I am Nick Carraway

I am no Yalie with a home in the posh part of town, luxuriating with with blue bloods, but I am adrift; observing those around me as their lives float past mine. Last night I drifted to Rittenhouse Square

Bryant Park Jr. is equipped today with a large screen and a catwalk. Chairs surround the temporary structure and restaurants surround the park.

Noted Yale sociologist Elijah Anderson listed Rittenhouse Square as being under the Cosmopolitan Canopy, a place where all races and incomes come together. Perhaps today that was true but not in a comfortable way. All the chairs up front were occupied by black people and all the surrounding picnic blankets, including my own, were sat upon by whites.  There were strays here and there and the tension was all in my own head but here we all were.

It was too hot for mate so I brought terere. On my blanket alone I watched as a fashion show was announced. I turned to face the stage but only saw a woman standing, video recorder in hand, directly in front of me. She remained standing and recording up till the last designer. 

There appeared to be no white models in the show, though one was quite ambiguous.  There were lots of giveaways, all given to the people in the  chairs up front. When the catwalk was empty all those in the chairs left. The sun went down and the park full of white people got dark and the movie began.

While before the stage was devoid of whites, both the park and the screen were now devoid of black. No one muttered when Tom Buchanan complained of studies pointing to the fall of white domination, but a loud “boo” arose when Gatsby yelled into a phone that he did not care what Philadelphia wanted.

Nick leaves his summer in East Egg disillusioned and I left the park much the same way. No one to my knowledge was left floating face down in a pool, hit by a car, or even unhappy. Yet I still didn’t like what I saw. Nick and I are not really naive, but are to some extent detached.

It is progress that two groups of people can inhabit the same park at the same time with relative ease. there was a day not too long ago when such a thing was unthinkable. Yet here we were, sharing the very same event, but still we weren’t. On paper there was one program but in reality there was a black fashion show and a white movie. We sat in the presence of each other looking like we were together but we were not together even a little bit.

It is not their fault or our fault. It is just how it is, which is the same thing so many said back in the 50’s. Sure there are reasons why but the one that strikes me as the biggest, is that so few of anyone is doing anything about it. So few care or even notice.

So, just like Nick, I watch, I sip, do nothing, and in the end, I walk away.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “I am Nick Carraway

  1. Nielsen

    Perhaps the biggest difference between now and 50 plus years ago is that, I hope, no one would have been beat up I’d they had choosen to sit in chairs or stayed to watch the movies. What’s interesting is why groups don’t mixe even when it is “allowed” and in some settings, encouraged. I sometimes see the similar pockets at church.

  2. Neil

    I was curious if you were genuinely happy at Penn GSE and if so, do you miss it?

    • I loved my time there. For me it was an intellectual wonderland; I got to spend my time reading and writing about things I was interested in and talking with people who were interested in the same thing. Professors were surprisingly accessible and free with their time.
      I truly enjoyed time spent with my cohort as well. I miss it quite a bit.

  3. What a lovely post! I completely enjoyed this. Well done.

  4. Mitch

    Sometimes black folks like to sit together “in the chairs” just so they can breathe. Just so they can be “comfortable” and not hassled. Nothing wrong with that. Doesn’t mean that they hate white or that the whites sitting together hated blacks. No one threw rocks. They just enjoyed the movie, tiny screen and all.

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