29 Apr 2015

Baltimore Versus Shenandoah

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There were many mean streets in the Pennsylvania small town where I grew up.

I grew up in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, a major place of settlement for turn-of-the-last-century Lithuanian immigrants to the United States. Shenandoah was, even in my youth, a former mining boom-town, well along in the processes of decline and decay.

Shenandoah was a kind of miniature city. It had, everyone said, in its heyday, more barrooms than Philadelphia. Protestants, English, German, and Welsh, constituted a small, and shrinking, minority. The town’s population was overwhelming composed of recent Roman Catholic immigrants. Lithuanians were nearly a plurality, but there were also plenty of Poles, Ukrainians, Slovaks, Irish, and Italians. Main Street commerce was dominated by Jews, who lived on Oak Street in the grandest houses in town.

By my 1950s boyhood, once homogeneous ethnic neighborhoods were dispersed. My father bought two houses (he rented one) on the West side of town, in what had, long ago, been the Italian neighborhood. We got along well with our Italian neighbors, who were always stopping us to press fresh tomatoes and other vegetables grown in the backyards on us. When I was a bit older, I was especially popular with the old Italian men because I had grown into a tough guy and protected the Italian kids (Lithuanians like me looked upon Italians, like Jews, as helpless non-combatants) from the juvenile gangs who lay in wait to waylay smaller children to steal their money and to torment and sexually abuse them.

Lithuanians tended to get along with the Italians and the Pennsylvania Dutch, who usually voted Republican. We tended not to get along with the Irish and the Poles, who usually voted democrat.

Shenandoah was a basically working-class mining town (where the mines had just closed down forever), with a significant welfare-and-criminal underclass.

The Internet keeps me in touch today with friends I went to school with and with whom I served mass and who were in the same boy scout troop. One friend, now retired from the Air Force and teaching Systems Theory as an adjunct at several Southern colleges, was reminiscing not long ago, and reflected how his family and mine were “the nice families,” largely surrounded at the end of town by gangsters and scum.

Like most people born into working class families, I was brought up with a contempt for the welfare class and knew first-hand the profound fear that parents like mine had of sinking to the point of “going on relief.” With the mines closing, men were being everywhere thrown out of work, and times were hard in the Anthracite region. Everyone knew people who were up against it and who were proud enough that they would go hungry before they would take relief, and though we pitied their condition, we felt strongly that they were perfectly right.

As you may imagine, I’ve been hearing now, for more than 50 years, sob stories about the plight of the “disenfranchised” (who do actually have the vote) and the “impoverished” (by whom?) in the inner cities. Not surprisingly, I am entirely lacking in sympathy.

We were corresponding on Facebook yesterday about the rioting in Baltimore, and I said the kind of hard-core, unsympathetic things that elderly, white, redneck racists like myself are prone to say. The thread belonged to a bouzhy, female, liberal attorney friend from Yale, and I would have been slightly more diplomatic in my remarks had I realized that one of the readers and participants in the thread was a young, black female recent Yale graduate.

The young lady took offense at my comments, which has caused me to reflect on the peculiarities of racial politics. My preceding remarks were intended to make the point that, in Lithuanian immigrant society, the respectable people may have gone so far as to feel some pity for the welfare/criminal scum residing nearby, but we did not side with them against the police. We also did not tolerate their criminal activities. I personally used to walk to and from school deliberately taking different routes, patrolling to prevent two different well-known juvenile gangs from molesting younger kids.

No one could have set up a drug dealing station in any residential neighborhood in our town. Nor could any adult criminal gangs take over neighborhoods. If any had tried, and the police not intervened, there were plenty of male adult veterans of WWII would have taken care of them immediately.

So, why is it, I often wonder how it is that decent & respectable African-American people have to live in such bad neighborhoods, dominated by drug dealers and gangbangers? Are there no tough and law-abiding African-Americans? And how come the better black people all come a-running to stick-up on racial solidarity grounds for the thug Leroy when the cops beat up on Leroy’s ass? Back where I grew up, if the Lithuanian criminal elements “Hopper” or “Cutha” were seen getting belathered by Shakey the cop with his hickory nightstick, their respectable fellow-Lithuanians would have smiled with warm approval and defended Shakey’s conduct all day long.

In our town’s high school, there was a 350 lb.+ football coach, nicknamed “Moose.” Moose, Mr. R., was not the sharpest pencil in the faculty box, and his academic role was to be homeroom teacher to the General section, the section of academically-hopeless criminals and mental defectives. Moose kept order with a heavy hand. One day, one of the leading bad hats sassed Mr. R., who responded by picking up the large console television set in the front of the room and hurling it at the offender. The bad boy went to the hospital with a broken arm and other injuries, and the whole town told and retold the story, grinning and gloating. Moose was admired, and no disciplinary proceedings whatsoever occurred.

7 Feedbacks on "Baltimore Versus Shenandoah"


There is something very different for African Americans. I grew up in a very diverse nieghborhood/city and most of us got along. Usually a italian would stand up for another Italian, usually an irish kid would stand up for another Irish kid etc. But not always and perhaps just as often an Italian kid would stand up for an Irish kid and vice versa. But the black kids would rarely stand up for a non-black and would always be on the side of a black kid against a non-black. It is more of a tribal thing, more of a cultural thing, it is learned and enforced from birth. In the military I had numerous black roommates and only once did one of my black roommates stand up to his buddies in my favor. I played basket ball with black guys and it is often a brutal anti-white game. Perhaps it is all emphasized by the fact that an African American wears his identity in a way an Italian or jew or Irishman generally does not. In other words it is easier for a black person to take sides and once sides are taken any group/mob gets out of hand.
The less overly thought out answer is that almost anywhere in the world that black people of African descent live if there is a majority of them in a nieghborhood/city/country then violence is the norm. Perhaps culturally, genetically and/or socially blacks cannot exist peacefully and civilly with others or even with each other.


Actually, the time I shot that rapist and wound up in the New York City jail system, the older black guys were very much inclined to discourage the younger, more xenophobic blacks from trying to rob me or beat me up. One of them warned a young thug: “This white guy might be tougher than you think. He shot somebody. You just in here for nose candy!”


You said: “I was brought up with a contempt for the welfare class and knew first-hand the profound fear that parents like mine had of sinking to the point of “going on relief.”

You and they probably thought of welfare as taking from your friends and neighbors. That no longer applies. For one thing, most in the “welfare ghettos” wouldn’t have any friends or neighbors who were actually paying taxes to finance all the welfare. For another, progressives have gone to great lengths to characterize welfare as something you’re entitled to get from an entity called “government”. See, you’re not really “taking” anything from anyone else, are you? Or if you are, it’s just from those rich 1-per-centers.


I seem to remember being brought up in the same type of atmosphere although in one of the boroughs in NYC. At that time there still seemed to exist neighborhoods that were predominantly one ethnic group or another. That has all changed with what appears to be uncontrolled immigration recently. Enjoyed reading about the similarities of growing up around the same time in different locations. What prompted to respond was the statement yesterday by the President alluding to children being born into abject poverty as part of the problem in Baltimore. After recently retiring from the military and traveling around the world I had to shake my head in disbelief listening to the chief executive categorize anyone in the USA being born into abject poverty. I have seen abject poverty in other countries but I can’t seem to figure out where such people live in the USA. I think we need to do some inventories of what the rest of the world is like compared to the USA. I will keep looking around to find the poor starving people that were born into poverty here that I guess can’t seem to help themselves progress. When I find them I will be sure to let you know where they are in the USA vs. places like the Philippines and other southeast and southwest Asian nations and some countries in Africa.


Something’s changed in general.

I grew up in the sixties and seventies in a rural Midwestern town. The poor people were people who still worked, unless there was something preventing them from doing so. Even the town drunk worked — he cleaned the streets, picked up trash, etc. (It was semi-official — the city have him some money, but people slso gave him some money and some food.) Even if people couldn’t get a job, they did *something* for income — sold scrap, yard work, sewing work, odd jobs, trapping (both for the fur and to get rid of creatures), etc. But not anymore. It’s depressing to go back there — not just because so much of the industry has closed down and moved away, but also because there is so much drug use. People whose grandparents found a way to make an honest living, sit on their asses, scamming the government, drawing EBT, SNAP, whatever. The industrious ones set up a meth lab. There’s been a lot of heroin OD’s.

I know there are only so many odd jobs one can do in a depressed area. And it’s hard to compete on the retail level against Walmart. (Forty and fifty years ago, there were small retail stores in towns like this — small five and dimes, bakeries, “department stores,” shoe stores, etc. They don’t exist anymore… They can’t.)


In my freshman year in high school in 1967, a freshly minted English teacher had a student take a swing at him. The student was a known bully, and was big for his size. The teacher was “slight of build,” to be generous. But what the bully did not know was that the teacher was a Golden Gloves boxer. He decked the bully with a single blow. Bully was suspended from school, and teacher was admired by many and from then on, feared by all. How things change…


What about the dead?


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