rush. (Sorry I know that was slightly off topic but since it literally JUST happened I couldn't resist mentioning it.)

Posted by: Shifra | Sep 20, 2006 4:12:38 PM

I'm sorry to always be the liberal clarion, but who is to say why they do this? Their social context is completely different.
Perhaps the Arab men are using the road as an expression of defiance. I'm not there and can't see the expression on their faces. But perhaps they always step in front of cars. Go to their village and see if they do the same thing on local roads there before you attribute political significance to the action.
On my way home from work, in New Jersey, I often drive through a section of a small NJ city where people step in front of my car expecting me to stop as they cross, no matter how fast I'm going or where my proximity is to their bodily persons. It is not an act of belligerence. It is an act of carelessness, and I might add stupidity (that is a polite term for what I'm thinking while they do it).
When I was in Cairo, everyone stepped in front of everyone's motor vehicle. In my Western politeness, it took me half an hour to cross a traffic circle. It took the average local 2 minutes.
Don't judge another man (or Burka clad woman) until you've crossed the street in his sandals...

Posted by: jersey boy | Sep 20, 2006 7:40:07 PM

Shifra - that's hilarious.

Trep - I know what you mean about the "strollers" but usually, where I live, it's the teenagers that will do it. I don't have the patience to deal with it and will continue driving. Fortunately, where we live, it one was to be in an accident, it wouldn't spark a riot, but just increase the PSA's for pedestrian asfety.

Posted by: jaime | Sep 20, 2006 8:55:00 PM

Dave... Now how did I manage to let that slip my mind?

pk... You certainly live in an interesting place. Yikes.

marallyn... If ever I am tempted to email the Pope... please stop me. :0

EDW... I don't mean the general wildness of the drivers (that happens to apply to Israeli Jews as well). I'm talking about a very deliberate act.

NN... Are you sure they aren't American tourists who simply look the wrong way before stepping off the curb? Not that I've ever done that, mind you. :->

Shifra... We used to get Turkeys in our yard in Connecticut. Big stupid birds... but yummy. Our fresh Rosh Hashanah turkey is in the fridge waiting to be cooked.

Jersey boy... That's quite a knee-jerk you have there. You should have that looked at. :-)

Jaime... I have this mental image of you driving with a couple of teen-aged hood ornaments on your car. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 20, 2006 9:46:54 PM

do you actually say "people of color?"

I know it's your version of PC, but it sounds to me more like an old white woman gently trying to stay more than arms length away (maybe even with the use of a cane) from blacks, hispanics,etc.

just say minorities if you are uncomfortable saying blacks and hispanics.

i'm guessing no one calls you a "person of no color."

Posted by: Seth | Sep 20, 2006 9:52:00 PM

Seth... Just curious... do you ever 'suggest' anything or are all of your ideas presented as orders? First of all, yes I do use the term. I began doing so years ago when I heard a friend (who is black) using it. When I asked him about it, he explained that while a few people objected to it, it was widely accepted and was by far the easiest way of referring to a large group of minorities that might include not only blacks and hispanics... but also asians and native Americans/first nation. While it makes mention of some people objecting to the term... Wikipedia backs me up on on the fact that it is in wide and accepted use... and that it "is a better generic term for the racial underclass than "black person" as it includes ethnicities other than those strictly of African descent. This may include some Chicano/Latino, who can be white or of color, Asian American and many indigenous groups that also experience racism".

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 20, 2006 10:22:27 PM

ahhhhhhhhhh trep...an email from you could be just what the Pope needs to brighten his day...i know it brightens mine :)))

Posted by: marallyn | Sep 21, 2006 12:13:48 AM

Actually, it's the same thing as saying 'colored people.' But with an attempt at being PC. You see what I'm saying? All you did was add an 'of.'

You still didn't say why it's not more effective to just say minorities.

You used "people of color" to step away from what you really meant. You didn't mean Asian Americans.

Anyway, just a little 2006 update.

Posted by: Seth | Sep 21, 2006 1:24:20 AM

By doing that, he shows that he is cool (a must in some cultures) and that he has the power to stop your car and that nuttin' can make HIM go any faster. Especially not YOU.

Of course the whole thing only works if you DO stop. And they would be completely and honestly surprised if you didn't.

The logic behind that is probably very simple: I am important and you are not. (Or as one of my customers expressed it: Could you please hurry up a bit, I am calling you on my mobile phone!)

And concerning Cairo: It's true, they just go, but they don't stroll - and out of safety reasons they don't use pedestrian crossings either.

Posted by: Chris | Sep 21, 2006 1:40:19 AM

Okay Seth, I'll bite....

Minorities can, and often do, represent social sub-communities who may not, externally, appear any differently to society than the "majority." American Secular Jews, for instance, are a minority not necessarily instantly visually recognizable to people outside their immediate peer group.

Skin color, however, is an instant visible "identifier." As are certain kinds of physical disabilities. Minorities whose status as minorities are determined by external qualities are significantly more likely to experience discrimination than minorities whose status is determined by non-visible factors.

I dare say that Treppenwitz said "people of color" to underscore the urgent and desparate need to be acknowledged by certain segments of society by other segments of the greater society based on the potentially repetive nature of their own experiences of discrimination. PC or not, there are certain realities that language can not -- and I daresay SHOULD not -- sanitize.

Posted by: zahava | Sep 21, 2006 2:27:27 AM

Hmm... interesting, but I'm not sure I agree... since I've seen many whites do EXACTLY the same thing. Furthermore, since most people I've seen doing the stroll were very young - teenagers & young adults, I'd say they were simply trying to be provocative in general, not necessarily for the sake of any kind of political message. I've also seen a much ruder version of the stroll towards pedestrians, and I got the sense that it's just bad manners rather than any kind of righteous assertion of one's identity.

Posted by: Irina | Sep 21, 2006 4:50:08 AM

No one is saying language should be sanitized, but accuracy and sensitivity should be taken into account.

The term, as mentioned in David's very reputable source, Wikipedia, even says that the term 'people of color' assumes that everyone else who is not a person of color would just fall under the category 'people.'

Is that what he is trying to say? Based on the content, I would say it isn't.

All I'm implying is that he sounds dated by saying 'people of color.' Just because maybe during a blink in historical context "people of color" was the PC way of saying non-white people, doesn't mean it is a good term. Similarly, the word 'negro' used to be the PC term for the other N word.

I'm sure you would find it somewhat troubling if Jews were referred to 'people of very distinguishable semitic features.' I mean there is nothing inherently offensive about that term, but it certainly isn't something a gentile would want to say in any public setting.

Posted by: Seth | Sep 21, 2006 5:10:38 AM

"But all it took to light the fuse on the powder keg was a tragic traffic incident where a Jewish driver ended up accidentally hitting and killing a young African immigrant."

Nope. The driver of the car hit two kids and killed one. Accounts vary as to whether the Hasidic motorist ran a red light.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crown_Heights_riots

I wasn't there, I didn't see it, but I have lived near a community of Hasidim, and I never encountered worse and more inconsiderate drivers.

Perhaps you were thinking of Amadou Diallo, an African immigrant who was shot by police.

Posted by: echo | Sep 21, 2006 5:16:22 AM

Ooh, there are some interesting points you raise.

I hail from the most multi-cultural city in the UK and am therefore familiar with all manner of "strolls" :)

The comparison you draw with Israel only resonates with me to a certain extent. To embellish what Steg said, while Jews consider Arabs the minority in Israel, Arabs feel the same way about the Jews- not only are we the minority in their eyes, we're by and large also occupiers and thieves. (And while there is still much anger dating back to the Slave Trade within the Black community in the US, it isn't like they've got any universal Naqba fresh in their minds, or an entire cultural narrative based upon one.)

Furthermore, I've seen plenty of - how can we put this nicely- disenfranchised urbanised Jewish youth- crossing the road in the exact manner you describe. I would conclude that it might even be an angry male thing.
Because Palestinian WOMEN will act as you describe *whoever* is driving the car. Eye-contact is not a prevalent cultural habit for many reasons- with men especially. As opposed to a latent (political) shahid-wish, I would interpret behaviour more along the lines of ingrained social status, and how they've been educated to remain in the background in all arenas- crossing the road is no different.

Posted by: PP | Sep 21, 2006 8:06:28 AM

Trep - I was also refering to very deliberate acts, it obviously didn't come across in my comment.

Posted by: EDW | Sep 21, 2006 8:23:10 AM

Seth... congratulations! You've managed to focus on one sentence in a lengthy post, and turn it into an avenue to push your own agenda. Well done.

Your initial "just say minorities if you are uncomfortable saying blacks..." completely ignores the fact that Trep, earlier in the post, used EXACTLY the words you prefer and tout as more PC.

As for sounding dated.... I am sure that Trep does sound "dated" occassionally to someone approximately 20 years younger. Deal with it. One day you will sound "dated" too... oh! wait! you already do.....

Posted by: zahava | Sep 21, 2006 8:25:22 AM

I wouldn't have pointed it out, because it is an interesting post. However, he has used the term several times and it makes me laugh everytime I read it - which can generally be distracting when reading such 'posts of seriousness.'

I am a 'person of youth' which David always uses as his main point against what I'm saying (as if there is a connection between the truth and validity of a statement and how old the person is who is saying it).

It's not like I'm letting him know when to say 'cool' and when to say 'neato.' The point I am making is entirely relevant to what he wrote about. His post of people of color. I'm sure he reads the same news sites and books I read. And I am guessing he has never read the term 'person of color' post 1990.

Posted by: Seth | Sep 21, 2006 8:48:09 AM

i'll bring it back to the original point. you forgot the "diagonal stroll." along with defiant or unaware teenagers in my neighborhood, there is the person who will cross with the light but rather than stay on the straight and narrow zebra path, will divert diagonally into the empty street up ahead of the crosswalk so that as you make your right-hand turn you are slowly following them as they make their way to the sidewalk, turning what could be a 5-second manuever into a several minute endeavor. makes me crazy!

Posted by: nikki | Sep 21, 2006 10:53:13 AM

My first reaction when reading your post is that I've never encountered "the stroll". But on further reflection, I have. Every time I go to a mall or to the grocery store I encounter this. Some people, in the parking lot will start walking faster and others will actually slow down. There is no ryhme or reason. "The stroll" is done by all skin colors.

Posted by: seawitch | Sep 21, 2006 2:31:52 PM

Just wanted to say, nice interview on DB today!

Posted by: Alan | Sep 21, 2006 8:06:50 PM

minorities is not accurate, people of color is. I don't have problems with young chinese in New York, I doubt they feel they are on the bottom of any pole.

Aside from the "stroll" there is also the "block", where they block an aisle in a store forcing you to say "excuse me" as you wriggle your way through their gauntlet. I blogged about the rudeness of blacks (there I said it) before in my post Things that tick me off; see #2

Posted by: planck's constant | Sep 22, 2006 4:04:32 PM

Hi Dave,

I have a friend from Texas who has a particularly twisted sense of humor. He told me he encountered the all male youth stroll so often in the Minneapolis that he developed two techniques to deal with it. His impression was that the stroll was used against him to a) prove that each of the all male group of the utes was brave and b) to piss him off. If he was wearing sunglasses, as soon as he spotted the stroll forming, he would tilt his head down and studiously begin sweeping crumbs off his shirt using both hands. While he did this his eyes would actually be craned upward watching the stroll. The other option was cover his face with both hands, feigning an impending impact. Again while doing this he would be watching through his arms and braking. Both techniques had the same effect and caused the stroll to dissolved into a scatter and dash.

Happy New Year
Andy

Posted by: Andy | Sep 22, 2006 8:34:56 PM

Hard to say--in San Francisco, my home neighborhood is heavily Chinese, and the elderly people in the neighborhood will march out into the street without a thought for oncoming traffic. I've heard it explained that they figure they get right of way for being old--it's your problem to stop your car.

And, across town in the traditionally gay Castro, young men in the neighborhood will run out into the street at the weirdest moments, greeting friends, just crossing.

Neither group strikes me as self-destructive, or seeking martyrdom, they're just placing the burden of safety on YOU.

But obviously, Israel is a whole different environment...

Posted by: Balabusta in Blue Jeans | Sep 25, 2006 3:32:35 AM

1) When I lived in Los Angeles, Iranian women (both Muslim and Jewish) routinely did the same thing you talk about with the Israeli Arab women, which I've also seen routinely in Jeusalem. My guess is that's it's some cultural thing that you or I can't even begin to imagine.

2) Regarding nikki's complaint -- I'm not sure exactly what she's talking about, but when someone who doesn't know how to drive tries to make a right turn through me while I'm crossing the street, I damn well make sure to inconvenience them, too.

3) Shana Tovah!

Posted by: JSinger | Sep 25, 2006 7:21:25 PM

Sounds to me like an assertion of visibility and a demanding of acknowledgement.... interesting distinction you present between man strolls and women strolls...does Zahava call you Trep in real-life too?

Posted by: mcaryeh | Sep 28, 2006 8:15:55 AM

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