Merry Christmas. Now Go Home.

05/25/2011 12:20 pm ET
  • Susan Madrak An ex-journalist keeps a jaundiced eye on the media.

This happened two miles from my new house, and although it didn't happen in my neighborhood, it's close by and I can't tell you how very sad I am that it happened. I grew up in a racist working-class neighborhood, and it brings back some bad memories.

Let me point out that while the actions of these punks are despicable, I'm all too familiar with the kinds of fears that drove them.

In a time of decreasing jobs and increasing financial worries, the only real security people have going for them in urban working-class neighborhoods is home ownership, and the most fearful people react to any perceived threats. I saw it where I grew up; people panicked when the neighborhood was first integrated, which resulted in the classic "white flight."

Instead of blaming the blockbusting realtors who scared residents out of the area with organized tactics like late-night phone calls, warning people they'd "better get out now," our neighbors blamed the black people who were simply looking for a better place to raise their families. No one who hasn't actually lived through it can understand just how blatantly financial interests will consciously foster racial hatred.

Which doesn't apply in this case, and wouldn't excuse it, anyway. It's always a small minority of neighborhood punks who actually do this sort of thing, and their "courage" usually involves a couple of six-packs.

Anyway, so it's a week before Christmas and this family (they have a little girl - she'd never had her own room, and that was her big present, her father said) is now out their deposit. I don't know about you, but I emailed the reporter because I want to send the guy a check:

Looking back now, the older construction worker's words were downright prophetic.

Earlier this month, when Shawn Jenkins and his girlfriend decided it was time to move out of Feltonville, he asked his fellow construction workers for their opinions on his planned destination.

Jenkins had fallen in love with a tidy, red-brick Port Richmond rowhouse that was being rented out by a relative of one of his co-workers.

The neighborhood was quiet, tree-lined and clean.

The block of Edgemont Street near Cambria that Jenkins and his girlfriend - who are black - soon planned to call home was predominantly white, but he didn't expect any racial tensions.

"Everyone said we should be fine, but this one older guy at my job, he said, 'You don't want to do that. They'll burn you out of there,' " Jenkins said last night.

"I guess he was right."

Though they didn't actually resort to arson, vandals broke into 2917 Edgemont St. earlier this week, shattering windows and scarring the walls with hate-filled graffiti, declaring "All n-----s should be hung," police said.

Jenkins and his 21-year-old girlfriend - who was also verbally harassed when she visited the house over the weekend - were left shaken by the hate crime, which sounds like a leftover nightmare from the Jim Crow era.

"You just don't think that this kind of stuff would go on today," Jenkins said.