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  • Sarina Greene

A Stop Away From Disparity

For all of my life, I’ve lived in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I never stepped foot in Clinton Hill until I got an acceptance letter for Pratt Institute in fall, a college I hadn't heard of until six months earlier that year when my guidance counselor told me the school would “humor” my poetry.

 Bay Ridge has always been a small, more rural area in Brooklyn. We have the pier accompanying Owls Head Park, tons of family owned restaurants, soccer fields, and cute clothing boutiques. However, it’s not a home I feel comfortable being myself in all the time. Filled to the brim with computer geek STEM majors, none of my peers understood my fascination with the arts, which fueled my desire to find out what being in a private art school was like. I chose to be close to home for college, unaware of how distinct two places so geographically close could be. Although I’d felt I’d been everywhere, I was surprised to find out there was a G train that would take me across worlds to a side of Brooklyn where many artists and the rich dwell in, clueless to the new dangers I would be exposed to. 

I hadn’t realized Pratt was an international school, mainly composed of out-of-towners that came from private high schools. So I stepped into Pratt, astonished by like-minded writers of similar interests, but over time felt small to the subtle classism in a primarily white institution. Clinton Hill is home to gentrified, aesthetic coffee shops, music halls, and art galleries. As a historically black neighborhood, I figured it would help me feel more welcome than I ever have in Bay Ridge, not realizing the odds weren’t in my favor. Bay Ridge is a neighborhood full of Hispanics and Latinos, but barely any African American community. Yet the difference between the two is that Clinton Hill made me feel much more out-of-place, with little-to-no people of color. I would workshop poems in classes about my black experience to be met with blank stares of unknowingness and distaste. It taught me code-switching was real and not just a concept in the janky television series “Big Mouth.” I could act as the perplexing cryptic poet tailoring her work for the masses when in Clinton Hill. Then back at home, I’ll perform the show-stopping erasure transformation out of my artist's getup revealing the regular black girl who plays soccer with her friends from time to time. Either way, being my fullest self didn’t seem like an option. Then my routine was paused because of uproar in Bay Ridge, when a 14-year-old girl went missing. 

Last April, I woke up to headlined alerts of a girl in my neighborhood going missing at my regular train station. “Amber Perez, a student at the High School of Telecommunication Arts & Technology, left school at 2:59 PM on a Thursday. She then boarded the Manhattan-bound R train at Bay Ridge Avenue, rode it to 9th Street and walked to the Manhattan-bound G train platform around 3:39 PM before disappearing shortly after.” I only graduated from Telecommunications a year before she went missing. My feed was covered in descriptions from her height and weight, down to her curly voluminous purple hair. As I scrolled down a Brooklyn Reporter article my eyes halted at a thought. She rode the same trains I would take to get to my college. My blood ran cold. And that morning I struggled crawling out of bed, forced to climb the platform she vanished from. I’ve noticed many Pratt students don’t know that 4 Av-9 St isn’t the safest platform. I’m envious of them for that. From my time on that train line, I have been met with more encounters of assault than I have ever in my life. Fear lingers through my bones when I frequently come home from classes shaking from seeing another man on the G train who wanted to jack-off to me because I couldn’t find a class that gets out earlier than 8:00 pm. Women a part of the New York City transit system are trained to handle these situations. We are asked to stay vigilant, aware. While the ones doing the crime aren’t really accounted for. I’ve unfortunately gotten used to holding back emotional collapse in classrooms after being groped on the train ride there. It didn’t surprise me that something sinister might have happened to Perez on the same platform. 

Perez’s disappearance plagued the community. However, once I entered Clinton Hill for classes, the whispers of the tragic event quieted down to a silence, and I was left appalled at the line between Bay Ridge and Pratt. While my friends and I were posting information to help find Perez, Pratt students were posting the usual art student memes without a clue in the world as to what had been happening. We may all be living here, but I question if everyone can experience Brooklyn the same way if people fail to recognize their privilege. By this, I mean the privilege of not having to think about women from poorer communities who have to live in fear of their surroundings. And I guess that includes me being privileged enough to be the only one from my neighborhood going to Pratt. I wonder though, if it was me who went missing instead, would Clinton Hill bat an eye? Or would my legacy be erased without anyone experiencing the gift of knowing the real me? Perez’s erasure snapped me out of my own. I was censoring myself in rooms of white classmates who neglect the context of the black experience. It was a psychic danger, and I wanted no more of it. 

Thankfully, Amber Perez was found within the week. No friends, no family had heard from her until miraculously she was found back in Brooklyn, apparently by a church. The celebration of it all was joyous and a little mysterious given there was no real update about what truly happened. Bay Ridge and Clinton Hill soon gained common ground for the first time, hushing the disappearing act of Perez once again as if she never went missing at all. And that was that, another New York tragedy brushed under the rug. 

I haven’t code-switched since Perez went missing. Well, not really. I must admit sometimes I find myself in a gray area. It’s a survival tactic to code-switch in work settings. By nature I’ll hold back from even uttering the color black in front of white peers. When I do, I speak up confidently and gaze around the room to see who’s really listening. The other day I had to ask my professor to host a discussion asking why no one feels inclined to talk about the important themes of systemic racism when faced with a poem about black death. I answered by finally admitting how I understand it's an uncomfortable topic especially when it doesn’t apply to you, but not saying anything isn’t the answer. It made me feel as if my pain was a spectacle rather than a real event. A few guilty eyes lingered on me as my professor went on to speak about poetry always being inherently political. We shouldn’t fearfully ignore the power of poetry in the hands of people of color. The silent classroom felt suffocating for the next three minutes. Then a classmate finally responded. They wanted to note the beautiful form of the poem, and my professor and I looked at each other in sorrowful understanding. I oddly felt reassured. There was someone who made me feel not alone. And then I wrote this piece, so someone else could feel not alone. 

If you think about it, the G train is like a connector. We board it and face people of different kinds, packed like sardines in a single train cart. But unlike a neighborhood such as Clinton Hill, you can’t gentrify a train cart. Everyone takes the train and everyone has the chance of seeing what I see. Being a New Yorker is unfortunately about adjusting to the dangers of it all. Yet beauty can still be found in even the tiniest corners of New York, waiting to be discovered. Good thing we have trains that will take us there. With of course, the underlying rush of knowing that any person may be sharpening a knife nearby, peeing in between carts, rehearsing drug deals, and throwing cans of Coca Cola at you. These are all true tragedies, ironically, all of which have happened to me on the G line to 4 Av-9 St. Perez survived her tragedy, so I will survive mine. 


Art by Ella Beard

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