Essays Examining Xenophobia


Essays Examining Xenophobia by William W. Berry of Buffalo, New York
Wednesday, January 28, 1998


I have lived in and around Allentown since 1971 and found Arlan Peters' recent letter condemning human-service agencies so misleading, divisive and mean-spirited that I must respond.The most glaring inaccuracy is the assumption that the people who need and use these services are not "residents of the community."  The small islands of affluence that pock the area are surrounded by thousands of people in desperate financial circumstances, who most definitely need and use these meager offerings.  The well-to-do should be rebuilding their sense of moral obligation to support the less fortunate, as well as rebuilding their fashionable Victorian homes.

Another fallacy is that the functions of those agencies are "incompatible" with the life of the neighborhood.  Why is eating a meal at "Friends of  the Night People" any more incompatible than eating one at "Enchante?"  Why is a meeting of the Restoration Society Social Club any more incompatible than one of the Allentown Association?

The answer lies in the elitist and bigoted nature of the anti-human services campaign in Allentown.  Surely there is room for all of us.

William W. Berry

Thursday, April 1, 1999


The photograph of Erie County Legislator Judith P. Fisher at the Symphony North Apartments and the accompanying article in the March 19 News took me way back.  It is not 1999, but 1963.  It is not Allentown, but Tuscaloosa, Ala.  It is not disability, but race.  It is not the hollow stairwells of Symphony North, but the stone steps of the University of Alabama.  And it is not Legislator Fisher, but Gov. George C. Wallace trying to keep people out.

Recently, the anti-social services crowd in Allentown has endeavored to hound services for the disabled out of "their" part of town.  These attacks, cruel enough, have now escalated into what should be forbidden territory.  This attempt to prevent certain types of people from even living in the neighborhood is very scary.  Will it take federal troops to enforce the rights of the disabled to live in certain sections of Buffalo?

William W. Berry

Monday, February 14, 2000


The image of a swastika seeping through from the back side of the page distracted me as I read the Feb. 4 News piece detailing neighborhood and official hostility to the proposed Red Cross emegency shelter for fire victims.  Turning the page for an explanation, I saw at a glance that The News had printed there a Toles cartoon condemning the Austrian Joerg Haider.

How fitting!  Ink intended to stigmatize the Austrian whom The News rightly calls a xenophobe bleeds through the paper to bring home to inattentive Buffalonians a vision of their own prejudice.  The good news is that we can actually do something about our own ungrounded fears and hatred of strangers.  The tried and true method, of course, is to actually get to know the people we would put in isolation because they are different and poor.

Commissioner Ryan and Mayor Masiello should go to the Lenox Hotel, talk to the fire victims and show them as much concern as they do the Allentown crusaders and the wealthy campaign contributors on Oakland Place.

William W. Berry

Monday, June 19, 2000


The June 6 News report on reaction to the proposed Red Cross emergency shelter for fire victims deserves a footnote.  Several West Side block clubs that were approached by the Bryant-Oakland-Summer Association to join the opposition to the much-needed facility have either refused to do so or withheld judgment.

"Forever Elmwood"'s involvement in efforts to slam the door on the shelter should give everyone pause.  Five years ago, the group hounded Benedict House out of the neighborhood with a petition campaign based on lies and disinformation.  Donn Esmonde's April 12, 1995, column, "New shelter is caught in a backlash," noted all the nasty details.

This time, "Forever Elmwood" is going after the Red Cross.  The group's president attempts to frighten us when he raises the specter of "...men who are burned out of their rooming houses who have a substance-abuse background."

I sincerely believe he underestimates the people of my neighborhood.  We will not be cowed by these misleading and cowardly tactics calculated to separate us from our neighbors who need a provisional helping hand.

William W. Berry

Friday, September 15, 2000


Donn Esmonde dredged up tired stereotypes and dangerous myths to fill his Aug. 31 column sympathizing with the plight of Allentown's well-to-do.  Belying his "open arms" fairy tale, as long ago as 1972, Delaware District Council Member William Hoyt incited a "ban the bums" crusade to rid this area of troublesome reminders of poverty and disease.

It's the old story of the haves and the have-nots.  Those who have are uncomfortable around those who do not.  They blame the victims for the problem and try to get rid of them.  One of the tactics they use to achieve this "cleansing" is to induce fear:  the "addict" who will move into the Red Cross fire victim shelter, the "unbalanced" one who stares, the "ex-con" urinating on your lawn.  Allentown is not so far from Sarajevo.

I live on the West Side near Allentown.  Social services saturation of this community is a big lie.  It has been repeated so often in these pages by prosperous and resident News staffers that it has come to be generally believed.  While Esmonde juggles apples and oranges, my impoverished neighborhood cries out for more services, not fewer.

The survey he disparages indicates that the majority of residents would welcome those services.  Presumably, that is because it polled the have-nots as well as the haves.

William W. Berry

William W. Berry
495 Connecticut Street
Buffalo, New York  14213
3600 Words
First Serial Rights
April, 1998, revised December, 1999




William W. Berry

Perched rudely at the corner of Main and Allen Streets in Buffalo is a low, white, wide-picket wooden fence.  It blocks a sensible pedestrian short cut across a "community" garden bidding welcome, the sign says, to the neighborhood known as Allentown. This barrier intersects the fading footpath at an odd horizontal angle instead of following Main Street's natural inclination.  It is unwelcoming and out of tune and place.

These squat pickets bring to mind the antisocial character of the noisy anti-social services crowd which has grown up in that part of town.  Was there a problem with that logical, diagonal route tracing the edge of the railroad-tie planter?  Why would anyone want to keep the community out of a community garden?  If hating the sight of mud or other aesthetic sensibilities led to this extreme, certainly paving stones or a boardwalk would be more inviting and in keeping with the written message.

But maybe it's not just the garden.  Maybe it's a symbol for them too.  Maybe someone wants people arriving by subway from the other side of Main to see this stockade as a sign that they are not welcome further down Allen.  "Welcome to Allentown," indeed.

This half square-mile of historic district subsumes a lively jumble of restored wooden Victorian homes, cracking brick apartment buildings, fly-specked antique shops, tatoo and body piercing parlors, galleries and coffee houses with grimy windows, party bars and music clubs, ethnic restaurants, chain drugstores and nursing homes.

It takes in an endearing assortment of Rastafarians and Junior Leaguers, wily crack dealers and preoccupied Supreme Court justices, cross-dressing social workers, unemployed bartenders, Vietnamese laborers, white-haired former bikers in motorized wheelchairs, paroled Mafia hit men, the nearby symphony's janitors and its cellists.  All around the Allen-Hospital station and F. Scott Fitzgerald's earliest home, freshly painted islands of affluence pock decaying tracts of destitution.

It is true that for several years the good neighbors and their clubs in and around Allentown have been trying to rid themselves of the Salvation Army, Friends of the Night People, Harbor House and other programs providing services to the homeless, poor and disabled.  The campaign succeeded in hounding Harbor House out of the area by enlisting the aid of a county legislator to threaten its funding.  Another mental health rights organization, similarly persuaded, abandoned plans to locate in the city.

The rallying cry for these individuals and their groups has been that there exists an "overconcentration" or "oversaturation" of these types of helping places in the Allentown and West Side neighborhoods.  The crusade has been quite effective because it is composed of organized, articulate, affluent and mainly white campaign contributors.  Their efforts have resulted in the creation of a "Permanent Human Services Siting Review Committee" established by the Erie County Legislature and an ordinance requiring a "special use" permit for human services agencies seeking to locate or expand in the city, passed by the Buffalo Common Council and signed into law by Mayor Masiello.  The combination of these overlapping and possibly contradictory bureaucratic requirements has sapped the energy and depleted the resources of organizations serving the poor and disabled.  Most alarmingly, though, the resulting battery of siting approval hearings has had a tendency to fan a flickering intolerance into fiery hate.

The virtually explicit purpose of the county legislature's siting review committee was originally to use the menace of loss of county funding to "encourage" social services agencies to locate in areas outside of the city's West Side.  In fact, the committee has had in place a de facto moratorium on the expansion or creation of any such agencies on the entire West Side, not just Allentown. It is packed with neighborhood people and providers of services, but has not, apparently, until very recently, embraced even a single social services' consumer representative.  Given the witch-hunting atmosphere of the committee's early meetings, it may be, however, that any consumer representatives have been keeping their affiliations under cover.

The "oversaturation" movement was born in legitimate concerns over crime: burglaries, thefts, assaults, harassment, and vandalism.  Feelings of personal security and property values have declined in the Allentown and West Side areas.  The corroding effects of disparities in wealth are quite apparent when those disparities stare at each other from across the street. Playing into those legitimate concerns, however, are primitive attitudes which can only be described as xenophobia, racism and class antagonism.  These insidious forces are often fed by misinformation and illogic, which can be met with example rather than accepted as inevitable or dismissed as temporary or insignificant.

Much of the publicity intended for out-of-neighborhood consumption put out by these groups explicitly disavows a "not in my back yard" mentality.  Pointing to the area's historic reputation for diversity and tolerance, their argument is that there has to be one hell of an "overconcentration" problem for broad-minded people like themselves to be up in arms.  These social services providers and their clients are so pervasive, they maintain, echoing legal language, that they are changing the character of "our" neighborhoods.

But, in reality, the backbone of this anti-social services movement is commonplace, narrow-minded intolerance, and each xenophobic vertebra of it is visible in the so-called "Overconcentration Study" published approximately five years ago by the Allentown Association, Forever Elmwood, Greater Linwood Community Organization, North Pearl Street Block Club and The Irving Place Block Club.

The "study" speaks of "feeding hours" instead of lunch and dinner hours, when it refers to services provided by Friends of the Night People.  This characterization of the less fortunate as also less than human informs the study's inhuman "solutions": move the Salvation Army's homeless services and Friends of the Night People's dining facilities to the Perry Project, because it is in an "industrial" area.  If the people in the Perry Project don't like it, they can move to other housing projects.  Shades of apartheid?  These examples pale beside the rhetoric at the block club meetings about "trash", "those people", and "welfare scum".  But the "Overconcentration Study", itself, borders on hate literature.

Its isolated crime statistics reveal that the "study" does not even establish the fact of oversaturation in Allentown, much less the entire West Side.  The alleged oversaturation is more an article of faith in the tract.  For example, all it does is enumerate police calls and services provided in a certain area of the city.  There is no listing of calls or services provided in other areas of the city and county, so there is no reference point.  In order for anyone to draw any rational conclusions about whether an area like the West Side is oversaturated, if that is even possible in turn of the century America, a comprehensive mapping and needs study would have to be completed.  Although the county siting committee commissioned such a mapping study by Central Referral Services, which has resulted in an illuminating data base and set of maps pinpointing social services sites,  the group has hardly even discussed the methodology for a most certainly complex needs study.

The five-year old Allentown "study" is still instructive as to the origins and characteristics of the anti-social services atmosphere in Allentown.  It is filled with mischaracterizations and inaccurate data, generated from flawed premises and lines of reasoning, which go something like this:

1.  Social service agencies located on the West Side attract undesirable non-residents who commit crimes and depress property values.

2.   Therefore, closing or containing those agencies, and discouraging new ones, will reduce the crime and make the neighborhood more desirable.

There are numerous problems with this analysis.  Most egregious is the explicit, unsupported and unabashed stereotyping:  the poor people and disabled people who use these services are more likely than "us" to commit crimes and hurt others. Additionally, there is the express elitism, that "we" who don't need these services are somehow more deserving of what the neighborhood has to offer than those others, those beggars.  Related to this elitism is the meanness and lack of generosity implicit in the reasoning.

More concretely,  the reasoning fails because there is no evidence that the existing services are not used primarily by residents. And the provision of food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, support for mental health recovery and treatment for the addicted demonstrably results in a reduction in crime.  Finally, the physical improvements and regular maintenance common to the social service facilities actually enhance and strengthen the neighborhood.  The anti-social services, pro-business bent of the block clubs' "plan" holds as an article of faith that an antique store or specialty shop catering to the healthy and wealthy is a preferred use over a social service for the poor or disabled. Indeed, of late, perhaps recognizing a fault in its logic but not its wisdom, the anti-social services movement has initiated a public and cynical attempt to prevent the disabled from even living in the neighborhood.

How neatly this vision dovetails with the mean-spirited cuts in social services spending engineered by the right-wingers in Congress.  But the study is so short-sighted it does not even consider the beneficial economic impact of those services, such as rents paid to landlords who pay property taxes, and lunches and other goods and services bought by employees of those agencies, or the well-documented crime reduction resulting from the increased level of street activity associated with the provision of such services.

Is it, perhaps, the very appearance or presence of certain and different types of people which drives this self-defeating "ban the bums" campaign?  Could it be that 1970s refugees from grim suburbs are, in their middle ages, endeavoring to transplant the uniformity from which they fled into the core of the city?   Portions of the study point to just such an old-fashioned xenophobia as the driving force:

Anyone familiar with this intersection knows of the
unsightly congestion of people standing at the front
door of this facility all hours of the day and night.

The study is not content with faulty premises and horrifying reasoning, however. It stoops to deliberate lies, stating, for example:

There are no public schools in Allentown with large
numbers of teenage mothers requiring four separate
parenting programs.

The Jeopardy answer "What is Grover Cleveland High School ?" comes to mind.

While Grover Cleveland is actually a block or two from a narrowly-defined "Allentown", the study goes far afield to find those nasty social service agencies which seem to plague its neighborhood.  Included in its list of culprits, for instance, are a community dining room and also a T.B. testing clinic located at Elmwood and Lafayette, a good mile up the street from the corner of Elmwood and Allen.

Clear differences in morality and an obvious lack of human feeling aside, this type of NIMBY movement based on elitism and exclusion, distinguishes itself from legitimate local opposition to state-imposed mandates such as nuclear dumps,  because it exacerbates the local problem instead of ameliorating or preventing it.  A Martian viewing the oversaturation movement and its dubious achievements would be struck by the irony:  a group of influential "haves" have convinced their representatives that they are the victims of the "have nots" and the services provided so begrudgingly to them.  The irony is not there so much, but that the "haves'" transposed characterization increases the antagonism which leads to crime and the negative perceptions which result in a decline in property values.  The quintessential self-fulfilling prophecy.  In the quintessential American city, half emptied of population in the Fifties and Sixties as a result of the very same intolerant attitudes and perceptions.  And this campaign is being waged in the name of keeping the middle class in the city?

At a witch-hunt of a siting committee meeting three years back, the aforementioned mental health rights organization's executive director humbly sought the committee's permission to relocate her small office to Elmwood and Ferry.  A vocal Allentown resident, since removed to pastoral Orchard Park, who happens to be a trust officer at a large, multinational bank, screamed at her that all  "those people" should be out at the old Bethlehem Steel property in Lackawanna where they won't bother anyone.  A whisper, "Don't forget the barbed wire," heard only by a few, captured the savagery of the moment.  The mental health office ended up in cosmopolitan Kenmore.

Although the committee's origins are mired in intolerance, it was for several years chaired by a genuinely decent man of the cloth, the former Director of Erie County's Commission on the Homeless, Daniel Weir.  He shaped the siting committee into a forum and, despite continued funding cut-off threats directed by the committee to organizations such as Harbor House and a lingering "ban the bums" mentality in the block club representatives, the forum has deflected some hate and developed a useful product, the said siting data base and maps.

On a chilly, grey April morning, Dan invited a curious visitor into his sprawling yet homey and cozy offices in one corner of the third floor at the downtown YWCA.  He finished tapping an e-mail message to his twenty year-old daughter in pre-med at Princeton.  Then, proud and protective of his charges, he laid the two-foot by three-foot siting maps out on a conference table. Seemingly in tandem, the minister and his guest leaned over the charts and Dan explained their significance.

On one, scores of small red dots, representing the site of each helping service, are clearly concentrated downtown and snake out from there closely following the yellow paths representing bus and rapid transit routes.  In another, the services are represented by circles of differing sizes proportional to the numbers of people they serve.  The largest ones are downtown.  It sure doesn't look like the evil social services bureaucracy has singled out Allentown or the West Side.

Dan commented that the maps illustrate the providers' sensitivity to their clients' need to be able to reach the services by public transit.  He also ventured his opinion that the maps and data base from which they were drawn will be useful to the providers in making siting decisions.  Implicit in his comment was a recognition that, given this information, and lacking an overall needs study, the providers and clients, themselves, who also just happen to be residents of their communities, are the appropriate assessors of the extent of need for their particular services at a particular location and that they will be able to perform this assessment more confidently knowing the location and types of services already being provided.  Also implicit in his comment and manner was a trust he held in the professionalism and good sense of the caring individuals who staff these organizations.

Hopefully, in the future, the committee, making use of such data and maps, might continue to evolve toward a roundtable in which neighborhood groups, providers and consumers can communicate their plans and concerns, moving away from intolerance and bans. Unfortunately, Dan resigned as Chair in September, 1999.  Now, a wealthy county legislator best known for leading the charge to rid her city neighborhood of these troubling reminders of disease and poverty has taken over.  If possible, the funding blackmail has intensified.

Just prior to Dan's departure, a seasoned defender of the rights of the disabled speculated that any vision of the siting committee as metamorphosing from a negative to a positive force would become a reality only if it takes concrete steps to combat intolerance.  When pressed, he sketched out those steps in words to this effect:

First, the local politicians who, for the most part, have been at their worst on this score, wretchedly pandering to the prejudices of the less eccentric but more vocal and monied of their constituents, must be educated.  Though they have an obligation to principle as well as to their contributing constituents, the lawmakers must be consistently reminded that there are large numbers of voters who will not tolerate discrimination.

Similarly, just as it has communicated the neighborhoods' complaints, it is obligatory for the committee to publicize the sustenance the helping agencies deliver to their neighborhoods:  curtailing crime by cutting at its roots of poverty, disease and inequality, and supporting their surroundings with cash.  Might it yet be possible for the committee to coordinate a media blitz accenting these benefits as a counterpoint to the neighborhood complaints for which it has served as a convenient rostrum?

The committee has the power to insist upon documentation of oversaturation and persuasively question the alleged link between social services and increased crime and reduced property values.  Members can demand that the vigilantes define such terms as "change the character of a neighborhood."  They might even speculate publicly as to the likelihood that the antagonism and negative publicity generated by the oversaturation movement has actually caused or exacerbated the evils it claims to be fighting.

The siting committee must work to insure a balance between the numbers of out-of-the-closet consumer representatives and the neighborhood representatives.  Committee members and observers can also be there to insist that action on any mapping or needs study take into account public transportation accessibility and convenience, especially for specialized services which can economically be located in only one place.

The committee would do well to support immediate repeal of the city special use permit ordinance, which caused such a terrible ordeal for the Harbor House clients and staff, as redundant at best.

Reduced to fleeing Allentown by legislative funding threats, this model homeless outreach and drop-in center settled in downtown's northeast corner.  Playing to the new neighbors' speculative complaints and worst instincts, the Buffalo Common Council's majority shamelessly milked the public hearings required by the local law for personal advancement and denied the special use permit.  Harbor House then challenged the legality of the ordinance, so unforgivably misused, in Federal Court in Buffalo, as violating the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and state and local laws.  Judge Skretny granted a Preliminary Injunction, forcing the city to allow Harbor House to occupy the downtown site.  He found that Harbor House was likely to succeed in its claim that this application of the special use ordinance was unlawful.  A respite!  But inestimable energy had shifted and dissipated; fiscal intimidation still lurked in time to come.

And, finally, to better that time, this same advocate asserts that the committee could work to dispel the myths and rumors which the "ban the bums" movement needs to survive.  One such myth is that the Friends of the Night People operates the only soup kitchen in the city.  A variation on that myth is that it is the only one that serves an evening meal.  Another particularly invidious concoction is that the provision of services on the West Side somehow deprives the needier East Side of services.

Other disability rights defenders and committee members, including Dan Weir and the Director of the County's Office for the Disabled, now forcefully argue that the Committee, with its witch hunts, must go, because it legitimates discrimination.

But, irrespective of the being and beyond the immediate confines of the siting committee, it is a visual artist who, with her words, has unveiled a most powerful measure for the rejected to fight this intolerance and assure that counseling and other services remain and can locate where they are needed; that, indeed, they may live where they choose.  In Out of Order, Out of Sight, Adrian Piper suggests:

...that the basic tendency that gives rise to all these areas of repression is the same.  I think that Kant is right about this; there is an innate tendency to categorize, and if we did not do that, we would experience total chaos.  So the basis of xenophobia is innate.  It is hard-wired, and it is impossible to escape.

However, what counts as alien, what counts as fearful and unfamiliar, is entirely a matter of social context.  If one is raised in a social context that has lots of different kinds of people in it, is very cosmopolitan, then one will not experience fear of other people, no matter how they look.  If one is raised in a situation that is very provincial, very homogenous, in which everyone looks more or less the same, then it is much harder, because any variation in appearance or dress or conventions or behavior will be cause for fear until one can grow accustomed to someone who has that anomalous or different appearance.

If even a few of  those who have used these services for recovery from addiction or mental illness, who have eaten a meal at a soup kitchen or needed help to manage their finances, should join their neighborhood organizations and block clubs and let their histories and views be known, they might gradually be able to turn the intolerance around and change the leadership that caters to bigotry.  Social services organizations could encourage this participation.

A veteran of alcohol counseling and the neighborhood observes that this is not a simple task, especially on an individual level, because of the fear of being labelled a freak.  It takes courage to even attend a block club meeting, much less join the organization, when your neighbors are speaking out not about what you thought you had heard at first, but about the trash walking down the street.  He imagines confronting the dread and making a point of appearing at those meetings, thus establishing "ourselves" as part of the community.  We can in this way, in the company of our neighbors, proceed to erode the stereotypes, calm the fears and, quite possibly, root out that white picket fence.


William W. Berry
495 Connecticut Street
Buffalo, New York  14213
2300 Words
First Serial Rights
January, 2000

In the Fall, 1998 issue of Mental Health World, "Turning Around Intolerance" ("Welcome to Allentown") examined the xenophobic basis of the anti-social services movement in Buffalo's Allentown district.  That article concluded that the most effective means of clearing the pervasive uncharitable atmosphere would be the open involvement of social services recipients in their block clubs and neighborhood associations.  This follow-up piece by the same author contemplates the motivations and experiences of one person who did just that, although in a different part of town.  It is offered in the hopes of encouraging and informing those who are understandably fearful of making such a leap.

An Outing in Evans

by William W. Berry

The Town of Evans early today said no to a rehabilitation center for 50 addicts on the Derby lakefront...After a stormy five-hour public hearing, punctuated by shouting, catcalls, insults and wild applause by a crowd of more than 250 residents, the Evans Town Board voted unanimously at 1 a.m. to deny the company a special-use permit...Dr. Douglas Gilbert, an Evans physician who treats alcoholics, hushed the crowd with an emotional appeal for the project.  'I am an alcoholic and a narcotics addict,' he said.  'When you talk about what kind of people would come to this facility, you're talking about me.  If rehabilitation hadn't been available to me, I wouldn't be standing here--I'd be dead.'

Buffalo News, February 20, 1992

Seven and one-half years later, but only fifteen miles away, in Buffalo, Doug Gilbert waits at an Allentown cafe.  He is tall, even seated by the window at the sheet steel table in the wrought iron chair.  He is bearded, the permanently adopted outgrowth of impersonating Meister Eckhardt in a recent production of his own stage play,  Meister Eckhardt Speaks.  His wife wanted him to keep the whiskers.  Meister Eckhardt was a thirteenth century Dominican monk who preached "belonging through detachment, prostration and prayer" to his Rhineland neighbors.  Doug is a Presbyterian minister who is not comfortable confined to the heavy chair, to predestination doctrine or to a century and land whose preachers are not leaders.  His neighbors are in western New York.

He precociously greets his lunch date by name as the shorter man, whom he has never met, arrives in the rain and closes his umbrella and the door to the street.   Doug has, Doug explains, looked him up in a twelve-year-old pictorial directory and he hasn't changed all that much.  At Doug's suggestion, and by astonishing coincidence, they had earlier made plans to meet this day at another restaurant, several blocks down Allen Street, close by and within sight of the white pickets which still perch rudely at the corner of Main.  But that ironical spot was closed for the week.

After several tries at selecting something they're not "out of," Doug settles on bacon and eggs; his companion, linguine.  The new arrival wants to know what happened after that 1992 meeting and the newspaper publicity.  Did the rehabilitation center ever open?  What happened to your practice and reputation?  Has there been opposition to similar facilities since? As strident?  Have you any regrets about being so open?  Have any of the opponents repented?  What about the fate of others who spoke in favor? How did treatment help you?  Why you would put so much on the line.

Doug responds with his story.  He grew up in Middleport, up in Niagara County, graduating from high school in 1962.  Hobart College.  Princeton Theological Seminary.  A year at St. Andrew's in Scotland studying the New Testament in Greek.  A  parish pastor near Corning.  Then on to medical school in Philadelphia, a general surgery residency in Cleveland and neurosurgery residency in Detroit.  Increasing amounts of alcohol and other drugs and always more degrees and achievements to accompany them.  He picked up tobacco smoking from the thoracic surgeon who mentored him in Cleveland.  They would  remove a cancerous lung, then break for a cigarette together before moving on to the next patient.  He still smokes.

But the drinking and drugging would stop in 1985.  After a marriage and three children and a divorce.  After years of telling himself that he was too smart and too accomplished  to be so sick.   And after being told by another woman he loved that he was a drunk and she wanted nothing to do with him.

In September, 1985, he signed up for the 28-day detoxification program at the Chit Chat Rehabilitation Center in Pennsylvania. He came out clean and stayed that way.  In late 1990, on the shores of Lake Erie, after five years of misery and meetings,  he met a Catholic priest who talked to him and tried to understand him.  Doug was this close to suicide.

Doug told him of the boyhood beatings, the emotional and sexual mistreatment.  The cleric helped him to understand that he had been treating his childhood wounds with alcohol and other drugs and  recommended a five and one-half day family counseling program at Chit Chat.  It had helped others he knew to learn how to uncover these mysterious early afflictions.  People who are paralyzed with fear don't want to drag out these injuries just because they are so affecting, so consuming, so shaming.  But the program would help him to identify his particular curses and give him some tools to moderate and move forward from their adverse effects.

Desperate, Doug got right on the phone and discovered that the sessions were booked for months.  By confessing to the woman on the phone that he might not "be around" for the next opening, he convinced her to admit him to the one starting the next week.

That five and one half days taught Doug that his parents were sick, not bad.  The experience  made it  easier for him to forgive and harder for him to be so angry.  He began to understand that in adulthood he had been replicating his experiences in childhood--hiding and covering up and avoiding these memories that hurt him so much.  He cemented these realizations with three more years of Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings; with three years of struggling with a painful past he had not wanted to dig up.  Counseling really did save his life.

He now teaches addiction medicine at the University of Buffalo medical school "when it occurs to them to offer such a basic course."  He studies and interprets the Sermon on the Mount and visits prisons to treat the inmates.  He continues to see and treat more conventional patients.  He refuses to do business with HMOs.

Finishing off his omelette, Doug muses on what might have possessed him that freezing night in Evans to bare his intemperate soul before so many so merciless.  He reveals to his still hungry companion that he had already "lost his anonymity" back in 1985 when he first sought help and counseling for his addictions.  In a fit of irony,  the CEO of the hospital where he was then Chief of Staff  "blew him in" to the State Health Department only after Doug had acknowledged his problem and stopped drugging and drinking.  He went bankrupt defending the charges but managed to keep his license and his patients.

So speaking out in 1992 at a huge public gathering studded with news gatherers risked little more than the gamble he had taken when he first admitted he was a drunk and a junkie.  Then he chanced his reputation to save his life.  Seven years later, getting up to speak out openly for the recovery center energized him and made him feel invincible just as first acknowledging his addiction and sickness gave him a chance to stay physically alive.  Both times he needed public affirmation to "fix the brokenness."  First his. Then his and Evans'.  Why did he need the audiences?

The healing had to acknowledge the disorder:  he hadn't been able to love himself; he had not been good enough, so he had always sought others' recognition.  His addictions, though, cloaked childhood trauma, re-enacting the childhood cover-up each day of his adult life. The nature of the hurt required secrecy and seclusion.  The hiddenness was part of the disability.  In coming to accept and care for himself he still needed the attention of others; hiding these secrets had gnawed away at his sense of being part of the world.  This need to share to stop the private addiction, was in the Evans crowd that evening folded into and fortified by an external cause:  the bid to salvage an operation whose prototype had actually saved his life by acquainting him with these realizations.

Even more, this speaking out in Evans was for a facility which was feared and opposed because "... if the bums get too close, I might have to face those demons in me, also, and confront those forces and problems in my own life which I'm trying to hide." As Doug saw it, the opposition that night was submerged in an epidemic of hopelessness which it did not have the tools to resist.   Every one of them supposed that this organization, its bureaucratic creators, its powerful supporters and its unseemly following, were all out to subvert their individual choices to live in peace and isolation in a town bordering Eden.   For them, that battle, then, represented a specific outcropping of the smothering malaise of hopelessness which surrounds them and convinces them that everyone is trying to take away something from everyone else.  Then there was Doug stating, "No, it doesn't have to be this way.  It isn't this way.  I am one of you and a place like this gave me my life.  This one will give you yours, not take it away." Doug fought for the life of the rehabilitation center and his community because counseling and then his community had given life to him.

To join the block club or to speak out at such a gathering is, then, to stage a redeeming drama.  You must acknowledge a problem to begin to work it out.  This is about accepting:  accepting the history and the body that combined to bring you to this point.  Accepting who you have become represents an end to covering up those influences; an end to pretending that all those causes had no effects.  If you haven't accepted your past influences, you haven't accepted the need to abstain because you still want to obliterate them with drugs and alcohol.  Maybe you haven't accepted your need to take medicine to lighten those delusional escapes from your situation, or perhaps you haven't accepted the need to get some help to balance your checkbook. If you have accepted yourself,  it is impossible to hide that history from the others.  Being open and accepting are part of the same process.  If you can't disclose, you haven't accepted because you are still saying to yourself that what "they" think about you is more important to you than who you have become.

This is basic "Howard W. Campbell" stuff.  Vonnegut 101.  You become what you pretend to others to be.  A prisoner.  Think about your pretensions.  If you continue to pretend that you've never suffered these curses you've gone ahead and denied to others that there is anything you or anyone can do to alter this aftermath you are living through.  You have erected a jail. Predestination rears its debilitating silhouette:  to forget and avoid pain, we drink or escape into delusions and that's just the way it is.  To be able, rather,  to engineer change, to deconstruct the penitentiary, to, in Doug's words, experience true resurrection, you must accept and study the calculus of the past.  And you must be willing to move beyond that past.

And it is also about energy and time.  Pretending borrows all this space that you would otherwise be using, naturally and unconsciously, openly and easily, for making the changes and for understanding your past trauma to make those changes possible.  You don't open up to that new acquaintance who seems so ready to understand because your energies are directed into your mask.

The good citizens of Allentown lament an "unsightly congestion."  Is it possible the crowd at Evans doesn't want to even see the addicts because each of the group as individuals has not accepted themselves and each and every person who has admitted a problem and sought treatment threatens to uncover their disguises? Is the psychological basis of xenophobia,  that "hard-wired" distrust of the strange, related to another hardwired process which conspires to obliterate the memory of pain?  Have we done mischief if we bring that specter home?

Doug's story and musings have taken his listener into this reflective spiral.  He asks Doug if there weren't any ill-effects of the outing in Evans.  Doug says no.  It was all positive for him.  He doesn't think any of his patients abandoned him.  He has earned a deference reserved for the forthright. What about the crowd?  It's as if Doug has circled with his correspondent's thoughts: "Each and every one of them will be less likely to think the stranger they meet is trying to take something away from them."  And that is because they know Doug has faced his demons and Doug is familiar to them.

But, no, the rehabilitation center never happened.  And no others have popped up.  He is not aware of the fate of any of the others who stood up for the rehabilitation center that midnight in 1992.  Not one of the opponents has ever come to him hat in hand.  Any  gauge to measure the sum total of Evans' distrust is not so finely calibrated that we will be able to determine the Doug Gilbert variation the next time such a clinic comes up for debate.  But because Doug unmasked his own struggle in the presence of his neighbors and because the sum total of that fear of strangers mirrors or maybe even duplicates the aggregate fear of all their own masked and unaccepted selves, the gauge will certainly read lower next time.


Link to Buffalonian Peoples Pages

                       May 5, 2006

On June 27, 1995, spurred by cries of over-saturation in Allentown, the Common Council enacted what it called a “Restricted Use Permit” Ordinance, Buffalo’s first zoning restrictions directed specifically at “Human Service Facilities.”  Only David Collins dissented. With Allentown awash in simian fright and snobbery, the Erie County Legislature had, barely two weeks earlier, convened its own “Social Services Siting Committee,” explicitly designed to put these same human services providers through the funding blackmail wringer if they dared to propose West Side locations.

That month the air, itself, seemed over-saturated with hate.  At the June 20th Common Council Public Hearing on the proposed Ordinance, block club members shouted down a lone voice objecting to passage of a law targeting the disabled, minorities and the poor.  On June 14th, to the loud acclaim of neighborhood association and business group partisans attending the very first Siting Committee meeting, the Deputy County Executive proposed a ban on all new West Side human service sites.

Subsequently, in 1998, denied a Restricted Use Permit after a required and inflammatory public hearing marked by the shameless grandstanding of certain Common Council members, an innovative homeless drop-in center brought suit in Federal District Court, successfully challenging the City’s use of the Ordinance against the center as violating the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and various State and local laws.

In November, 2002, after an extensive study of the specific operation of the Permit process from 1996 through 2001, the State Attorney General’s office in Buffalo notified City attorneys that the City was applying the Ordinance inconsistently.

In June, 2003, perhaps in response to these broadsides, the Council significantly amended the Ordinance, making the process less political by removing Permit decisions from the Common Council to the Zoning Board, but also placing an impossible burden on human services providers to demonstrate that their presence would not adversely impact neighborhoods.  Indeed, the new law replaced a percentage standard for measuring adverse neighborhood impact with a subjective “alter the character” standard, actually increasing the likelihood of arbitrary denials, and exacerbated that perversion by retaining the incendiary public hearing requirement, disguised in the domino of the general Zoning Code.  

In April of that same year,  after three full years of collaborative study, work and give and take, a coalition of service providers and a handful of their clients, known as the Inclusion Task Force (ITF), organized by HOME Director Scott W. Gehl, had agreed to propose to the City a Siting Ordinance the group had written with an eye to minimizing discriminatory impact on the disabled poor.  The organization had considered and agreed with arguments that any zoning regulation aimed exclusively at social service providers and their clients was discriminatory, but opted to work in the real world.  Upon presenting the proposal to the Corporation Counsel in early June, the ITF learned of the Common Council’s proposed amendments and scrambled to organize support among the lawmakers.  But the Council went its own way.  

The Inclusion Task Force kept at it and continued to advocate for their submission to the Council throughout 2003, filing it and bringing it up for discussion before the Legislation Committee.  The hallmarks of ITF’s original plan included an accommodating statement of intent, a shift of authority from the Council to the Planning Board, the automatic grant of a Permit if objective concentration percentages were not exceeded, and an optional rather than a required public hearing if the percentages were exceeded.

Invited to “meld” its proposal with the existing Ordinance by the Chair of the Legislation Committee in February, 2004, the ITF went back to the drawing board and, in October, 2004, after the existing Ordinance had expired and was not re-enacted, proposed a “melded” Ordinance, again designed to limit assaults on the disabled and the poor.  The melded proposal kept the conciliatory tone, went along with the shift of authority from the Council to the Zoning Board, and replaced the automatic grant with a presumption of “no adverse impact” when concentration did not exceed the “bright line” percentage.  Under the general Zoning provisions, any application to the Zoning Board is subject to a public hearing and the melded version did not change that.  In November, the Council tabled the proposal for an opinion by the Corporation Counsel.

The Task Force prodded City lawyers for an opinion on the proposed “melded” Ordinance and, finally, in July, 2005, they responded.  An Assistant Corporation Counsel explained that the Ordinance had expired in July, 2004 and that her office would not approve any further such provisions or amendments because State jurisdiction pre-empted local regulation of these matters.

Given these assurances, but also aware of evidence that the City had cynically continued to enforce the expired rules, in August, 2005 the Task Force adopted a “watchful waiting” stance.  Certainly no Ordinance was better even than the Task Force’ original version.  But the group would protest the City’s continued exercise of non-existent authority and ask the Council’s Legislation Committee Chair to advise them of any attempts to revive the lapsed Ordinance.

And that is just what happened.  Echoing Allentown’s 1995 xenophobic outburst, the Parkside area erupted in intolerance when, in February, 2006, a provider of residential chemical dependence treatment sought to locate in a 70 year-old industrial building at Main and Amherst Streets.  The Council responded with a resolution to “restart” the extinct Restricted Use Permit Ordinance.  But because it had a more human alternative all ready to go and an intact communications structure, the Task Force was able to act effectively.  
The group resumed its dialogue with the Corporation Counsel’s office, which now, part of a new regime, felt no longer bound to respect its earlier position that it would not approve such an Ordinance.  The Task Force then returned to its advocacy before the Common Council at a public hearing and at a special meeting of the Legislation Committee, called expressly to examine the ITF’s “melded” version of the law.  As of this writing, on May 5, 2006, the Corporation Counsel is working on a draft which will, hopefully, ease the discriminatory burden on social services providers and their clients.

The Restricted Use Permit Ordinance, as it existed, spawned numerous afflictions on the provision of services to the disabled poor.  Among them were a deplorable tendency toward increased segregation of services into sections of the City in which opposition is muted or non-existent, such as industrial or abandoned areas; an equally dramatic and scary tendency to fan the flames of intolerance by grandstanding politicians and neighborhood residents at public hearings; a confirmed and steady drain on the resources and time of service providers resulting in fewer services provided; and extreme inconvenience in traveling to or total deprivation of services because of inaccessibility.

Inclusion Task Force supporters, including numerous HOME members and Insight readers, can rest assured that their efforts have set some limits on these offspring of intolerance.
William W. Berry

Link to Housing Opportunities Made Equal
Link to Housing Opportunities Made Equal Article

1969 Woodstock Poster

Summer, 2002
Letters From Peggy

July 17, 2002

Quentin, Are you about 36 years old and from the Montreal area? If so, I would appreciate your forwarding this message on to your mother. If not, just delete this. You and she were on a road trip in Maine back then and picked up a hitchhiker, either one Ed Claflin or one Lenny Bloch, I forget, both newly-found friends of mine, whom I haven't seen or heard from since those days, who brought you and your mother to our "total loss farm", where you both stayed for several days. You were about 4, your mother and Ed or Lenny and I about 23, and I taught you how to saw and split firewood. I recall those few days nostalgically as a magical time in which total strangers became almost a family. I recall your name because I wrote on the wall before you left, "Quentin Royle stayed here for a while in September", and for some reason the phrase just stuck in my head. I don't even recall your mother's first name or the circumstances of your leaving, or your destination. But my reason for contacting you is not entirely nostalgic although there is some of that; its more like curious. I am and have of late been concerned with and studying and trying to understand the psychological bases of people's fear of the different and particularly the unknown stranger. It is in the context of anti-discrimination work in my neighborhood in Buffalo, protecting services and homes for the poor and disabled from attack by xenophobic "neighbors." I view our time in September, 1970 (and other similar experiences through the years) as a sort of model for avoiding that sort of phobic reaction and wonder if your mother could, if it suits her, share her feelings and ideas with me. In particular, I would like to know if she agrees that four strangers became a virtual family and, if so, how does she feel it happened? How did we overcome the "hard-wired" fear and distrust so quickly? Was it that we were young? Was it the times and, if so, what was it about the time? Or maybe it was just that we weren't so different. I'm not looking for a formula, just some sort of validation (or invalidation--maybe I was just infatuated with your mother, for instance) of what I have believed to be a realistically-grounded, even if short-lived, vision guiding my efforts in the community. I guess I just want to hear another point of view. Thanking you and your mother in advance, sincerely, William W. Berry.

July 19, 2002

Dear William,
My son Quentin, after thinking long and hard, with the automatic distrust
you mentioned, but also because he doesn't want any harm to come to me,
forwarded the message.
I remember those days, too, not in too much detail, but vividly nonetheless.
My thoughts may not fit in with any theories. I think I come from a trusting
family. I never expected any harm from anyone, and I have been continually
surprised and disappointed in people. I spent many years in the "helping"
professions, perhaps like you, and ended up being burnt out. Now I still
teach English to immigrants, who are the nicest clients, and I have become a
translator (French to English). I deal with fewer and fewer people, and I am
starting to develop a healthy (I think it's healthier for me, anyway)
distrust to protect me from exploitive types.
Yet I have lived in some "communal" arrangements. Right now I have a young
boarder - actually he doesn't even pay rent - without Canadian papers. He
comes from Guinea. And I think he is just a little bit exploitive. Also, the
other two apartments in the building are occupied by friends. I called them
when the apartments were available and introduced them to the landlord.
(Apartments are getting very hard to find in Montreal). We share a big back
yard. That is, I do all the work and they enjoy the space. One of them
leaves his back door unlocked and we have each other's spare keys. I pay the
landlord in cash and don't even ask for a receipt. He shows up anytime after
the first of the month and we talk, he fixes something, and the guy in the
basement apartment usually pays him half now and half on the fifteenth. (He
is a guy from Somalia that I met playing pool in a bar, and we became
friends just like that. I make lots of superficial "pool" friends.) We live
in a low-rent section of Montreal, not far from downtown, and it is full of
immigrants from all over the world. Just now, Canada needs immigration
because the birthrate is very low. They are all represented here, and the
food shopping is great! You see brilliant saris and African dresses, hear
the music of the world through open windows, and so on. I have no fear of
the neighbours - quite the contrary - because I feel that they are not
judging me so much, that everyone has their own culture, that we are living
in different realities, that I don't really belong in their circle. They see
me, but they can't "place" me socially. They are concerned with getting
established and educating the next generation. Sometimes the men approach me
late at night, thinking I must be a prostitute because their culture views
women in a protective light. But they are just asking, if you know what I
mean. There is very little problem with violence here. Most of the violence
takes place between biker gangs or mafia groups, and they don't operate,
openly at any rate, in this area. They do operate in the sense that
restaurants commonly pay protection in Montreal, as far as I know.
So I guess you could say I am still living out some of those ideals, having
found a place in a big, western city where "we are the world." I had a lot
of relationships with men from other countries, all of which were
interesting and instructive, but most of which ended with me being used one
way or another. You could say this was a character flaw of mine. I have
never gone for the big bucks, preferring to work for government institutions
such as hospitals, clinics, detention centres, schools, and universities. I
like free time, too. I give everything away once I'm tired of it (clothes,
books, gadgets). I have learned not to lend CDs, but I make cassettes for
friends if they want. I have fewer and fewer real friends because I got
tired of giving and helping and not receiving when I felt I needed
something. Now I tend to do for myself more. I want to accomplish more. I
don't want to waste so much time with other people's problems. I spend a lot
of time with my grandson (3 years old). He is my daughter's son. I feel I
was too immature when I had my kids, and I am trying to do a better job as a
grandmother. Besides, he is the light of my life.
This is getting a bit long. I have not really answered your questions. But
you made me think about idealism and what it is, really. I am not sure, but
maybe for me it was a way of seeking approval by being of service to others.
A lack of self-confidence. I am now trying to develop my talents and be more
productive. Perhaps I will write someday. I am learning to set limits on
what other people take from me. And when I offer help or whatever, I am
trying to give it without motives, i.e., not hoping to get something back
like love or acceptance.
I remember that you were very good with Quentin, who was a difficult child.
Most people quickly lost patience with him. I felt quite isolated from all
the action that was in the air in those days - saddled with two children and
a husband who basically didn't like me, with too much responsibility too
young. I was surprised and grateful to meet someone who didn't think it was
a drag to spend time with a hyperactive, oversensitive, demanding,
short-fused little boy. On the contrary, you seemed to find him precious. It
changed my outlook, and I thank you for that.
Shortly after I got back to Montreal, I separated from my husband, and we
shared the kids back and forth. In those days, the mother usually got
custody, but of course I had to be cutting-edge in that too, and now I
regret not spending more time with them.
I still meet strangers easily - in my classes, when I go out salsa dancing,
in translation work, playing pool - and I still hope for the best, but have
become more cautious in my expectations.
But enough for now.
Best regards,
Peggy (my official name is Margaret).

July 20, 2002

Peggy, I can't thank you enough for your heartfelt and prompt response to my
letter. It's so exciting when a shot in the dark like that actually works!
Peculiar to the modern world of searches and computers and your son's unique
name, I guess. Also, I want to thank you for being so responsive to my
concerns. I think you're onto it when you talk about the way you were
brought up to be not afraid of others. You've helped me. Adrian Piper, the
artist, finds that xenophobia is "hard-wired" and that it is overcome in the
cosmopolitan experience. Thank you for your history, too. I am also into
"human services," having been a legal services lawyer for 22 years, doing
mainly health care issues, eligbility for and coverage within the various
welfare and insurance plans which proliferate south of the border. I hope I
didn't mislead you into thinking that the attacks on social services here
were violent. That potential is always there (Hitler went after the disabled
children first), but we're fighting mainly political, legal and psychological
battles to maintain services in neighborhoods that consist of all sorts of
income levels and cultures and apparently consequent mistrust. Montreal
sounds so nurturing and varied. That's one thing I've always noticed and
theorized about Toronto: that it's neighborhoods are varied and thriving and
alive because of immigration policy, as contrasted with the US and Buffalo,
in particular. I will write more in the very near future. Thank you again
for being so responsive. Bill.

July 21, 2002
    Yes, please do write more. Peggy

July 22, 2002

Hi William,
Don't make the mistake of idealizing Toronto or any other part of Canada.
Just last week there was a hate murder of an Orthodox Jew, and Indian
immigrants ("Pakis") have frequently been attacked in Toronto. For hundreds
of years, the only jobs for blacks in Canada were maids and railroad
porters. Chinese railroad workers were not allowed to get married, and just
to come here, they had to pay an enormous "head tax." Japanese were interned
in World War II. The Native population has been victim to a tremendous
amount of abuse, neglect and prejudice. In Quebec there is a lot of tension
between young Haitians and Quebecois, between young Jamaicans and the
English, and young blacks and everybody, especially apparent on the public
transport system (buses). And don't forget the tension between English and
French. That's a very long story that we have been living with for
centuries, and it's heating up. There have been cases of Arabs being
targeted with remarks, and so on. The hiring policies for all the Quebec
public service jobs have, until very recently, resulted in almost 100%
Quebecois-manned positions (meaning French-speaking, with French-sounding
last names - in other words, I wouldn't qualify although I was born here).
(And the expression "manned" is appropriate, because although Quebecois
women are extremely liberated - they tend not to get married and when they
do they keep their family names - there is still a long way to go before
proper representation in all job categories and levels).
As for the disabled, it's the same here as anywhere. We would rather not see
them around all the time. The buses have been converted for wheelchairs
within the last ten years - not all of them, but the schedules are available
at the bus stops - and most public buildings have been adapted.
One thing I have noticed, and it's that some recent immigrant groups are
more tolerant with the disabled. They consider "different" people in their
midst as kind of gift from God, varying from culture to culture as to the
meaning (it's a test, they are special people, they are put here to make us
kind, etc.). They tend to keep them at home because they have extended
families, and they participate in family gatherings, outings and so on.
Probably without that extended family, they would be in institutions like
the rest.
I get the impression that our culture is too specialized. Couples are
isolated, the old, the young and the disabled are put in special places, TV
programs are targeted towards smaller and ever more specialized audiences,
etc. You can see the difference in my neighbourhood. The whole family, say
from India or Sri Lanka, is relaxing on the "greenspace" in front of
Loblaw's on a Sunday. The kids are running around playing, not sitting right
next to the parents. There is always a grandmother or grandfather or older
sibling taking care of the younger ones, and the women are free to chat
together for a little while. I keep waiting for a sign to go up saying "No
Soccer Playing" or "No Running", but so far, the Quebec government seems to
be trying to win over the loyalty of the new immigrants, trying to get them
to identify with the "Quebecois" culture. Which is very funny. They are all
desperate to learn English so they can get jobs anywhere in North America,
but Quebec tries to force everyone to go to school in French and not learn
English. So private schools are booming. It's a big controversy here.
I guess the only reason it seems less prejudiced and violent here than in
Buffalo is because for a long time, there were not so many immigrants here
other than from Europe. Now we are starting to experience the colour,
culture and language barriers in earnest. I think it will only get worse as
more and more people come in from India, Vietnam, Africa, South America, the
Middle East, and then there are the Russian Jews. I hear the English
teachers saying things like, "The Sri Lankans are nice, they smile and they
don't make trouble, but the Russian Jews are trouble-makers." or "The
Chinese students are smart but they don't like to practice speaking." "The
Arab students are too demanding and they interrupt all the time." To me,
prejudice is always there, lurking under the liberal mask, waiting to come
out at the appropriate provocation.
Although my family was basically trusting, I remember my mother's automatic
reaction towards anyone from another culture, no matter how slightly
different. For example, Irish catholics. She also mocked anyone who had a
trace of an accent. Actually she was quite prejudiced, probably through lack
of exposure. Canadians of her generation were isolated from international
exposure, due to the extremely dominant white English culture. She seemed to
feel that everyone else was kind of funny and not as intelligent as her. My
father was a lot more open, and I think it could have had something to do
with his love for music. That same love of music has bridged the gap between
me and many a cultural group.
I have African friends who are afraid of Arabs, and Arab friends who don't
respect blacks. My Italian and Greek friends harbour all kinds of fears and
prejudices, especially towards blacks. Then there are the women of Montreal
who say, don't go out with a Haitian, or an African, or a Latino, or an
Arab. They'll treat you badly.
Does it all come down to ignorance and lack of self-confidence? Or is that
too simple?

July 23, 2002

Peggy, thanks again. I'm going to have to spend some time to do justice in responding to your observations. Seven months of life in Maine was an object lesson for me not only in not fearing strangers, but also in the futility of attempts at self-sufficiency. I rejoined society in December, 1970, when it got real cold. Which reminds me: it seems that my intellectual obsession of late, theorizing on the causes of and direction of paths leading out of this fear, is just part of the very much broader inquiry into the human being as animal. Many sub-subjects there! One of my not very original theories is that pain avoidance, the evolved animal survival mechanism embedded in all of us, is at the root of this xenophobia. I guess the humans living in Canada are animals too. I think I do tend to idealize Canadians as being more civilized, even though I should know better because my maternal grandfather was from St. Catharines and grandmother from Lion's (sic!) Head on the Bruce Peninsula, not to mention my favorite Chinese restaurant's being in Ft. Erie. Your detailing the sordid incidents there of discrimination of all sorts was helpful to me, particularly as you relate it to economic subjugation. I haven't got so far in my thinking as to concretely relate slavery and its variations to this pain avoidance idea. I guess it would be something on the order of the need for security, having enough to eat and stay warm, in some sense pain avoidance, leading to exploitation of other, perhaps less-warlike groups and individuals, to provide that security, the whole process justified because of the oppressed class' being different, and the evolution of the viceroy (trust him because he's like you) model to enforce and reinforce the power relation. Foucault (but he's French!) describes these power relations, but I've never been able to wade through enough of any of his work to know if he even speculates as to their origins. Maybe you've been able to. Understanding the origins, I think, can possibly instruct on how to avoid the terrible, inhuman(e) consequences of these fearful primitive responses to the environment. And that would speak to your "ignorance" and "lack of self-confidence" explanations for the fear, which would mean we're not irrevocably condemned to those awful consequences of our hard-wired fears. But I also think that looking for models of non-fearfulness, as I think they tend to appear in everyday life for most of us, can lead in this direction. That's what got me thinking of examples from my own life which I could study and ask questions about and led to the e-mail. It's difficult to discuss these issues with people you're around all the time because it's hard to remember when you were strangers. And its probably even more difficult to find others you're not familiar with to share ideas concerning common experiences. So I feel very lucky just to be able to engage in this exchange! More soon. Bill.

July 24, 2002

Hi Bill,
Sometimes when I am lost or confused I read the works of Krishnamurti, an
eastern philosopher, and he addresses the concept of fear. It's his core
idea. He talks about how the mind creates fear, mainly by forming ideas that
conflict with reality. That is, when you are about to be run over by a bus,
you just step aside instinctively, without thinking. He calls this
intelligence, and it is the perception of reality and the appropriate
response to it. But when you start thinking about buses, you might become
afraid to cross the street, or even to go out. You might start buying
insurance to protect your family in case you get hit by a bus, and so on.
You start living in fear of the future.
His other core idea is the folly of holding on to the past, which is, in his
view, the same thing - the mind creating a structure that is not reality. In
this holding onto the past, he includes all our cultural conditioning,
history and experiences. This information makes us construct ideas in our
minds that we want to hold on to, and ultimately leads to fear of the
future. For example, your culture tells you that a woman should cover her
hair, and when you see women walking around showing their hair, you fear
that something bad will happen. I am putting it to you in a very simplified
way, but it can apply to every situation. It's not a religion, just a way of
viewing reality and how our brains work.
So fear of strangers or something that is different, in his view, would
result from our mind's constructs that tell us what to expect. When we
encounter something we don't expect, it frightens us. We are afraid of what
might happen, since it doesn't conform to what we want to hold on to, for
our psychological security. He claims that we all try to hold on to our
psychological security, some by following doctrines, some by storing up
material goods, by gaining power over others, by entering into a possessive
love relationship, and on and on. He says that when the reality does not
conform to our ideas, there is a gap that is produced, a kind of
disappointment and frustration that leads to violence. Even trying to change
someone you love is a kind of violence. I like his ideas because they always
help me when I am disappointed or confused.
His thinking transcends cultural situations. They can apply to any country,
any situation. Maybe they are too broad and general for your purposes, but I
think they make sense.
Don't mistake me for a religious nut. I just like his ideas and they help me
make sense of things.
Best regards,

July 25, 2002

Peggy, I have a copy of "The First and Last Freedom" sitting on my bookshelf at home, only partially read years and years ago. I'll look at it again tonight and let you know what I think. Is there another of his works that you recommend? Thank you again for your insights, which already are enough to keep me going for a long while. I'm still trying to understand how such natural, protective reactions as stepping aside from a bus or hiding at the approach of a band of strangers can lead to such destructive consequences as ethnic violence or economic subjugation of one group by another. Sounds like K. has worked on this and I'm grateful for the reference. Bill.

July 26, 2002

Thanks again, Peggy. I read the Q&A "On Fear" and the chapter entitled "Fear" last night, then proceeded to read Orwell's introduction and the first several chapters of "The First and Last Freedom." Your characterization of his thought was very accurate. It seems, and tell me if you agree, that what motivates his quest for self-knowledge and open-mindedness is the wretched state of society, wars, discrimination and poverty in particular, that he wants to change that and feels that if all individuals study and know themselves, their society will benefit, too. I found myself identifying with most of what he said, despite my view of myself as a person with very strong opinions and an almost sacrosanct belief in the necessity of economic equality as a precondition of freedom (to study yourself, for example)for everyone. Despite having studied philosophy in college from 1965-1969, I first heard of Krishnamurti after college, in the summer of 1969, when I was visiting an old elementary school friend, Paul Copperman, in Berkeley, who was into him at that time. Since then, according to his brother, Paul has gotten into teaching speed reading and making money, and I haven't seen or heard from him since then despite making several attempts. Remembering Paul's recommendation, I bought this "First and Last Freedom" book when I happened upon it in a used bookstore about ten years ago, looked at it a little, and put it away until last night. It helps and I thank you. Bill.

July 27, 2002

Dear Bill,
Yes, I agree with you. But I think I should start reading some new people.
I've been using those ideas for a long time. Not that there's anything wrong
with them, but I don't want to become calcified.
Anyway, as I understand it, the intelligence "gap" is produced from
frustrated desires and expectations. And thence comes anger and violence.
Desire is wanting something that is not currently in existence, and if that
something is not possible to attain, frustration, anger and violence ensue.
Even if the desired thing or person is attained, new desires spring up like
weeds - to change the person, to change yourself, change the situation,
obtain more and more, etc.
Expectations are similar to desire. It is an idea that reality "should" be a
certain way. And it produces the corresponding frustration, anger and
violence when reality refuses to conform.
For example, instead of acknowledging that we are greedy, violent, jealous,
or angry, we try to fight and deny such feelings, trying to be a good
person. According to Krishnamurti, this creates a division between what is
and what we think should be. He advocates instead just allowing the feeling
to flower and die naturally, without acting on it. Admit what you are
feeling. Once you are aware of it, it loses power over you. By denying,
controlling, fighting, trying to change it, or intellectualizing it, you
give the feeling power. You feed into it. It takes energy.
Think of how tired you get when you try to block out a loud noise. It's
something like that.
He wants to change the world, yes, but first by admitting that we are
violent, unfair, cruel, greedy, insecure and all that. With awareness comes
intelligence, he believes. Once you are aware that you are greedy, for
example, it is never the same when you want to acquire something. You are
conscious now of what you are doing. The greed has less and less hold on
At least, that is the theory.
I've seen practical examples of this in dieting theories. The idea is to be
aware of why you are eating. Are you hungry, sad, mad, insecure, and so on?
Or some other motivation. Instead of counting calories or going on extreme
regimes, you figure out why you need to eat all the time.
Krishnamurti would say that a controlling religion or political stance is
like a strict diet, that represses and controls, but never addresses the
real dynamic.
But I would really like to discover some other interesting philosophers.
Best regards,

July 29, 2002
Dear Peggy, Am I correct in thinking that Krishnamurti's recommendation for an activity in which I could productively engage if my goal, let's say, were to allow the siting of a home for retarded or mentally-ill adults in my neighborhood, when it is opposed by the block club on essentially xenophobic grounds, would be to accept and observe my own basic xenophobic nature, encourage others in my neighborhood to do the same, and then wait? Or maybe I'm simplifying this too much? My theory on a productive course of action in that circumstance would lead me to encourage the potential residents of the home to attend a block club meeting and explain why they would want to live there. That second course, I think, embraces a certain level of acceptance of my own and others' hard-wired fears of the unknown, but at the same time, at another level, it is saying we can work on those fears and through exposure to, and thus familiarity with, that which we had feared, and thereby reduce the violence which the fear leads to. I'm not sure if I can't put that in K's terms because it doesn't jibe with what he's saying or because I'm not quite getting what he says. I think he's saying that the enlightened course is to understand, accept and wait, in which case I would have to disagree with him. Maybe you can help clarify this for me. Foucault describes power relationships and is a philosopher whom I wish were easier to read. Perhaps it's the effect of translation and he is less dense in French. I appreciate your points of view on these matters. Bill.

September 6, 2002

Peggy, I've been away from the computer for two weeks, trying to relax and
have fun---swimming, golfing, kayaking, reading,watching movies and things
like that at my family's cottage about 60 miles southeast of Buffalo. I
experienced "culture shock" coming back to Buffalo and its noise and traffic
and crowdedness, which helps me understand some of the fears rural and
suburban people have of the City. I just read in the paper yesterday how New
York State dropped plans to open a halfway house for recovering mentally-ill
people in a small, rural village south of here because of neighborhood
opposition. It made me wish I had had a chance to speak at the meeting held
in June for the community to air comments on the proposed location, and,
again, made me sad that the same prejudices afflict non-yuppies in the
hinterland. The State had made the point at the meeting that 85% of the 20
or so people to move into the residence would be from that Village! People
even fear their own, unexamined selves! Even sadder, there were no reports
of supporters of the project other than the State presenters. I would have
tried to contact them. I plan to keep in touch with you, anyway, and hope to
write again soon. Bill

September 6, 2002

Hi Bill,
Today, an ugly incident. I like my landlord a lot. He's a Greek immigrant, a
businessman, but not greedy. I always pay the rent in cash with no receipt,
and it's all very trusting. But this morning he phoned me at 8:00 a.m. to
say that he had counted my rent and it was short $210.00! I couldn't really
understand what could have happened. I told him I had taken out the money
last Friday and kept it in a drawer, and when he came around last night, I
just gave it to him without counting it again. So I wasn't sure. I thought
maybe he had mixed up the rolls or something. Maybe dropped it, or whatever.
He suggested that maybe my roommate had been stealing money from me
regularly, like what happened to a friend of his.
Because he is black, my roommate, from Guinea.
He also assumed that he is my boyfriend, and that therefore I am being taken
advantage of.
Well, I had to ask my roommate, of course, but I was sure in my heart that
he had not stolen or borrowed without my knowledge, and I was sure I had
given some fifties in the roll of money. The landlord, Steve, said there was
only a bunch of twenties and two fives. How could I confuse fifties, which
are orange in Canada, with fives, which are blue? Besides, the bank machine
doesn't give out fives, only twenties, fifties, and up, and I took this
money from the bank machine and kept it specially for the rent.
Anyway, we finally agreed to split the difference and pay about $110 each.
So he came by, and he showed me the twenties and the fives in a bunch, and
then he pulled out a roll with some fifties in it so we could compare the
colours, and I said, that looks more like the rent I gave you. It added up
to exactly $480, the amount of the rent. He was really embarrassed and gave
me back the $110 instantly. It seems he had given the wrong roll to his wife
to count, but when he phoned to tell me that some was missing, and I told
him I had given him the roll I had put in my drawer since last Friday, he
immediately suspected that someone was stealing from me, namely my roommate.
It goes to show that people will always suspect the most recent immigrants,
the darkest ones too, when something goes wrong. But it turned out well. I
was forced to ask my roommate about it, but I also told him that I didn't
believe that he had taken anything, that I was sure that I had given the
landlord the roll with fifties in it, the right amount, and that there were
no fives in the roll, and that I was convinced that something had gone wrong
on the landlord's side. My roommate thanked my over and over for my trust in
him. He said most people would have accused him and not taken his word. I
guess he has had some unpleasant experiences in the past.
And he is not my boyfriend, all appearances aside. It is probably hard for
anyone to believe, since he is 26 and very cute and very well built, that I
am not sleeping with him. But I am not. He pays rent, and we are friends and
confidants. But of course, there are all the sexual stereotypes at play
here. Because he is African, male and young, he must be sleeping with me, a
single woman of 56. People assume that I could not be celibate and there
must be some sort of "agreement" between us. It fulfills the fantasy of the
older woman and the younger gigolo, I guess, and black to boot!
However, he is Muslim, well brought up, and interested in finding a wife and
having kids. We have a special friendship, lots of laughs, do a lot of
dancing together, but we do not have a sexual relationship, and I am
actually helping and encouraging him to meet suitable women.
Although I don't really care what people think, it is sobering to realize
that everyone also probably has a stereotyped scenario in their heads about
our relationship, and it is frightening to think that he could be so readily
accused of a crime. And he doesn't have any papers, so I am afraid about the
immigration authorities at times.
Anyway, just some more examples of the routine prejudices that burden even
very decent people.
So there you have it: the nicest, kindest people have the most irrational
fears about blacks, and, I guess, all other people perceived as "different."
And living in the big city (if you can conceive of Montreal as a big city)
doesn't help, finally.
Good luck with your endeavours. If there is anything I can do to help, count
on me.
And I'm glad you had some rest and relaxation.
Best wishes,

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