13 July 2017

Churches and Chicken

My city is segregated by affluence and poverty. 

Drive west in Nashville and you'll find old money, the bourgeoisie, and white coeds sipping $5 tea. Drive north and you'll find Fisk University, mostly poor black and some white people, and the roads always need repair. Drive east and you'll find where black people used to live, but now it's full of white hipsters who like the area for its "history" (it feels like Portland, OR). 

And then there's the southern part of town, my part of town. Full of hookah bars, taco shops, and people of color from all around the world trying to make a living in a place where upward mobility for most is a pipe dream. You can have your car worked on by Essy, the most universally trusted local mechanic. Walk down the street and get baklava or a pupusa while you wait. 

South is where poor people and students congregate and has a reputation for being a dangerous petty-crime-infested part of the city. As Nashville attracts people with fatter pockets it is quickly pushing poor people further out of it and making rental costs too high for most to afford. South has become more sought after by folks who can't afford the East side anymore and don't want to move to North. There are Churches everywhere and houses where poor white people live among Kurdish, Hispanic, African, and Black Families.

Where poor people live is where the majority of fast food Chains end up setting up shop. In my neighborhood there are Waffle Houses, Hardees, and a plethora of fried chicken chains like Bojangles. When you are poor and work labor intensive jobs for low pay, cheap high calorie foods become a survival essential and then a way of life. The chains know this. they don't work to make their spots sleek or even clean and appealing because they will attract their clientele out of necessity and then out of addiction rather than having to coax and nurture them.

The Churches are interesting here too. in the south you can see looming billboards in Arabic and Persian put up by churches to try to entice the large Kurdish population to find Jesus. it is said that Sunday is the most segregated day of the week in the nation. that statement definitely finds expression in the places people worship here. The question, "Where do you worship?" to many folks determines how you vote, what your economic status is, who your friends are, where you probably live, and what you are probably like.

Spammers and advertisers target my zip code and send me credit card offers with black faces on them. They target black people and encourage them to open really crappy lines of credit or attempt to get them in some fast money or pyramid schemes. 

My part of town also has a legacy. Back in the day when Nashville was still a small town it was very segregated. South Nashville and specifically Antioch was where the white folks lived. Black people just didn't go there and you'd be liable to be attacked and run out of the area if you were black and wandered in. A group of black and white business men and women together decided they wanted to change that, so the black families purposefully moved into Antioch somewhat protected by their white counterparts and allies and together helped incentivize other black families to buy in the area as well. Now Antioch is the most ethnically diverse part of Nashville. There is a revolutionary spirit there that makes me proud to call it home!

Perhaps it seems strange that I forged a home here in this part of town. I'll tell you why. I find this part of town honest. It knows how it's been treated, what people think of it, and what it is. It is a diverse and enriching place to live. People are generally polite to one another. There is fear and mistrust but there is also a sense of common struggle. You will see Arabs, Mexicans, Persians and Puerto Ricans working together as car mechanics. You will see Black people and Asians visiting and befriending each other over food. It's very neat.

Antioch and south Nashville will perhaps never be considered an aesthetic gem, but for its ethnic diversity and its history it really is what makes Nashville special to me.

1 comment:

  1. When I read Churches and Chicken, I immediately recalled sitting in a Baptist Church funeral through a long sermon, while the smell of baking chicken wafted up from the basement. Can't remember a word spoken.