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He finally wants a piece of that pie

| Thursday, May 12, 2005

"Moving on up" isn't supposed to be complicated. Following George and Weezie Jefferson's example, leaving the 'hood is supposed to be as simple as working your tail off, saving a few bucks and choosing a new place to live.

The Jeffersons aren't real.

When a black person has had enough of the crime, poverty and high taxes of city life, he can count on one thing: Lots of folks won't be happy to hear the news. Just last weekend, I managed to bum out several relatives and friends by spending a Sunday afternoon looking at homes in Sewickley, Ben Avon and Osborne.

These communities were enveloped in such postcard-pretty tranquility, it felt like house shopping on the set of "The Brady Bunch."

Ten minutes spent outside without being hassled by panhandling crackheads or deafened by sirens and the endless thump of high-decibel hip-hop music was downright unnerving for this 12-year resident of the Central North Side.

It was something a brother could get used to in a hurry.

As I recalled the experience at a family dinner that evening, my impression of the pastoral 'burbs was shot full of holes like a Perry Hilltop street sign.

My family reminded me that "The Brady Bunch," just like the suburbs, didn't have many black characters.

There was a reason for that: They didn't want any.

"You move out there, and somebody's going to spray paint a swastika on your door," I was warned. "You don't know how they treat minorities in those lily-white communities."

By the time the conversation was over, the folks had me wondering whether I'd mistakenly offered to buy a house next door to the American Nazi Party headquarters.

Of course, I hadn't.

What my relatives and friends had fallen victim to was little more than old-fashioned stereotyping.

The breathtaking gap between a black Pittsburgher's perceptions of the suburbs and modern reality is an outdated bugaboo from our city's racist past that just won't go away.

A fear of visiting -- not to mention moving to -- areas outside of the city center dates to a time when it was a lot more dangerous for blacks to travel. I've encountered a few rednecks with Confederate flags on their trucks out in the suburbs, but you can see that in Pittsburgh as well.

To be sure, Allegheny County's suburbs are overwhelmingly white.

The communities surrounding Pittsburgh tend to contain black populations of less than 10 percent, according to the 2000 Census. The farther out from our 29 percent black city center we travel, the whiter Western Pennsylvania gets.

Does that mean a black family has sold out or compromised its "blackness" for wanting to live somewhere other than the self-imposed comfort zone of the inner city• I'm not persuaded it does.

If the civil rights movement wasn't about the right to "move on up" -- as the Jeffersons did -- then you have to wonder what exactly we were fighting for.

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