New York is a different experience every time I travel there. It’s got something for everyone – and for every stage of your life. This time it was, more than anything else, about the culture and the coffee (culture) for me. As a group we spent our time exploring different neighbourhoods in Brooklyn, each of us having done some research on one of them to guide the others. When I went through the list to pick one, Bed-Stuy stuck out to me. A quick google search told me that it was a traditionally black hood, which instantly intrigued me. Even though as an Austrian I seem so far away from racial tensions in the US (although we certainly experience different forms of it here), I can’t help but be worried about the ongoing injustice. I think I’ve mentioned it here before, but if you haven’t already seen it, the documentary 13th (on Netflix) is for sure one worth watching, as it reveals how systematic racism operates in the US.
In preparation for Bedford-Stuyvesant, I also watched Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing”, released in 1989. It is set in the neighbourhood; and it could’ve just as well been shot yesterday. The major themes in the movie, gentrification and tension between the black residents and their newly moved in white neighbours and police brutality, are just as relevant today, though somewhat more accepted (perhaps an upturn in the BLM movement will change this). Bed-Stuy is not the centre of civil rights protests it used to be anymore, but still very much a centre of black culture.
When we got off the subway at Fulton Park, we immedatialy became aware of our whiteness. As we walked the streets of beautiful brownstones in the already hot morning sun; the parallels to the movie were striking. An elderly man, sitting on the doorstep watching the ongoings of his block. Someone loudly calling out of a window to a neighbour on the street, catching up on the latest gossip. A trio of teens under a tree, a whiff of weed in the air. Young guys sweating on the basketball court. A police car with, yes, white policemen slowly driving down the street. I felt this strong sense of familiarity; at the same time I knew we didn’t fit in. I don’t think a lot of (white) tourists make it to this part of Brooklyn.
Parts of the neighbouhood reveal those same (gentrified?) features as seen in lots of other hip areas of Brooklyn – community gardens, yoga studios, cute cafés.
Also, it wouldn’t be me, if didn’t give you at least one adress for decent coffee – here you go: Saraghina Bakery (pictured above; 433 Halsey Street) – Stonefruit Espresso (1058 Bedford Ave) – Daily Press Coffee (505 Franklin Ave).
But what’s most fascinating about the neighbourhood is its history and community. Street names remind of civil rights activists, street art of famous artists (find the Biggie Smalls mural on Bedford Ave/Quincy St). The buildings tell stories if you are willing to learn them. Read up on it beforehand (or in the dedicated African-American history reading room of the Macon library), pick a day when you know you can do some proper people-watching (Saturday morning is usually good for that – Brooklynites like to head out for brunch) and get your own impression of a neighbourhood that’s not one everyone’s bucket list (but all the more worth it IMO).