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The new white residents in this one building in Harlem don't like the loud drumming across the street in Marcus Garvey Park (though, it's a park named after Marcus Garvey, for cryin' out loud). That's fine. In fact, I find it to be illustrative of the cultural difference between blacks and whites. H/T RaceWire for the link to this Times piece:

The drummers in the park are African-American and from Africa and the Caribbean. They form a circle and have played in the park, in one form or another, since 1969, when the neighborhood was a more dangerous place. The musicians, who play until 10 p.m. every summer Saturday, are widely credited with helping to make the park safer over the years.

Their supporters, who acknowledge that the drumbeats can pierce walls and windows, regard the musicians as part of the city’s vibrant and often noisy cultural mix. But some in the building at 2002 Fifth Avenue, most of them young white professionals, have a different perspective: When the drummers occupy a spot nearby, residents say, they are unable to sleep, hear their television sets, speak on the telephone, or even have conversations with their spouses without shouting. Some say they cannot even think straight.

While many African Americans may find loud drumming for hours on a Saturday night annoying, they probably aren't going to call the cops on the group that's been doing the same thing every Saturday night for thirty years. I think it's because most black people have a higher tolerance for plain-old cacophony. Also, most black people aren't about to call the cops. We're a loud people, no? And African drums include a subset called 'talking drums.' It's only natural that they're going to be ... attention-getting. (Anecdote alert: My mother used to get on my nerves because she was so loud when she'd talk to her friends. Then, I got to HU and saw that all my friends' mothers, and aunties, and sisters were like that.) Though I'm a pretty quiet person, noise, disorganized or organized, doesn't bother me. It all is part and parcel of the way we communicate. My initial reaction was to take the side of the drummers, but, then I remembered a piece I read recently about a black real estate agent in Harlem who is selling (out?) homes in the area to the highest bidder. This, of course, is her prerogative in a capitalist society. But it does make you wonder how much sacrifice will have to be made in a traditionally black area such as Harlem, where young white professionals move for both the affordability and flava'. As the people who made Harlem what it is are forced out by rising real estate prices, and whites move in (which makes sense, because white people gotta live, too), what happens? In short, does a 30-year-old drum circle have a place if the people who loved and appreciated it are no longer there? And are we asking too much of the new neighbors to adopt the habits of the neighborhood?

7 new thought(s):

Uptown said...

Very thoughtful piece. We've been exploring both these issue over on my blog as well. While we've all been "victims" of noise abuse, we can also sympathize with the drummer who are out enjoying themselves on a Saturday afternoon. We've reach the conclusion that if perhaps the circle were a couple of hours each week as opposed to the excessive 5 or more hours, it wouldn't have escalated to the point of bringing the "man" into the pic. In the back of my mind I feel the "downtowners" complain anyway since they tend to complain about everything in Harlem.

jameil1922 said...

"does a 30-year-old drum circle have a place if the people who loved and appreciated it are no longer there? And are we asking too much of the new neighbors to adopt the habits of the neighborhood?" i'm sure that was tongue-in-cheek. move for the "flava?" ta da! how is it that you come into someone's neighborhood and tell them "yeah forget tradition, this is what you're NOT gonna do from now on." and let's not get into the whole racial issues connotated by the implication that the black folk should be quiet b/c the white folk say so. yeah right. the drummers stay.

The Breaking Point said...

The drummers need to go. Street musicians are charming until you live in areas where they perform. Blacks may or may not be a loud people (I suspect the former to be so), but the only people who should have to deal with that are those who do so willingly.

Adei von K said...

gentrification. not a fan.

girl, my mom would wake the neighborhood up talking to fellow Ghanians! when I was in GA for the 4th, I forgot how loud my friends moms are, too!

i think if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. you can't move to harlem and expect it to be scranton or seattle. holla back

the joy said...

Didn't the agent say, "and also, we have a festive cultural drumming session every Saturday"? And if she didn't, um, sorry but the drummers are better than getting robbed. Why did you choose to move to Harlem? Culture and personality. Its not a white picket fence place.

shani-o said...

@ Uptown: Really? Tell me more about the downtowners who complain about uptown. Are they having trouble adjusting to the different culture there?

@ Jam: I was being serious. If black people are leaving the neighborhood, and the new people coming in don't like it the local traditions, then why should they put up with it? How can we expect them to, if the people who would fight for the traditions are leaving? Things don't stay the same forever.

@ LH: That's why I can kind of understand where the new tenants are coming from. The racist bit, of course, turns it into something about white vs. black, rather than quiet vs. loud.

@Adei: Like I said to Jameil, what if Harlem isn't Harlem anymore? (And word to the waking up the neighborhood. Loudness is like rhythm. We don't all have it, but most of us do, lol.)

@Joy: that's what I was wondering. If you were moving into an expensive apartment in a neighborhood you're not familiar with, wouldn't you check out the area on a Saturday night?

La said...

I don't think it is a racist issue. I think the same people would have an issue if ravers were in the park blasting techno at all hours of the night.

However, it is both naive and disrespectful to think that your neighborhood should change for you. That would be like me moving to Queens and being mad at the mariachi blasting from every radio. Or moving to Boston and having issue with Irish pubs. Part of the reason you select your neighborhood is because there is something there that represents and resonates with you. You move there to be a part of it, not to change it. If you can't comfortably be a part of your community, goddammit just move. Don't break down a positive 40 year tradition because it isn't fitting with your buppie on a budget lifestyle.