Dog whistles

Something is happening in the neighborhood. It’s not a new thing, it’s just more vibrant now, for me at least, I think. My friend, while walking his dog, is assaulted around the corner. Three kids beat his eye socket with a metal bat, shattering it. Various cameras film it. Nobody is caught. To watch someone develop PTSD right in front of you.

Brunch with new acquaintances in the neighborhood, fellow corgi owners. The woman decided her future mother-in-law was weird for not liking dogs. It disappointed the Libanese man, who eventually found it in his heart to overlook the initial character flaw. On dating apps, the woman found it most effective to set her filters exclusively to Middle Eastern men. She recounts all the times Muslim kids in the neighborhood responded poorly to the dog.

I’m at the butcher’s, picking up meat for dinner. A tall man tells another man about his daughter Lola. She has finished high school and is working now, and she’s living with her boyfriend Mohammed. He’s doing Ramadan, but he also smokes weed. The men laugh at each other in unison, agreeing wordlessly that a multifaceted Muslim is not a Muslim at all.

Playing frisbee with Lemonade in the courtyard, and Amber and her parents are there. They play with Lemonade. They ask how the friend with the shattered eye socket is doing, and tell me there was a big fight in front of their house the other day. The police even had to come. It’s probably the cultural milieu of the boys involved, Amber’s mom informs me.

Someone in the building shares a photo in the group chat of two boys in black hoodies. Like all the other teenage street-dwelling boys in this story, they’re probably of Muslim heritage, descending from Moroccan, Syrian, Afghan, Turkish families who’ve lived in this neighborhood for decades, long before any of us gentrifiers got here. Oh, to be stereotyped into failure.

In the photo, the boys in the black hoodies can be seen hanging out in the courtyard, leaving a mess. Kids. One neighbor wonders what kind of black animal species would leave such a mess. I leave the group chat. Anja later tells me that nobody took offense to the dehumanization, but there is confusion about why I don’t understand that the neighbor was referring to the black hoodies, and not the boys' skin, which isn’t black to begin with. I feel disturbed, but more strongly I cringe at the dramatic irony gravitating around the wondering neighbor, who served in the Israeli Defense Force.

I’ve been defending “kut-Marokkanen”1 since before the Towers fell, even though I hate myself for it when my friend’s eye socket is destroyed. Something’s happening in the neighborhood, and maybe it’s not a new thing, but a new language. Not a new language per se, but new encounters with it. Encounters stringing together words and a lack thereof to remind me it’s perfectly salonfähig that we turn ourselves so nonchalantly against our own neighbors.

It’s a peculiar thing, to be in the presence but not on the receiving end of bigotry, for a change.


  1. A slur frequently used by people referring to teenage boys with a North African or Middle Eastern appearance who may congregate in various places in the city. ↩︎

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