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Today in Racism

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A post-racial society indeed:

Crain’s reports on SketchFactor, a racist app made for avoiding “sketchy” neighborhoods, which is the term young white people use to describe places where they don’t feel safe because they watched all five seasons of The Wire:

SketchFactor, the brainchild of co-founders Allison McGuire and Daniel Herrington, is a Manhattan-based navigation app that crowdsources user experiences along with publicly available data to rate the relative “sketchiness” of certain areas in major cities. The app will launch on the iTunes on Friday, capping off a big week for the startup, which was named as a finalist in the NYC BigApps competition.

According to Ms. McGuire, a Los Angeles native who lives in the West Village, the impetus behind SketchFactor was her experience as a young woman navigating the streets of Washington, D.C., where she worked at a nonprofit.

But hey, they aren’t racists. Because they say so.

With firsthand experience living in Washington, D.C., where white terror is as ubiquitous as tucked-in polo shirts, grinning caucasians Allison McGuire and Daniel Herrington should be unstoppable in the field of smartphone race-baiting—they’re already finalists in a $20,000 startup contest! But don’t worry: they’re not racist. It says so right on their blog, which asks people to share “sketchy” stories about strangers they spot:

Who we’re not: racists, bigots, sexists. Any discriminatory posts will be deleted.

Oh, well in that case. The app launches tomorrow, so it’s probably safest to just stay indoors until then.

I can’t even express how much this drives me nuts. In 2014, it is evidently OK to say the most racist thing imaginable and then get away with it because you say you aren’t racist. People–no one gets to decide whether or not they are racist or sexist or really much of anything. I know we fetishize individual consumerism and personal branding, but it is actually the community at large who gets to decide–and yes, judge–you. You can think about yourself however you want but that doesn’t mean it is very close to reality.

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  • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

    In 2014, it is evidently OK to say the most racist thing imaginable and then get away with it because you say you aren’t racist.

    Eric. They’re developing an app to identify what they call “sketchy” neighborhoods. It’s possible they’re intentionally using this language as code for “black and Latino.” I think more likely is that they’re just (painfully) oblivious to the racially-charged nature of what they’re doing. But this is hardly “the most racist thing imaginable.”

    • wengler

      Otherwise known as neighborhoods white people feel uncomfortable in.

      • Fosco

        Which a lot of people are interpreting as “neighborhoods with nonwhite people in them”. But we should be fair: the racism in the app is not inherent, it’s in its possibility for abuse. The app says “tell me where you don’t feel safe” and everyone is assuming that racist users will say “black neighborhoods.” Isn’t just as likely that people will say “near the fraternity”? Or “by the drag racing strip”? This app has lots of potential to be racist, and the makers should have thought about that a lot more, but to say this is the “most racist thing imaginable” speaks to a crippling lack of imagination.

        • Aimai

          Doesn’t this very much depend on the users and the crowd from which it is crowdsourced? I think lots of people might benefit from a similar or identical app which identified places where the police were stopping and frisking, or had shot a lot of people. Women might like an app that steered them away from certain Bars and neighborhoods regardless of the race of the people in those bars and neighborhoods.

          • JL

            On their website, they even talk about how they think racial profiling is “sketchy” and would love it if people who experience racism would report those areas as sketchy. And in fairness to them, they partnered with the Million Hoodies Movement to make sure that its members get access to the app.

            The problem is that talking about a neighborhood in terms of sketchiness has certain connotations that you cannot just wish away by saying “Well hey, people should think that racism is the sketchy thing! Anyone can report anything on our app, and they can downvote offensive reports!” Similarly, having “sketch” right there in your name sends a certain message about what you’re looking for even if it’s not what you intended. And the assumption that an anti-oppression interpretation of “sketch” will win out if you crowdsource amongst the demographic of people who use early-stage apps is…dubious, to say the least.

            I’m not convinced that their intentions were bad, but intent isn’t magic, and I think they’re coming off quite clueless and oblivious to how racism and classism work here. If they wanted to make an anti-racial-profiling/racial street harassment app they should have just done that. If they wanted to make an app that, say, flags places based on the concentration of Hollaback reports in the area, they should have done that.

        • xq

          Erik didn’t actually say this was the most racist thing imaginable, he said it’s possible to get away with saying even the most racist thing imaginable if you say you aren’t racist.

    • DrDick

      Most racism today is unconscious, grounded in a whole array of unconscious racist assumptions. That does not make it any less racist.

      • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

        I would submit that it absolutely removes it from the category of “the most racist thing imaginable.”

        Or, to put it a little more bluntly, I would, in fact, say that developing this app is “less racist” than, I don’t know, lynching or forced sterilization of minority women or slavery or I could go on but why bother.

        • Whiskers

          I don’t know if its still the same, but a few years ago, the map in the back of cabs in NYC did not show anything north of 96th street. Like it didn’t exist. That seems more racist to me than this app.

          • efgoldman

            the map in the back of cabs in NYC did not show anything north of 96th street. Like it didn’t exist.

            My daughter, a redhead with radioactive pale skin, lived in Harlem in the West 160s, and then in Inwood, for a few years. She says she never felt threatened or out of place; neither did I when I visited.

            • Whiskers

              That’s nice. It still wasn’t on the map in cabs.

              • DrDick

                Because cab companies are just as racist as you are.

            • Manju

              West 160s? Sounds like Washington Heights. I hear its a blast. My friends domincian in-laws have been demanding that we come up there to party with them. Most of the time we’ve been making them come down to soho.

              My gym used to be in E.Harlem and I never had any trouble even tho I went there almost every day. The only incident was post 911. I was standing near a mosque. Therefore I was a terrorist. So I hightailed it across the street to 95th.

              Kids today. Too Fat To Run.

        • Gregor Sansa

          FNOTNLCS, Dr. Dick wasn’t saying that unconscious racism is no less racist than anything, he was saying it’s no less racist than itself. What you’re saying is true, but the fact that the troll is enthusiastically agreeing with you should not be taken as a good sign.

          • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

            I know, I’m still holding a grudge against DrDick for last week for saying that only the most privileged people can afford to spend their savings and go into debt to pay for childcare, and besides, it’s unnecessary, just look at all of the tenured professors he knows that have kids that don’t have to do that because they use the subsidized university daycare or arrange their teaching schedules so that a parent can always be home, and everyone should do that rather than flaunt their privilege by spending one spouses paycheck plus savings on paid childcare.

            • Whiskers

              He can be a turd.

              • DrDick

                Still talking to yourself, I see.

              • Manju

                better turd than burd

            • DrDick

              Except, of course, I never said that or anything like it. What I said is that however hard this may be for you, it is much harder for most American families. A point you cannot seem to get past your sense of offended privilege to see.

              • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

                Dude. The point is that you raised your kids decades ago when childcare costs were perhaps a fifth of what they are now. You did so while working at an absurdly flexible job that left you available to pick the kids up at 3:30 or stay home with a sick kid by canceling class or whatnot. The people you know who are currently raising kids all work in that same absurdly flexible environment. Your experience — firsthand or secondhand — really offers no insight whatsoever into what two-income families with children must do to care for those children today. Your criticisms in that regard are offensive. It’s Bill Gates railing on a middle or upper middle class family about checking their privilege. Perhaps they should. But he is more or less the last person in the world that should say something about it.

                As to your point about it being harder for most American families, maybe and maybe not. Many American families provide childcare through relatives. We don’t have that privilege, because ours are dead or live thousands of miles away. Are we more privileged because we have access to loans to go into debt to pay for childcare, or are they more privileged because the mother-in-law is still alive and can pitch in? I’ll tell you this, the academic couple who teach M-W (him) and Tu-Th (her) and can stagger their classes to avoid having to spend a cent on childcare is about 46 times more privileged than either of us, and if the man presumed to lecture me on how privileged I was to be able to exhaust my savings and go into debt to pay for childcare while he taught his six hours a week, I’d be very tempted to punch him.

                • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

                  Sorry if I’m testy about this, just this week we had to relay a message to our two-academic-family friends. The preschool wanted us to let them know that it doesn’t do half-day tuition, and especially not only two days a week, and if they really only need 8-10 hours a week childcare, they might look into a babysitter.

                • DrDick

                  I am not saying that you do not have problems, but you really refuse to see how much larger those problems would be if you earned the median household income of $50K/year. As I pointed out, last time average childcare costs are lower than the figures you quoted, though they vary by locality and it may be more where you are, and they have not even doubled since my son was in junior high (see link). Get over your bad self.

                • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

                  I wanted to respond to this but couldn’t get away. A few points:

                  1.) The Pew study is looking at childcare expenditures on a per family basis. That’s a really bad comparison. If families respond to skyrocketing costs by having fewer kids or having one parent work fewer hours or asking relatives to provide more care, expenditures will grow far slower than costs. That’s why a MUCH better metric would be paid childcare costs per child per hour. That would measure how much childcare costs and not how much the average family can afford to pay.

                  2.) Even looking at the average childcare expenditures in the study, what it shows is that a family with two kids in daycare or preschool in New York or Chicago or Minneapolis or Boston or Denver will pay 6x-8x what the average family paid in 1985. This is probably why, for example, the Pew study noted that if a family has more than two kids under five in childcare, the mother likely will make less than the cost of childcare except for very high earners (we were in this boat — our childcare costs were more than one of our paychecks).

                  3.) When your son was in junior high in 1985, he was a decade removed from his peak childcare costs.

                • DrDick

                  None of which negates any of what I said. Comparing household costs is actually the best way to do this and nothing you have said indicates you have an unusual number of children. Again, I said your costs may be higher, but imagine what it is like for parents who make half or less of what your family is earning. Two other points you missed in that study is that lower income families are more likely to be single earner households and the table showing the costs for the most expensive states is per child. In addition, there is an inverse relationship between income and number of children. Childcare by family members other than parents only accounts for less than half of households and paid childcare is completely unaffordable to most lower income households.

                • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

                  We’ve had at least one child under 5 since 2006, at least two since 2010, and for most of 2010 and 2011, we had three children under 5.

  • Warren Terra

    You titled your post “Today In Racism”, so brace yourself: I’ll link you a truly horrific story I saw yesterday:

    Two Tulsa Police Officers Arrested After Fatal Shooting Of Daughter’s Boyfriend
    Walker says police were called about a shooting in the 200 block of North Maybelle at 9:16 p.m. That is where they found the body of Jeremy Lake, 19.

    According to jail records, Lake was walking with the Keplers’ daughter when they were confronted by a man driving a black 2007 Suburban. The daughter told police she recognized the SUV as her father’s so she walked over and spoke to him. She told police her father asked what she was doing in that area and she walked away. That’s when Lake approached the Suburban and told Kepler he was the daughter’s boyfriend, she told police.

    The daughter said her father shot Lake two or three times, then shot at her two or three times, but missed. Kepler then drove off, according to the daughter.

    A woman who said she’s a relative of Lake told News On 6 he volunteered at the Day Center for the Homeless and met the Keplers’ daughter there when she needed a place to stay, and she had been staying with him and his family recently.

    White parents, black boyfriend. Indeed, the only thing they knew about the boyfriend when they murdered him was his general appearance.

    • David Hunt

      White parents, black boyfriend. Indeed, the only thing they knew about the boyfriend when they murdered him was his general appearance.

      Not quite. The kid introduced himself as the daughter’s boyfriend. As a middle-aged Texan, I think that I can reliably guess that his brain translated that statement into, “This ni-CLANG! is doing my daughter!” What’s a white father to do at that point besides what the “law” classifies as murder? He probably figured his cop buddies would make it go away. I hope he’s wrong.

    • drkrick

      He was also the person that disrupted daddy dearest’s scared straight program by getting her out of the homeless shelter early. If the intended lesson was “comply with me because no one else will ever care about you”, you can imagine his righteousness indignation at the interference.

      • Aimai

        This is a very important point. They kicked her out of the house to make her feel vulnerable and then were enraged to find out, presumably via facebook, that she had found someone who made her feel safe and loved.

        • rea

          And a couple more details–adopted daughter. Parents took her to the homeless shelter and dropped her off.

          • They WHAT?

            • runsinbackground

              Yep, they adopted her and her two siblings, one of whom was also allegedly a target. Beautiful day in the neighborhood…

          • ChrisTS

            Jeebus. I. Can’t. Even.

    • Barry Freed

      That’s horrible but it’s also a very confusingly written story.

      • joe from Lowell

        Thank God, I thought it was just me!

        And then the excerpt from the confusingly-written story…

        • mikeSchilling

          I was reassured that the two arrested cops were the shooter and his wife. I was afraid it might be cops who interfered with the shooter’s Second Amendment and/or Stand Your Ground rights.

    • wengler

      SketchFactor says avoid North Tulsa. Or at least it would have when I lived nearby.

      • Bob Loblaw Lobs Law Bomb

        LGM really should have implemented a “like” comment button.

    • DrDick

      What can I tell you. It’s Tulsa.

      • mikeSchilling

        Yeah, that was my first thought too.

    • Lurker

      This really sounds like a honour killing to me.

  • Mike in DC

    The dumbest thing is, all you really need to set this up is a police crime map, which dc metro pd and, no doubt, many other city police departments provide. Way better than relying upon anecdotes and the fear of a brown planet.

    • TribalistMeathead

      Yes, but CROWDSOURCED DATA!

      • Moondog

        And who needs just plain old information? The people demand interactivity! That app/blog/story desperately needs my input. It’s nothing without me.

  • L2P

    I know a ton of “not-racist” people who will LOVE this app. “Sketchy” almost always means “lots of brown people” to these guys, who almost always live deep in the suburbs.

    They have no idea what a “bad” part of town would look like. The second they see a Spanish-language sign they’re sure the Crips will get them (yeah, they’re still worried about the Crips, they almost all are living in an 80’s gang movie.) They’re pretty nervous parking on the street to go to the Pantages to see the newest Disney show because, scary!

    But they’re not racist, nope! They’re just worried about crime and safety.

    • sharculese

      Oh, I’m already pretty sure I’m going to have to yell at my roommate for downloading this.

      • Aimai

        I presume its going to be like the Weather Channel for my Florida In laws–or Zillow for people with uncontrollable desire to spy on real estate values. There are going to be people who download the app to check up on neighborhoods so they can complain/brag/warn relatives and friends about them. Its going to have a certain prurient interest for some people.

        • Moondog

          I hope I can organize an effort to make my neighborhood look totally sketchy in hopes of scaring off gentrifiers.

    • “They’re pretty nervous parking on the street to go to the Pantages to see the newest Disney show because, scary!”

      Used to live right near the Pantages. The suburbanites crossing the streets en masse to be herded into The Lion King always cracked me up.

      And even before the “urban renewal” took place of course that was about as safe an area for visitors as possible in Los Angeles.

  • Mike in DC

    What about a street harassment app for women?

    • Wouldn’t you just flag the entire country and be done with it?

    • daveNYC

      Dubious. I think the value of the location data decays too rapidly (someone walking catcalls) or it’s a stationary group (which means the initial move is to get out of there and not enter the data.

      Traffic data is really the sweet spot. If you’re stopped in traffic, you can manually update, and if you’re moving at a crawl, the app can use GPS to compare the current speed to the local speed limit and update accordingly. Plus bad traffic doesn’t clear out in just 5-10 minutes.

    • DrDick

      Much simpler to simply indicate the handful of areas where that is not a problem, like Boys’ Town.

      • Whiskers

        I was walking through Chelsea (in New York) the other day and I’m not there that often, but I noticed a remarkable number of really charming looking cafes, wine bars and other little eateries, and I thought you know, gays really spruce up a neighborhood.

        • cpinva

          they also seem to have an inherent gift for accessorizing.

          • TribalistMeathead

            Manny Bianco: “I thought you were actually. Gay, I mean.”
            Bernard Black: “So did I for a bit. Until I found out about the prohibitive standards of hygeine, and all that dancing!”

    • JL

      Hollaback (the anti-street-harassment group) has an app already, though something that gave it more features might be useful.

  • Shades of TeaBagghists warning each other not to take the Green Line and stay away from areas along it because There Be Blah Monsters. I like to think those fuckers thought that the other lines and neighborhoods were White Only because imagine the shock.

    To be absolutely fair, Sketchy is the term I picked up from my kid sister to describe areas where for whatever reason, you feel you should be somewhere else. An area may feel unsafe because it is full of dickheads who have excessively aggressive courtship behavior. Or it may be unwelcoming because the original residents view strangers (of any color) as harbingers of gentrification and being forced from their homes. They do give the stink eye to anyone they don’t recognize and who can blame them?

    Having said all of that, I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard some clueless pampered prince or princess squeal about the icky homeless people and how scawee they are and how sketchy they make the place.

    We have a lot of homeless people. So I don’t see how the map of DC doesn’t quickly become a big blob of Sketch, with maybe a few safe areas around … Um. Maybe some parts of Georgetown? Combine that with the Fear of The Blah Planet I bet it will take maybe a quarter before the app is meaningless. And that, will be funny.

    • Denverite

      I probably have to go to Compton in the next month and was wondering what the app would make of it. (Mostly kidding. Compton is a lot safer now than in the 90s.)

    • sharculese

      Shades of TeaBagghists warning each other not to take the Green Line and stay away from areas along it because There Be Blah Monsters.

      Let’s be honest here, this is not exclusively a ‘bagger phenomenon, as the bug-eyed reactions I would get from otherwise liberal people back when I lived in Petworth will attest to.

      • TribalistMeathead

        The guy who originally wrote that blog post ran for DC City Council as – wait for it – a libertarian.

      • drkrick

        I missed a turn and wound up driving to a noon hockey at the Cap Centre directly through town. One passenger was fine, the other was literally terrified and wanted me to run stoplights everywhere east of the Capitol until we were safely back outside the beltway.

      • True. And I confess to giggling at obviously alarmed tourists on the trains. But that Tbag rally a few years ago is the only instance I know of organizers sending out a notice to avoid certain areas. (But they weren’t being racist, no way!)

        • sharculese

          ooooooh, yeah, I completely forgot about that.

          • ThrottleJockey

            In practice there is both racist & non-racist versions of this. I once took a cab from the Washington Hilton to visit a friend who lived in NE. I went through 4 cabbies before I found one willing to take me. The first 3 were black. The last was white. The last guy didn’t bat an eye when I gave him the address and seemed only too happy to take me but he did tell me a harrowing story of being held up at gunpoint previously (I told him that he was the only cabbie willing to take me–and he got a handsome tip for it!) Were the 1st 3 cabbies–who were black mind you–racist?

            I know here in Chi there are some neighborhoods I don’t venture into, or I don’t venture into at certain times of night, or I don’t venture into with my good car…So calling an app developer outright racist because they’ve created a tool which racists might abuse is a bit much.

        • My brother (from one of the whitest suburbs of New Orleans) came to visit me when I lived in Charlotte, in an area that was standard for Charlotte — your standard city population, IOW, black, white, [email protected], Asian — and he was just terrified the whole time, certain we were going to be mugged or murdered every time we left the house.

          “What is wrong with you?” I finally asked.

          “Just…this neighborhood is kind of…dark, isn’t it?”

          • Does his neighborhood begin with a W or a K? Not to cast aspersions on your brother, but his story is very familiar. Some of the white folks from some of the seriously satellite New Orleans burbs are some of the most awful racists I’ve ever met, and I’m throwing in Alabama and North Flordia in there. It’s like the vote to actively screw over traditionally black neighborhoods like the Ninth Ward or Algiers just to have something to crow about.

            • matt w

              Like the burbs where, during Katrina, they just straight-up shot black people who were trying to cross the bridge out of New Orleans?

            • Destrehan.

              And yes. I won’t say Louisiana / New Orleans-suburbs contain the worst racists in the country, but my God, are they trying hard for first.

              The things I’ve heard people say, just in normal every day conversation, hanging out at backyard crawfish boils, yikes.

    • wengler

      Honestly, nearly every urban area in the US is fine to visit in the daytime. There are parts of Chicago I would avoid all the time but unless you are afraid of seeing the results of plight and the destruction of minority communities through public policy, you are still probably not going to have anything happen to you there during the day.

      The countryside on the other hand…

      • Richard Hershberger

        “Honestly, nearly every urban area in the US is fine to visit in the daytime.”

        This. It isn’t to say that the locals will welcome you with open arms, but shooting random strangers is likely to bring difficulty on their lives, and even the small percentage who might be both equipped and inclined to random shootings know it. This is infinitely more true when the random stranger is someone like me: white and obviously middle class, i.e. the sort of person the police will care about if I get shot.

        That isn’t to say there there isn’t a lot of posturing, and that it might not escalate if you handle it poorly. My brother once found himself walking through a “sketchy” neighborhood when some of the local gentlemen sitting in front of a liquor store suggested he should buy them drinks. He asked them what they wanted, and they named some horrid malt liquor concoction. He told them that it would have to be something decent, that he was willing to drink, too. At this point the horrible realization dawned on them that he was proposing to sit down on the curb and drink with them. They had reputations to maintain, and being seen drinking with this middle aged white guy was unthinkable, so they quickly backed away.

      • ThrottleJockey

        Let’s not over generalize in our rush to make this woman none of us have ever met out to be a racist. There are neighborhoods in Chicago where outsiders get shot everyday. There are areas I no longer visit because of risk. To point that out is not racist. Hell black people point that shit out everyday to one another here.

    • edie212

      Which, really, given the bro to bar ratio in Georgetown, that would be the first place I tag as sketchy as a young woman alone in DC. Assuming sketchy can also mean places you’re likely to be date raped.

    • BigHank53

      Heh. I lived in Prince George’s County for eight years, some parts of which are pretty goddamn sketchy indeed. (One of ’em is the police department.) And I used to be all weird and twitch about driving through Anacostia, until I asked myself a few questions:

      1. Are you going to buy any illegal drugs?
      2. Pick a fight with any gangs?
      3. Get involved in a love triangle there?
      4. Start working in a retail establishment prone to armed robbery?

      Since the answer to all of those was “no”, that led to the next question, which was:

      5. What makes you think you’re going to be one of ~20 totally random annual murders?

      Did I manage to completely get over being a racist dolt? No. But I least I realized that I was being a racist dolt.

      • (One of ‘em is the police department.)

        No shit. Mr. S., who is one of those people who will NEVER have to worry about police profiling (IYKWIM&ITYD), is nervous about these police. I admit that I suffered from anti-PG snottery before I lived there, but I quickly realized that this is a very nice county that is cursed with a police force that wants to make LAPD look like a bunch of cuddly Kumbaya singers.

        (People who aren’t familiar with the area can try searching Prince Jones shooting, UMD Student Beating or Berwyn Heights Mayor Dog Shooting if they want to start their weekend wrong.)

        • sharculese

          Considering I moved to PG county all of a month ago I am going to skip doing that. For sanity reasons.

          • Yeah, don’t. If you want to see a regular fucked up occurrence, drive past the University of Maryland on the day of a game and count the number of police and SWAT vehicles. It looks like they’re expecting Godzilla to come after their stamp collection. Really they’re there to stop a bunch of students who might, if they’re feeling really frisky, set fire to a mattress in the street.

  • sharculese

    which is the term young white people use to describe places where they don’t feel safe because they watched all five seasons of The Wire

    I’m gonna quibble with this a bit. Absolutely, some kids use ‘sketchy/sketch’ that way, but it’s not standard. Chalking this up to Gawker Brand Try-Too-Hardism.

    • Jordan

      Maybe this is a regionalism. Up through HS, I had never even really processed “sketchy” as a thing. Moving to go to a (largely white, private) college in Texas, it became pretty clear pretty fast that it meant “places where poor minorities live” when applied to an area or neighborhood (when applied to people it didn’t seem to have any racial connotations).

      • efgoldman

        In the 90s, when my daughter was in high school, they used sketchy for the druggy kids, or the ones who got drunk, or the ones who hung around on “the wall.”
        Nothing whatever to do with race – the school was 90%+ white.

        • Jordan

          Again, just talking about personal experience here, but yeah, I did not hear “sketchy” as applied to people being a racial thing.

          For neighborhoods or areas or locations: definitely. There absolutely were white areas (in east texas, mostly) my friends were way warier about than the various black neighborhoods in Houston. Guess which ones got called sketchy and which ones didn’t?

          • ThrottleJockey

            The first time I heard the word sketchy it was on a trip to Houston in the ’90s where it was applied to a white area. This is the first I’ve heard a racial connotation to it.

    • KmCO

      It’s definitely one of the those “kewl” or trendy terms that grinds my gears, largely because it gets so overused and abused. There are definitely sections of urban areas that have a high crime rate and that it would be very unwise for a person (particularly a woman) to travel about alone, defenselessly, without knowing what he/ she is doing. But most of the areas that young, white, upper-middle class non-urban people deem “sketch” are by most standards not.

      • ThrottleJockey

        But most of the areas that young, white, upper-middle class non-urban people deem “sketch” are by most standards not.

        That’s why I think its a stretch to call the app & the designers racist. By what measure do we think all or even most of the people subscribing to such an app are young, white, upper middle class, non-urban people?

    • CaptBackslap – YOLO Edition

      Sam Biddle is the 2nd-worst for that (don’t ask, you know), although I don’t know if that’s inherent or because he’s tasked with making Silicon Valley seem interesting.

    • Whiskers

      I’ve always found that “sketchy” can be applied to lots of different scenarios, with nothing about it that applies to neighborhoods and their racial makeup.

      Don’t invest your money with him, he seems kind of sketchy.

      Don’t walk through that neighborhood after dark, its a little sketchy.

      You’re going to make pizza topped with chicken teriyaki? Sounds skethcy.

      • TribalistMeathead

        Yes, I’m sure the makers of this app want you to avoid a particular neighborhood because they sell pizza topped with teriyaki chicken.

        Also, the fact that you were able to restrain yourself from asking whether the female developer of the app used to do amateur porn is admirable.

        • Whiskers

          I thought this particular strain of the conversation was about use of the word “sketchy” and how it is used generally, not how it is being used in the context of this app.

        • efgoldman

          I’m sure the makers of this app want you to avoid a particular neighborhood because they sell pizza topped with teriyaki chicken

          Well, *I* sure would.

      • Johnnie

        At both overwhelmingly white liberal arts (redundant) colleges I attended sketchy generally just referred to individuals whose appearance and behavior demonstrated that they’re intoxication levels (on things other than alcohol) was elevated well above the median. You know, the one’s who would tell you about what a great time they were having “rolling” on a Tuesday night. I can see this term getting transposed to racial categorizations pretty easily.

        • Aimai

          As an old person I can say that “sketchy” has a long pedigree and has always applied to things that are not quite on the up and up (see how old I am?), things that are not well known/understood (hence: sketched in not fully filled in). If it has now become a euphemism for “scary” and from that to “black people are present” that isn’t inherent in the term and I’m pretty sure people still use it in the old sense without having any particularly racist motivation or reference.

      • John not McCain

        Have you ever heard anyone refer to an area composed of 95%+ white people as “sketchy”? I haven’t. I’ve heard such areas called “poor”, but never by any word that would indicate it was dangerous.

        • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

          Yes. Or rather, I don’t know if they are 95%+ white, but I’ve heard hardscrabble Irish and Polish and other “ethnic” neighborhoods called sketchy, and if there were more than 5% non-whites living there, they weren’t the reason it was being called sketchy.

        • leftwingfox

          I have, but I live in Canada. =P

        • Whiskers

          I’ve heard of Russian neighborhoods in New York referred to as sketchy.

          • JL

            Coney Island and the nearby areas?

            • Turkle

              Yes. And, frankly, I myself have referred to those neighborhoods as sketchy, but I meant it more in an obviously-organized-crime-related way. Lots of track-suit gangsters, “members-only” soccer clubs, etc. But that’s part of the charm of the neighborhood, IMO.

              The thing about “sketchy” is that it can mean a few different things, which is what gives it perfect cover to also be used as a racist signifier. I hear it all the time here in NYC. “Isn’t that place a little sketchy?” to refer to a neighborhood where you might see black people ever.

              • The thing about “sketchy” is that it can mean a few different things, which is what gives it perfect cover to also be used as a racist signifier. I hear it all the time here in NYC. “Isn’t that place a little sketchy?” to refer to a neighborhood where you might see black people ever.

                Yep. Which is one reason the app’s creators’ claims that they won’t allow racism, honest! Are more than a little naff (at best). Maybe they won’t allow openly racist language, but that’s not the same as no racism.

        • brugroffil

          West Virginia/poor Appalachia in general?

          • Col Bat Guano

            I drove some of the back roads of New Hampshire back in grad school and sketchy was an excellent term to describe a few of the places I drove through.

            • ChrisTS

              Yikes. No Kidding.

        • Manny Kant

          There’s definitely some white working class ethnic neighborhoods in Philly I could imagine someone calling sketchy (parts of Kensington, e.g.)

          I’d also say that one might call uninhabited parts of cities sketchy, e.g. “it’s kind of sketchy to get there; you have to go under some highway underpasses where there’s almost no foot traffic.”

        • djw

          Parts of rural Whatcom county (halfway between Seattle and Vancouver BC) in the 90’s, shortly after a number of Ukrainians and Russians had moved there. The belief that Russian mobs were continuing to settle scores from the old country seemed pretty silly to me, but was largely accepted as conventional wisdom.

          • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

            djw — since you’re on here, check out the Grantland article on Sale if you haven’t. Really great. Shane’s verdict is that Felix has the Cy Young locked down, Sale’s been the second best pitcher in the AL despite missing a month, and he’s actually “underperforming” his stuff in the sense that he has so much movement and velocity that he should be posting even better numbers than he has.

        • Well, yes. But by not-white, not-male and/or not-hetero people.

          But sometimes we called it Indiana.

          • ChrisTS

            Nah. There were mostly-to-all white neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens that I would have called sketchy had the term been used that way 25 years ago.

            Sometimes it was the residents’ obvious we-hate-outsiders thing, sometimes it was the percentage of people on heroin, sometimes it was the ‘we don’t approve of young women out in public’ vibe.

            Walking across the Gowanus it was more a fear of seeing corpses bubble up to the surface.

            • Alvin Alpaca

              Pre-gentrification Park Slope was “sketchy”and that was a mostly white nabe. Now it’s sketchy because it’s full of lawyers—no offense. Some of my best friends are lawyers. Really.

              • ChrisTS

                Heh. No offense taken, as I’m not a lawyer.

                • Alvin Alpaca

                  Whew!

      • AcademicLurker

        I’ll be a bit annoyed if this app sparks some sort of progressive crusade against “sketchy”, which is a perfectly serviceable term for things that aren’t quite right, e.g., “The data seems OK but their interpretation is pretty sketchy.”

        • Whiskers

          Don’t worry. There are a lot of morons around here who have difficulty processing language, but I don’t think it is a widespread thing.

        • ChrisTS

          Ditto. I often talk to my students about ‘sketchy reasoning’: not deductively fallacious, perhaps, but missing important premises, assumption-loaded, etc.

          If ‘sketchy’ has to be abandoned as a racist buzzword, I will be very irritated.

          • nixnutz

            I don’t think it’s that “sketchy” has a specifically racist connotation it’s just that whatever synonym for “bad” or “unsafe” that white people use to describe a neighborhood is likely to be a proxy for “not-a-lot-of-white-people”.

            There are exceptions; I think you’d have to be pretty racist to describe Fort Greene as sketchy nowadays and San Francisco’s Tenderloin & Civic Center are sketchy for a host of reasons but it’s still common for white people to be scared of very safe neighborhoods.

    • Fosco

      I’m from the DC area, where apparently one of the app developers lived, and we use “sketchy” around here. I’d never considered a racial component to it before, I mostly think of it as “dangerous to be around.” Like, if a dude was creepy he’d be described as “sketchy,” whatever the race. Or, true story: my girlfriend moved into a neighborhood and there was a shooting murder and a crack den bust on her street in the same week, and I might have said to her “be careful that’s a sketchy neighborhood.” Race doesn’t come into it. I can see how a racist person would use it that way, but I don’t feel like I should have to always be worried about what racist people might do among themselves.

  • CaptBackslap – YOLO Edition

    Martin, to Niles: To you, a sketchy neighborhood is when the cheese shop doesn’t have valet parking.

    • sharculese

      RIP Frajer

    • Barry Freed

      Also sketchy: when the cheese shop’s run out of Stilton.

      • Warren Terra

        I’m pretty sure in the Cheese Shop Sketch the shop was out of everything. Except bouzouki music, that they had plenty of.

    • KmCO

      My god, the scene in a fairly early episode in his which Niles and Martin are sitting in a stationary vehicle in Pike’s Market in Seattle (Seattle!), and Niles is sweating bullets is gold.

      • Warren Terra

        “Pike’s Market”? Do you mean “Pike Place”?

        • KmCO

          Yeah.

  • Whiskers

    You know what would be hilarious? If someone were able to hack the app and flip things around and get a bunch of “not-racist” whites, thumbing away at their smartphones, to stroll into Brownsville or East New York, when they were looking for Park Slope.

    • sharculese

      It’s crowdsourced, so that seems both possible and funny.

      • Alvin Alpaca

        I will absolutely do that (Brooklynite)! But first I’m going to tell them how “sketchy” my neighborhood is so they’re afraid to come here and ruin it.

        • brugroffil

          now there’s a good idea

      • skate

        When this app came up on Gothamist a few days ago, many commenters there were saying they’d report their own neighborhoods if it would help keep the g’damn tourists away.

        Personally, I’d report the Upper East Side because of all the vomit on the sidewalks Saturday afternoons in autumn.

        • Alvin Alpaca

          I’m feeling a bit more charitable today, so I thought I might give these folks a head start on what neighborhoods to avoid in a totally not racist way, cause:

          It’s not just brown people you have to worry about anymore®.

          Italian neighborhoods: because everyone’s cousin is connected to the Gambinos

          Russian: also organized crime, plus lots of pickled beets (ew!)

          Irish: Pugnacious drunkards (and papists)

          Korean: Kim chi breath, and maybe eating dogs

          Chinese: That knockoff Gucci purse is contaminated with radioactive byproducts

          Average White Nabe (band name?): abundance of ketchup and/or mayonaise

          Hungarian: Ask any 12th century western European what a menace those Magyars are

          Greek: They don’t call it “greek style” (and I don’t mean yogurt) for nuthin’

          Turkish: Doner kabob is the gateway drug to Islam

          Conclusion for all who would use this app: Just stay home and cower in fear. Please!

  • Col Bat Guano

    Who we’re not: racists, bigots, sexists. Any discriminatory posts will be deleted.

    I hope they’re working on an app to screen all their posts for discriminatory content because otherwise they are going to be spending all of their time on that.

    • sharculese

      The fact that they are fully aware that this is a thing that racists are going to love and that they have to preemptively distance themselves is absolutely the best part.

      • JL

        I would believe that they actually meant well with this app and are clueless enough to believe that deleting overtly bigoted posts will get rid of any racism/classism/etc, that nothing bigoted will necessarily emerge out of crowdsourced reports of sketchiness, and that they can redefine “sketchy” as applied to neighborhoods to connote something that is not racist/classist/etc.

        But the road to hell blah blah blah.

        • sharculese

          I mostly agree, but I suspect that although they think they have perfectly good intentions, they’re fully aware that they’re also toeing the line.

          • calling all toasters

            Plus, all the other good apps were taken.

            • Moondog

              Right what’s a person to do when they know they want to make an app but they have no good ideas?

              I’m asking, really. What should I do?

  • Whiskers

    Is this really that racist? I mean, is it a racist idea? Or maybe it just reports on the effects of racism? In most states, you can find out about the school district rankings, perhaps with a color coded map. The lowest ranked ones will inevitably be the ones with the highest concentrations of minorities. Is compiling that information racist?

    Also, there are dangerous places that are good to avoid. Is wanting to know where they are racist?

    • When “I see brown people” = “DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!” then yes, it’s racist.

    • sharculese

      Define dangerous.

      Now ask a bunch of 20-something smartphone users, many of whom have little experience with cities, to crowdsource the definition of dangerous.

      That’s the problem.

      Unrelated note: fuck you, spellcheck. ‘Smartphone’ is a word, but ‘balrog’ isn’t? Fuck you.

    • rea

      The lowest ranked ones will inevitably be the ones with the highest concentrations of minorities.

      Not true, in my experience.

      • Whiskers

        Your experience would be unique.

      • Denverite

        Ding ding ding!

        When we were living temporarily in a Major American City we sent our kid to a school that was at least plurality African-American, if not majority African-American. White students made up 30% or less of the student body. It was excellent by virtually any measure you could think of — scores, safety, teacher quality, etc. Much better than the almost-all-white schools we’re zoned into now.

    • And your school district bit is not relevant. Poverty correlates to low performing schools, and in this country black and brown people tend to be poor.

      Ta-Nehisi Coates had done stellar work explaining why this is so over at his blog, if you’re interested.

      • Whiskers

        Poverty also correlates to street crime.

        • Aimai

          While bankers simply take your house without using a gun.

          • Whiskers

            Hence, the qualifier “street” crime.

            • ChrisTS

              As contrasted with “Wall Street crime.”

        • Crime rate has been plummeting for years, though poverty has been rising steadily. Not a very close correlation, then, I guess.

    • L2P

      The lowest ranked ones will inevitably be the ones with the highest concentrations of minorities.*

      Like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Marino_High_School

      I know, Asians are the “non-scary” “minority.” But still, racist is as racist does.

      *Also. “Minorites?” When do you expect Hispanics to be a minority in California?

      • Whiskers

        Can you write in coherent sentences, please.

        As for whether Hispanics are a minority or majority in California is irrelevant. I referred to school districts, which are local. And I’m guessing that ten time out of ten, Beverly Hills High school is rated as better, whatever that means, than the one in East L.A. Are the publications, people, surveys, etc., that measure these things racist?

        • Gregor Sansa

          I’m guessing that ten time (sic) out of ten….

          … Are the publications, people, surveys, etc., that measure these things racist?

          No, but pulling numbers out of your ass is.

          • Whiskers

            What’s it like to live on another planet?

            • Steve LaBonne

              You tell us.

              • Whiskers

                Quite the zinger.

                • DrDick

                  But far closer to reality than yours.

        • L2P

          And I’m guessing that ten time out of ten, Beverly Hills High school is rated as better, whatever that means, than the one in East L.A.

          Your racism is, oddly enough, WRONG:

          http://www.lachsa.net/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=237481&type=d

        • L2P

          Also 10 times out of 10, people who compare “Beverly Hills” schools to any other school district as proof that it’s just “facts” that white person schools are better than brown person schools will be proven wrong. It’s racism.

          Beverly Hills is notorious for severely underperforming its demographics and its funding. It’s the poster child for the “most complaints the education provided by supposedly low-performing schools is, actually, quite good” way of thinking.

          • Whiskers

            Oh dear, you’re a moron.

            • DrDick

              Talking to yourself again?

              • Whiskers

                I have to take issue. Recently, Erik sad that I am really bad at “comeback lines” or some childish thing like that. I’ve not gotten two I know you are but what am I’s in this discussion and the people giving them should be called out.

                • KmCO

                  Erik is still right.

                • Gregor Sansa
                • ChrisTS

                  I have to take issue. Recently, Erik sad that I am really bad at “comeback lines” or some childish thing like that. I’ve not gotten two I know you are but what am I’s in this discussion and the people giving them should be called out.

                  Um, didn’t you just scold someone else for not writing coherent sentences?

                • Whiskers

                  I did.

                  Replace the word “not” with “now.”

    • wengler

      Can a black person use this app effectively? No? Then it’s racist.

      • John not McCain

        Maybe, given the crowdsourcing, black people should identify mostly white areas as sketchy.

      • Whiskers

        Why can’t they?

      • ChrisTS

        I think they could. Certainly, women could use it to report areas where there are lots of rapes, harassment, bars with dangerous dudes.

    • medrawt

      But if they really want to use data they basically scooped up off the ground, crime statistics should be a pretty good proxy for “dangerous”. Why bring in the “crowdsourced user experiences” (other than because that becomes part of the selling point of the app).

      I’ve lived in Chicago for 13 years. I’ve lived in three distinct areas of the city, and I have a generic knowledge of where the most dangerous parts of the city are (from a violent crime perspective). I also have some personal metrics for gauging whether or not a given neighborhood is one I want to walk through or hang around in. The distribution of crime and poverty being what they are in Chicago, those neighborhoods are primarily minorities. Notably, though: all, even most, minority-heavy neighborhoods, don’t set off my personal alarm.

      Now, my metrics aren’t perfect. An individual crime can happen anywhere, of course. Also, my gauges are still based in stereotypes, and potentially unfair to certain neighborhoods. But the point is: I trust my perspective as a rule of thumb. I trust the perspective of people with similar experience, in Chicago or similar cities, as long as they don’t strike me as the extremely sheltered / easily unnerved type. But VERY MANY people are of the extremely sheltered / easily unnerved type (and of course very many people don’t have a lot of experience actually living in a major metropolis). I am not interested in their advice, or their crowdsourced experiences. Whatever the intentions of this app, it’s hard to imagine that many people’s hairtrigger reaction to, basically, process the unfamiliar as frightening WON’T wind up skewing the app’s contents in the direction of being, basically, “here’s how you avoid where the black and less assimilated latinos are”.

      • Gregor Sansa

        Right. I tried to say a similar thing down below.

      • Fearless Navigator of the New LGM Comment System

        One problem with using crime statistics (and I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be better than crowdsourcing) is that there can be anomalies that warp the data. For example, when we lived in Chicago, one of the places we lived registered as one of the most violent blocks in vicinity. There were tons and tons of violent crimes. The reason? There was a police station on the corner, and every time some arrestee struggled with the police, they would charge him with resisting, which counted as a violent crime (at least it did at the time). I would imagine a similar story could be told in the areas around nightclubs and bars and the like.

        (Incidentally, the only time I was a victim of violent crime was when I was on the border between a “safe” neighborhood and a “not safe” one. I got mugged and punched in the face a couple of times. Fortunately a passing car scared the muggers off before they could do much damage. Just a sore jaw for a week or so.)

        • Yes, this. According to crime stats, Fort Smith, Arkansas (where I live now) is just as dangerous as New Orleans (where I used to live), which I can tell you frankly is some bullshit.

          As Fearless points out, this problem arises with how cops are charging / reporting arrests.

    • DrDick

      So you are a full service racist (except for antisemitism).

    • Gwen

      I think you can measure racism, roughly, using this question: what percent of neighborhoods does a person find “sketchy”, and what is the ratio of majority-minority to majority-white neighborhoods?

      I’d like to gather a lot of information on this. And then create an app that lets me avoid people who are excessively sensitive to sketchiness.

      (I mean, look, if there’s a neighborhood so bad that stray dogs are eating the corpses of the recently-deceased, then it’s probably not racist to call that sketchy… but the vast, vast majority of minority neighborhoods are not like that. I’ve lived in a few).

  • Steve LaBonne

    Pointing and laughing:

    Can you write in coherent sentences, please.

    As for whether Hispanics are a minority or majority in California is irrelevant.

    • ChrisTS

      Ah. I caught a different, but equally laughable, one.

  • Steve LaBonne

    I have rehearsed with my community orchestra on Thursday evenings for years at a community college campus in a “sketchy” (but actually rapidly improving) neighborhood of Cleveland. Needless to say, the fact it’s a perfectly safe place where none of us has ever had the hint of a problem over many years, and that there is parking in a garage patrolled by campus cops and attached to the building where the auditorium is located, doesn’t stop our white suburban audience from staying away in droves when we perform there rather than at one of the suburban campuses. Hell, some of my daughter’s friends in the lily-white exurb where I used to live were horrified that we thought nothing of driving into Cleveland to eat or go to a museum. You get carjacked as soon as you cross the city limits, don’cha know. Yeah, it’s racism (the crazy parents of her best friend were convinced in 2008 that Obama was going to open re-education camps for white people).

    • Whiskers

      Is it possible that people aren’t willing to travel as far as you think they should to hear your community orchestra?

      • Gregor Sansa

        Yeah, it’s possible. Is it possible that somebody who’s spent years facing this problem wouldn’t already have considered the thing some quasi-troll came up with in 30 seconds, and doesn’t have some reason for discounting that, such as the fact that people willingly drive just as far between suburbs? Pretty unlikely.

        • Whiskers

          Actually, its pretty likely, given that this thread is for a bunch of white people to pat themselves on the back about how unracist they are.

          • DrDick

            Except you, who is quite proud of his “racial realism”.

            • Whiskers

              There you go projecting again.

              • Gregor Sansa

                Oh, I say. Not quite Marquis of Queensbury there, eh what?

      • Steve LaBonne

        No, many come farther to the suburban campuses. (We do audience surveys, we know this.) You know, there are suburbs ALL AROUND the city. Amazing, eh?

        Moron.

        • Whiskers

          I don’t care about Cleveland, its suburbs, or your community orchestra full of ugly nerds.

          • Gregor Sansa

            Trolls can be fun. Even this one has been a fun chew-toy in the past. But when it resorts to “ugly”, it’s basically giving up, and it may be time to lower the boom.

            (Though LaBonne still gets full points for reducing it to this state, of course.)

            • sharculese

              It’s kind of fascinating how fast Whiskers melts down and start flailing.

              Jenny used to do that, mostly by stealing other people’s names and spamming the n word, but even he learned that it looked pathetic.

              • Col Bat Guano

                It’s kind of fascinating how fast Whiskers melts down and start flailing.

                Seriously. One counter argument and Whiskers goes straight to the “What planet are you from.” riposte. And then has the stones to admonish someone for their childish, but well-deserved comeback.

                • sharculese

                  Don’t forget “you’re a moron.”

          • KmCO

            Erik recently observed that the troll Whiskers has the emotional maturity of a twelve-year-old. Based on this thread I would put it closer to four years old.

        • Lee Rudolph

          You know, there are suburbs ALL AROUND the city.

          When I was growing up in Cleveland (proper: just where West 25th turns into Pearl Road, uphill from the Zoo), there was a positive dearth of suburbs on the North Side.

          • Gregor Sansa

            That was before the handfish moved in.

            (I guess that joke was a bit sketchy.)

          • Steve LaBonne

            A palpable hit!

      • sharculese

        Oh look. Whiskers didn’t get the reaction he wanted so he’s slipped right back into his crybaby contrarian bullshit. Who could have guessed.

        • Whiskers

          Go clean up before your roommate gets home.

          • sharculese

            What does that even mean?

            Next time you try to lie to us about how you don’t care about comebacks or burns, just remember that lame nonsense like this gives away how much it eats you up inside that you suck at them.

            • KmCO

              I have a friend with a four-year-old. Recently, said four-year-old did something he had explicitly been told not to do, and his mom confronted him.

              KmCO’s Friend: Mini-Person, I asked you not to do this. Your behavior is unacceptable to me.

              Four-Year-Old: Nuh-uh, you’re stupid!

              This has been an allegory for the age of the incompetent Internet troll.

              • ChrisTS

                Gack. Our [generally wonderful] son had a period of responding to any criticism with “No, YOU are!”

                Pretty much equivalent.

            • I imagine that, as he hit the Submit button, he smirked to himself and said “YA BURNT”.

  • Gregor Sansa

    I am your classic oblivious nerd, so probably anything I say here should be taken with a heavy helping of salt. But I also lived in Guatemala City for 10 years, in a neighborhood that was probably 2 orders of magnitude more dangerous than your average “sketchy” US neighborhood, but which was probably about the median for the city as a whole. And so I had plenty of chances to see how a neighborhoods economic class, scary-looking things (prostitutes, passed-out drunks, security guards, graffiti, etc.), and actual danger level were imperfect correlates with each other. And that’s without equating “scary-looking things” to anything ethnic; but even if you took that one extra racist step, even though it would make the correlations worse, you’d still have three separate scales that correlate more than 0 but less than 1.

    I’m also a statistician, who understands how tempting it is to “look under the lamppost” and let the sirens song of easy data lead you into the shoals of an answer to the wrong question. (It’s certainly what’s happened with school testing, for instance.) And so I can’t see any way this app doesn’t end up going down that path. Even if 80% of the users were miraculously free of racism, the 20% could easily sour the whole data set.

    But I don’t think that it’s necessarily untrue that the app’s developers here are racist. The app, if it takes off (which it won’t, I believe and hope) would be racist. But that doesn’t mean the people who built it are; just clueless.

    • Steve LaBonne

      There’s a degree of white cluelessness (and paranoia) on this sort of thing that’s very, very difficult to distinguish from racism. I’m not so ready to give them a free pass.

      • Gregor Sansa

        Agreed; no free pass. But you can still make a distinction between “that was a racist thing you just did, even if you may not have intended it to be” and “you are a racist, and your denials only make you look even more of a fool”.

    • leftwingfox

      I also highly recommend Natalie Reed’s love letter to East Hastings, which is considered one of the “sketchiest” neighbourhoods in Vancouver BC, and possibly all of Canada.

      http://freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed/2012/07/02/east-hastings-a-love-story/

      That was the article that really brought home the dangers of gentrification to me.

    • Gregor Sansa

      To actually give specifics about Guatemala City:

      My own neighborhood was not at all safe, but the prostitutes (day and night) made it more safe, not less so. You really didn’t want to go towards some of the directions where there were fewer prostitutes.

      The plastic upper-class “zona viva”, composed of office buildings and the trendier kind of chain restaurants (Tre Fratelli, Chili’s, TGIF) is actually a lot more dangerous/crime-ridden than a lot of working-class areas.

      There are poor neighborhoods where you could go at night (as long as you aren’t being flashy), and others at similar economic levels where NO WAY even in the day.

      In general, indigenous correlates with poor, and poor correlates with crime, but at a given economic level, indigenous anti-correlates with crime.

      etc.

      • “actually a lot more dangerous/crime-ridden than a lot of working-class areas.”
        Precisely. No one walking around w/ anything worth stealing in working class areas.

        I live in a 90+% Hispanic neighborhood, where there’s no one on the streets to rob after about 2300 because everyone has to get up at 0600 to go to their minimum wage jobs.

  • My in-laws are from Vinton County Ohio, population 15,000. That’s for the entire county. It’s very much Appalachia.

    They’re afraid to come up to the tough, gritty, concrete jungle that they seem to think Columbus Ohio is. Apparently the local news down there makes a big deal about reporting any shooting that happens in Columbus.

    They must think I live in something out of The Warriors or Taxi Driver.

    • I get that, too, from my rural Northeast Mississippi kinfolk, but most of them were convinced Gainesville, FL, was Sodom and Atlanta was Gamorrah, so I’ve learned to roll with it. What got me was the reaction from my cool hipster Atlanta/Athens friends when I told ’em I was moving to New Orleans. No, it wasn’t a center of music and food and history and culture, most of which is pretty awesome (the Red Dress Run is tomorrow, and that’s not awesome), it’s a full-on war zone, and to this day if I post something about walking through the Quarter late in the evening when it’s pleasant, someone will ask if I’m wanting to be knocked on the head.

      Actually, one of my grandmother’s brothers was killed in New Orleans back in the ’30s. He was gay and apparently no one at the time cared, so Mommaw never did find out what happened or why. However, she never once told me not to go to New Orleans, ’cause by that time in her life, she’d already lived through my grandfather so she wasn’t scared of shit.

    • Col Bat Guano

      My wife has some family connections who live in the NE corner of Indiana which is basically Amish folks surrounded by cornfields. One of her relatives was going on about how he always kept a handgun in the trunk of his car because “you just never know when you’ll need it”. I think I bit all the way through my tongue to stop me from asking if he was worried about the children of the corn coming for him.

      • And when you do need it, you’ll be able to convince whomever you need it against to let you get it out of the trunk, right?

    • Bitter Scribe

      Hey, Major, I thought you lived in Memphis.

      • I work in Memphis. To be exact, my trips mostly start and end in Memphis.

        To get to work I ride the jump-seat on one of our planes from Columbus to Memphis.

        It’s pretty common for airline pilots to commute to work from another city. I’d say at least half of our pilots don’t live in Memphis.

        I brought my wife to Memphis exactly once and she said “No effing way are we ever moving here”.

    • I teach in Fort Smith, Arkansas, at a university that has dorms; but more than half of our students commute in, some from as far as fifty or sixty miles away.

      One big reason I hear from students for why they don’t want to live on campus is how dangerous Fort Smith is.

      We have so many gangs here, they tell me, wide-eyed. So much drug use! Crime in the streets!

      Yep. We’re sin city.

      • Lee Rudolph

        Well, to be fair (but general: not necessarily applicable to your university), some college dormitories do generate a non-trivial amount of in-house crime, including sexual assault. And some fraternities (which I assume you are free of, since you don’t mention it) might be confused with gangs in some ways…

      • DrDick

        Heh. Grew up in NE Oklahoma and I would say your students are in far more danger from their meth addled friends and relatives there in the mountains than from any “gangs” that might exist in Ft. Smith.

  • joe from Lowell

    Eric, understandably, jumps on the racism angle.

    Another source of bias that’s going to be worked into this app is building age. People who don’t know cities can’t tell a good neighborhood full of 100-year-old houses from a bad neighborhood full of 100-year-old houses. They look at old, perhaps multifamily, housing and that’s it – it’s a bad neighborhood.

    Admittedly, the cues to differentiate the good neighborhoods from the bad ones can be subtle, but that’s exactly why you shouldn’t be relying on visitors’ snap judgments about them.

    • 1060westaddison

      Sometimes, the cues are subtle. Other times, you see a sign on the corner that says “Block Club Rules: 1. No Dealing Drugs 2. No Washing Cars 3. Loud Music”. But, yeah, I’ve definitely had the wrong first impression about a neighborhood in an unfamiliar city.

  • dp

    I’ll just throw this out there: I learned the term “sketchy” from my son and his (relatively sheltered) close friends, and they used it almost exclusively to refer to dopers and neighborhoods/bars where dopers hung out. Given their social milieu, that was mostly white kids.

    That certainly doesn’t disprove the racism of the people referenced in the post.

    • ChrisTS

      Yes. And I’ll add this anecdotum:

      My daughter and her [then] girlfriend lived in a series of Philly areas they called ‘sketchy.’ These were definitely mixed race areas: out of work or underemployed young whites, older whites who were too poor to move from houses they owned, and people of every other color. The only common denominator was lack of money.

      When I visited them at the last place (the one that did not get broken into multiple times – as happened in the mostly white areas in which they lived), I thought it looked scary. Not because of the inhabitants, but because the area looked like post-war Berlin. Empty lots, barbed wire, boarded up buildings, roaming dogs, etc.

      They never had trouble with their neighbors (of any color). But they still felt it was a ‘sketchy’ area. So did I.

      I think the beliefs that (1) poverty = crime and (2)poverty = POC are the problem with this app. If people only inform as to areas in which they have experienced crime or danger, it won’t be a problem at all. If they report based on appearances, it will be highly problematic.

  • The last time I was looking for housing here in Oakland, late in the last century, the realtors used the term “congested.” My own neighborhood was, by the accounts of long-time neighbors, highly congested in the 1980s, but two waves of gentrifying homesteaders (Chinese, then gays) had plowed the earth by the time the third wave, what used to be called yuppies, arrived.

    The other end of Lake Merritt, now, you’re getting into some way sketchy precincts on the former East Fourteenth Street, and I give that area a wide berth without doing the slightest violence to my social conscience.

  • I for one am happy that our youth won’t need to develop street-smarts or even common sense, but will be able to push a button on their device to tell them how to live.

    “Wisdom of crowds” my ass. Lynch mobs is more like it.

  • Gwen

    So is there a betting pool on how long it will take for someone who is neurotically checking their phone for sketchiness, to get raped or mugged because they aren’t paying attention to their actual surroundings?

    Situational awareness – God gave us an app for that (two eyes, two ears, and a brain).

  • Gwen

    All of this reminds me of an event from my childhood that I thought I’d share. So gather ’round Auntie?/Uncle?/Auncle?/Untie? Gwen…

    When I was a gender-ambiguous child of five (let’s just stick with “lad”) back in about 1987, my parents took us to downtown Pittsburgh for some event. Downtown Pittsburgh is where they filmed “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Flashdance.”

    I honestly can’t recall what it was… probably a Pirates game at Three Rivers Stadium. We lived in Turtle Creek, which is pretty close to Monroeville, where they filmed the original “Dawn of the Dead.” Turtle Creek is to the east of downtown.

    But anyway, we somehow got lost on the way home. This was before GPS with “sketchiness” apps. We were supposedly looking for Squirrel Hill, which is where Fred “Mister” Rogers lived. At the time I was a very big fan of Mr. Rogers and also his colleagues King Friday XIII and Lady Elaine.

    At some point very shortly after we traversed the neighborhood of said Rogers, my mother began to freak out because she felt we were in an unsafe part of town. This was of course the mid-1980s when all black people were forced at gun point by George H W Bush to smoke crack. It was dark and I can’t recall what the neighborhood looked like. Let’s give my mother the doubt and say it looked like the scenery from a Wiz Khalifa video.

    My dad – either feeling henpecked or just genuinely convinced my mother was overreacting, basically told my mother to shut her piehole.

    I learned an important lesson that night. In America, even Mister Rogers Neighborhood isn’t safe, at least according to my mother. So might as well f*ck being uptight about stuff, just use common sense.

    BONUS STORYTIME FEATURE: Me drunk-karaoke singing “Black and Yellow” back when the Pens were in the Cup playoffs: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=786543681357940&

    • Gregor Sansa

      Another story, Untie! Another story!

    • matt w

      Well, the only time I’ve ever been a victim of violent crime, not counting getting beat up in school, was in Squirrel Hill. Some guys were stealing a kid’s bike and when I stepped toward them and said “Hey” one punched me in the jaw.

      (This is the rankest abuse of statistics, because I’m from Squirrel Hill; so it’s like saying that 90% of accidents take place within a mile of home so you can be safe by moving.)

      Anyway, this was about the same time as you were going downtown and those bike thieves were the big crime panic in all the papers. Which is to say Pittsburgh was really pretty damn crime-free at the time. I can’t find stats to back this up but I think the surge in violence associated with crack hit Pittsburgh a few years after it started making national headlines, and even then it wasn’t random suburban tourists getting shot.

      What I did find while looking for stats was this page, which pretty much confirms that what you’re going to get out of an enterprise like this is a list of black neighborhoods.

  • mikeSchilling

    The sketchiest neighborhood I’ve ever been in is the Left Bank . Fucking artists everywhere you look!

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