I Might Step on Some Toes Today


I saw this meme today. I laughed at first. I live in Knoxville and I happen to live right off of Magnolia. Magnolia is the main street of my neighborhood. I drive up and down Magnolia every day as I take my kids to school and pick them up every afternoon. When I sit on my front porch I have a clear view of Magnolia. I like to sit and watch the cars go by as I daydream about whatever happens to be on my mind.

So, I laughed because I remember when I first moved into this neighborhood and I was a bit spooked by Magnolia. I always drove cautiously, making sure to not be on the road too late at night.

For those of you who aren’t from Knoxville, Magnolia goes through East Knoxville which is a primarily black neighborhood. It’s a poor neighborhood. It’s the “Hood”. Whatever that means. My kids attend all three levels of public schools here and the poverty rate at these schools is in the ninety-something percentile. These schools are pretty segregated. At the elementary school it is somewhere around 96% black, at the high school level it’s around 90%. My children are often the only white child in their class. (I am delighted that my children get to go to school in a multicultural atmosphere, but I’m still perplexed as to why, in 2018, we are still so segregated in where we choose to live that we have schools that are basically all-white and schools that are basically all-black.)

As I was saying….I used to be spooked by Magnolia until I got to know the people here, then I realized they were just people. Like me. Once you get to know people, it’s hard to maintain irrational fears.

Ok, back to the meme. After laughing, my second thought was, Man, these people are a bunch of wimps. My high-schoolers walk to school on Magnolia every day. I do not think that this is dangerous. The schools and families here must not think it’s too dangerous either as our high school has a large population of students that walk to school because they live too close to get a bus. I also take walks with my children in our neighborhood. I don’t carry a gun. I have no fears of getting mugged or assaulted. I suppose it happens, but I also suppose that stuff can happen anywhere. I would say the rules of being aware of your surroundings apply whether you live in East or West Knoxville.

My next thought after I processed all that was, why are they picking on my neighborhood? Is it because it’s a black neighborhood and the friends who are posting this are white and they’re just afraid of people who look different than them? Is it because they have completely bought in to the idea that if you are poor and not white then you are probably dangerous?

I think about the long line of cars that I join every morning. People dropping off their kids at school. In the afternoon we’re all back, picking up our kids. These are the cars that are driving down Magnolia in the morning and the afternoon. Parents taking care of their kids. Of course there are the school buses full of kids, picking up and dropping off their charges. Those are driving down Magnolia. There are also all the people who are headed to work. Magnolia heads straight downtown and it’s a well-used commuting route.  And of course the city buses run up and down Magnolia and there are people standing at the bus stops, waiting for the bus so they can get to their jobs. I see them every morning as I take my kids to school. People like Ms Charmaine who leaves her shift at McDonalds and then catches the bus to Kroger to work her second job. I see her standing out at the bus stop every day.

We do have homeless people in our neighborhood. I see them walking down the street as well. Trying to find a place to sit and rest. Heading towards the soup kitchen where my daughter works part time. They’re just people. Sometimes I see some beautiful things. Like the time I was stopped on a cold morning at a stoplight and I saw a woman,  dressed for some kind of office job and she had stopped in front of a homeless woman who was barefoot. The office-type lady had taken off her knee-high boots and was removing her socks and handing them to the barefoot homeless woman. People loving people. I see these things in my neighborhood.

We also have the semi-homeless population. People who are living in the cheap hotels. They don’t want to be on the street but can never scrape together enough money to come up with a down payment on an apartment and so they are stuck renting by the week at the hotel. The hotel over-charges them and so all their money goes to just keeping themselves in the hotel room and they can never save up enough to move out. A very vicious cycle. I see them as they stand outside their hotel rooms, weighed down with the burden of poverty. And my middle class white friends post memes that say, How come those stupid poor people don’t just go get a job and fix all their problems? And I silently steam because how is someone who has no schooling and can only get a job at McDonalds supposed to ever break free of the cycle of poverty when they are paid minimum wage. A wage that is impossible to live on. It is a very rare person who can overcome such obstacles. And those that haven’t overcome, they live in my neighborhood. They’re just regular people, trying to get by.  

We also have a large refugee population, mostly from Africa, who live in the apartments that line Magnolia. These are people that have endured great hardship in their home countries and have somehow made their way to Knoxville and they are starting a new life. They’re putting their kids in school, they’re doing their laundry at the laundromats that line Magnolia. They walk down Magnolia for miles to the nearest grocery store and buy their groceries. Those are the people you’ll see walking along Magnolia.

And then there are people like my neighbors. You might see Mr. Willis driving around in his pickup truck, hauling around a trailer that carries all his lawn-care equipment. He’ll take care of your yard for you: good work at a good price. Mr. Willis graduated from the same high school that my kids attend. If you ask him, he’ll tell you all about how there’s a picture by the gym of the Austin East Basketball Team State Champions and yep, he’s right there in that picture. Then there’s Miss Cassandra. She works down at the hair salon. She helped us out that one time my daughter tried to give herself a haircut. We took her next door and Miss Cassandra  fixed her up nice. Lecturing her the whole time about not playing with scissors. Then there’s the Johnsons. They immigrated from Jamaica years ago. Mr. Johnson is a property manager. His mother lives with them and she always plants a small vegetable garden in their yard. And what about Miss Lucy? She’s an elderly woman who has lived in this neighborhood most of her grown up life. She recently lost her significant other of 40 years. She calls my husband when she’s worried about something on her property. She loves cats.

We all bought our houses in this neighborhood because it was what we could afford. We work hard, take care of our properties. Go to work every day. If you drive down Magnolia you might see us going about our business, heading to work or the grocery store. You might see our teenagers as they are learning how to drive and heading off to Youth Group functions or maybe to their part-time jobs.

Yes, we have gang members in this neighborhood. But, in my 13 years of driving up and down Magnolia I have never seen any behavior where I could point at a car and say, yep, those are definitely dangerous gang members. And yes, if you are driving late at night you might see prostitutes. If seeing a prostitute scares you then you need to rethink some of your ideas. When I see a prostitute I see an opportunity to pray for someone who is desperate and is desperately in need of rescue. Honestly, it’s not the prostitutes that scare me, it’s the men who prowl around in fancy trucks and pick them up. But, I’d hazard a guess that those men probably come from your neighborhood, not mine.

I hate the fact that I got offended by something on Facebook. It’s so cliche. Everyone is always getting offended about something. I apologize to my friends who posted this meme. I’m not trying to pick on you. I like your memes, they usually make me laugh. This one in particular was more of the Last Straw. I have heard many comments about my neighborhood from my friends and acquaintances, things like, “Yeah, I drove over that way once and it was like Negrotown!” Or, “I never drive in that area, way too dangerous!” or people recounting the time they accidentally drove into my area and how scared they were and how they worked on getting out of there as fast as they could. It occurs to me though, that a lot of fear is grounded in ignorance. Fear of the unknown. So maybe in telling you a bit about Magnolia and my neighborhood, maybe you won’t feel as scared if your GPS directs you to come drive by my house.  

2 thoughts on “I Might Step on Some Toes Today

  1. I love the Magnolia area! The grand old houses are beautiful! Keith grew up off East 5th Ave. He loves driving down the neighborhood streets with our kids, telling stories of the old days and the people who lived there. Pointing out where landmarks once stood; a neighborhood grocery store where moms sent their kids to buy milk and the owner knew everyone’s name and he knew who’s kids belonged where. When our kids were little I frequented the Save-a-Lot. Just this pass week as we drove buy I commented to Keith that I needed to start shopping there again- that in all the years I shopped there, with kids in tow, I never felt threatened. Everyone was always so nice, with often people speaking and striking up conversation. I swear the store manager knew everyone! … and more often than not, my kids and I were the only white persons in the store. So, yes, I’m like you. When others make derogatory remarks about Magnolia I shut their words out. I also make a mental note; to remember their willingness to make judgments on something they know nothing about.

    Liked by 1 person

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