A Message To Our Readers
This Fair Housing project has provided life lessons for all of us.
It ended up being more sensitive than I ever imagined. But as I reflect on it, I should have known.
The officials and bureaucrats we talked to were sometimes open and sometimes evasive, navigating most questions comfortably.
But for the “real people” — the everyday city residents — it was different. We were talking about where they live, and how they live. We were asking them to let us into their homes and to let us take pictures of them there, to tell us how much they earn and if they get government subsidies. Even their kids’ grades were game. Quite a few people turned us down right from the start; some said “yes” and then had second thoughts before we got started. Some said “yes,” had an initial interview and then fell out of sight, despite many follow-up calls and knocks on their doors. We tried to figure out where to draw the line and how to interpret all this: Are people just busy and distracted, or sending us a message to go away because they’ve changed their minds? How many times do we knock, call or text?
In order to tell the stories of people effectively, multiple interviews are the best. Several reporters experienced the same phenomenon: Initial interviews were rather guarded, naturally. Second ones went much better. But then, not infrequently, any other follow-ups raised suspicion.
- “Is there no end to the questions?”
- “Why do you need to know that?”
- “I don’t know if I want people to know all of this about me.”
It was clear some people were wondering, “Could all this somehow be used against me?” This, too, made sense. It’s best to be careful.
We tried to tell a range of stories across a range of circumstances, realizing the audience inevitably would see it all through the prism of “positive” and “negative,” as is natural. How many positive stories were there? How many negative stories were there? Did we “fixate” on the negative? We were sensitive about tone, and how the people we profiled would be perceived. As one subject objected about an adjective describing “dilapidated” furniture in his home, “We are not poor.”
That said, anyone who reads the Central New York Fair Housing report — anyone who really reads it — would recognize that indeed there is a lot more negative than positive in it. The simple truths expressed by Sally Santangelo and Langston McKinney on the project home page reveal complex, emotional and clearly perplexing issues for anyone who would hope to address them. These stories do remind us that, quite literally, it all begins where people live.
McKinney’s musing about the nature of our segregated existence here is particularly provocative and confounding. “For some reason,” he said, “the powers that be don’t see this as something to be ashamed of.”
We thank everyone who participated in this for putting their minds to the question.