Today, East Liberty—a neighborhood in Pittsburgh’s East End—is a hypergentrified concentration of boutique hotels, upscale retail, luxury lofts and “’90s-style hip-hop fried chicken” restaurants. The redevelopment has been so dramatic, the name of the neighborhood has changed. Some now call it Eastside—a colonizing portmanteau of East Liberty and the neighboring (and predominantly white) Shadyside.
This is also where I grew up. And the East Liberty of the early and mid-’90s was a vastly different place than it is today. From 1989 to 1995, my parents and I lived on the 700 block of Mellon Street, perhaps the hottest stretch in what was then a crime- and gang-infested neighborhood. I’ve seen it all—drive-bys, crack, stabbings, shootings, murders. My mom was even shot while sleeping in her bed by a drug dealer who mistook our house for a rival’s and shot through our windows. (The bullet ricocheted off a wall and hit her wrist.)
Basically, I know what it means to live in the hood because, well, I’ve lived in the hood. And I also know that misinformation about living in the hood is pervasive, existing everywhere from news articles and TV shows about it to the conversations that people not from it have about it. Some of these inaccurate presumptions and outright lies are a bit more popular—and a bit more dangerous—than the rest. Here are 10:
1. Kids who are smart are teased and bullied for “acting white.”
Admittedly, this experience is/was, in fact, the reality for many kids from the hood. I don’t want to pretend as if these things didn’t happen to them. But that experience is often thought of as the norm, when it’s more of the exception.
Of course, teasing and bullying might happen, because teasing and bullying happen everywhere. But if you’re a kid in the hood who has some sort of academic/intellectual talent, it’s more than likely that you’ll have people in the neighborhood supporting and protecting you than trying to beat the “whiteness” out of you.
2. People in the hood face constant pressure from drug dealers and/or gang members to join them.
Again, I’m sure there are many people who were, in fact, pressured to join gangs and/or hustle. But the idea of every hood being overrun by aggressive dopeboys threatening everyone to be down just ain’t true. If anything, they’re mostly nonchalant about it, like, “If you wanna be down, fine. If not, that’s fine too. It’s whatever.”
Also, keeping with this theme ...
3. All drug dealers have money.
Of course, there are some who do quite well financially. But there are many others—so many others—who’d be making considerably more money at Home Depot.
4. Most young people don’t make it past 21.
I’ve always been annoyed at the idea that kids from the hood are lucky to make it to 21. While the murder rates are definitely dangerously and depressingly high in many neighborhoods, it’s not like 75 percent. Most people from the hood make it to 21. And 31. And 41. And 51. (But not 61, because stress.)
5. You must know how to fight because that’s the only way you would’ve been able to survive.
Of course, being able to handle yourself is a valuable skill to have. But you know what’s more valuable? Walking and looking like you know how to handle yourself. And being hyperaware of your surroundings so you know how to avoid situations where you’d be forced to handle yourself. And having friends or family who can handle themselves.
6. If you want to avoid the trappings of the hood, you should probably stay in the house as much as possible.
Perhaps this was/is a good strategy for some people. But in my experience, the best way to avoid finding trouble was staying busy with activities. Sports, school, art, work, whatever. Of the people I knew who got caught up, the main thing that caught them was sheer boredom. They spent all of their time on the block because they didn’t have shit else to do.
7. There are no middle-class families in the hood.
Untrue. Because of structural racism and historical restrictions on where black people were/are able to rent and buy property (and there have been numerous studies proving this), it’s not terribly uncommon to find people with middle-class incomes in those neighborhoods.
8. There are no nuclear families in the hood.
Yes, there are actually nuclear families in the hood. This means that there are actually black children who happen to live in the hood and under the same roof as their dads—who also happen to be married to their moms. Crazy, right?
9. Poor black parents don’t care about their children.
One of the most common ways this “truth” is articulated is through parent-teacher conferences. Basically, that in more affluent (read: white) neighborhoods, parents are so hyperinvolved that teachers have to make specific schedules to accommodate all of the parents interested in meeting with them. Whereas teachers in the hood are lucky to speak to/meet one parent—which is seen as an obvious sign of disinterest and/or neglect.
The reality, however, is more complicated. Sometimes the parent just isn’t able to take off work and attend. Sometimes the parent hasn’t had the best relationship with schools and teachers, and sincerely believes their child would fare better without their involvement. Sometimes the parent just isn’t aware that the parent-teacher conferences are happening because the school didn’t bother sending any notices to them. Either way, it’s dangerous to believe that lack of income somehow correlates to lack of interest.
10. People in the hood are controlled by a constant fear of violence.
Of course, violence exists. It destroys lives, rips apart families and can, in some cases, create a sense of post-traumatic stress disorder. Violence fucking sucks.
But while violence is a reality, it doesn’t prevent the entire hood from leaving the house. Or from hanging out on the corner. Or from being neighborly and friendly. Or from attending and perhaps even throwing block parties. Even the hottest blocks will have kids double-Dutching and playing touch-tab football on them. You might even find some old heads laughing and drinking tea on a porch. Maybe you’d assume they were celebrating making it past 21. But they probably just want to talk to one another about 401(k)s.