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Yesterday, I picked up the Washington City Paper at the corner store, where I had chatted with a longtime African-American neighbor about how well her daughter is doing in school. Strolling home, I waved at the oldest resident of my block, a regal African-American woman who had taken her grandson to the park to play. I picked up the mail to find an invitation to a medical school graduation party for the wonderful African-American woman who lives two doors down. Then I sat down and read your article “Deconstructing Stephanie” (4/30), which characterizes my neighborhood, Capitol Hill, as “a soft spot in the core of D.C., where white guilt settles in among neighbors who don’t really know each other.”
I don’t know which implication I resent most: that my neighborhood is nothing more than a bunch of affluent white transients who avoid all contact with their poor black neighbors, or that all my African-American neighbors are needy ne’er-do-wells, or that the thousands of us who have lived here 20, 30, even 40 years don’t know each other. All do a tremendous disservice to the many longtime Hill residents, both black and white, rich, poor, and in between, who choose to live here specifically because they value our neighborhood’s economic and racial diversity.
Yes, there are areas of Capitol Hill where residents live in unthinkable poverty; your article implies that white residents go about their lives feeling guilty and willing them to disappear. In fact, many Hill residents are actively involved in a multitude of efforts to improve the lives of our neediest neighbors through everything from arts programs to soup kitchens to tutoring and mentoring programs like Friends of Tyler School, the 9-year-old program through which I volunteer. All the people involved in these programs are not affluent whites trying to wash their hands of guilt, either; we, like the neighborhood, represent virtually all racial and economic groups.
Capitol Hill isn’t for everyone. After more than 20 years here, I can easily spot newcomers who find its diversity unsettling and who are uncomfortable turning away the panhandlers and drugged-out beggars like “Stephanie” endemic to any urban neighborhood. My best advice, given many times, is this: Say no, but say hello. She’s our neighbor.
via the Internet