25 March 2015

Riding In "Their" Neighborhood: A Bronx Tale

Normally, I'm not much of a fan of organized bike rides.  But I must admit that the first time I did the Five Boro Bike Tour, it felt great to be "taking over" the Verrazano Bridge and various streets throughout the city.  Sometimes people stood on the sidelines and cheered us on.  But some jeered us, and once I heard someone scream, "Go to Cuba, you f---ing commies!"  

I guess if I feel that I can "claim", if you will, a place by pedaling across or through it, someone's going to feel threatened.  I don't think my "claim" gives me sole possession; rather, it makes me a part of where I've ridden, and that place becomes part of me--and others can feel the same way.  But I guess that's just not how some people see it:  To them, a group of people riding through their neighborhood--especially if they look and dress a little different--is an invasion, an intrusion, on their way of life.

The funny thing is that even though I am white, the most hostile reactions I've experienced were from other white people.  Some of the friendliest receptions I encountered while on organized rides came in Harlem, when it was still entirely black, and Williamsburg when it was Puerto Rican.

So...What kind of a reaction would I and fellow riders had been black or Latina, and riding through some white ghetto? Would the irrational resentments some feel toward cyclists have been exacerbated by racial tension?

I got to thinking about such questions after showing A Bronx Tale to two of my classes last week.  It's the first film Robert de Niro directed.  In it, he plays Lorenzo, an Italian-American bus driver whose son, Calogero, witnesses a mob hit and doesn't "rat out" the perpetrator.  From there, the film follows Colagero--then nine years old, in 1960--through the ensuing decade as he, and his world change.

One of said changes is in the complexions of the skins of people who live in the neighborhood.  By 1968 or thereabouts, blacks have moved within a few blocks of their neighborhood.  A group of them rides down the street where the young Italian-American hoods hang out.  They--with the exception of Colagero--charge into them, knocking them off their bikes, and beat and kick them to the ground.  Colagero--"C" to everyone in the neighborhood--tries, in vain, to stop them.  

As the young black men are being beaten and their bikes trashed, the Moody Blues' Nights In White Satin plays in the background.


  1. Interesting post. Just curious Justine-- why did you show this movie to your students?

  2. That class--a writing course--has a Bronx theme. Everything I've assigned is about the Bronx or created by somebody from there.

    Great to hear from you again, Chris!