White people only go to Harlem for drugs or prostitutes

From Media Matters:

On MSNBC Live with Dan Abrams, discussing Bill O’Reilly’s recent controversial comments about his visit to Sylvia’s restaurant in Harlem, Rhode Island radio host John DePetro stated: “It was a discussion on race and we’re talking about Harlem. And by and large — I lived in New York for years — white people don’t go to Harlem.” He continued: “If Dan Abrams and John DePetro, Bill O’Reilly, some white guys are sitting around a table, and Dan Abrams said, ‘Yeah, I was up in Harlem last night.’ We would think you were either, a) looking for drugs, or, b) looking for a prostitute.”

Or, you know, you’re Bill Clinton.

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21 comments for “White people only go to Harlem for drugs or prostitutes

  1. October 2, 2007 at 7:26 am

    Or to buy property and gentrify. They even show rich white couples on the Home Show looking for apartments going to Harlem.

  2. Dianne
    October 2, 2007 at 8:39 am

    Or to buy property and gentrify.

    Or to sublet because you can’t afford to live anywhere else in Manhattan any more than any of the less melanin challenged people who traditionally live in the neighborhood. I live in Harlem and I am NOT gentrifying. Pulling the neighborhood down if anything: I can’t afford to buy one of the million+ dollar condos they are building across the street. Who buys these things anyway?

    I do think that DePetro may have 1/2 a point there in that if a probably racist white guy, while hanging out and talking to other probably racist white guys says “I was up in Harlem last night” one can safely conclude that he didn’t go there for the excellent Ethiopian and west African restaurants or to shop on 125th Street or see some live music or look for an affordable apartment. So when a probably racist white guy feels the need to state in a group of like minded white guys that he was in Harlem, one can probably conclude that he went there for drugs or sex or possibly to prove his bravado. But this does not generalize to all white people.

  3. Holly
    October 2, 2007 at 8:55 am

    These people clearly don’t belong to the same historical era, or reality, as the actual Harlem.

  4. October 2, 2007 at 9:08 am

    Oh, I’m sure they think prostitutes and drugs are why Clinton’s in Harlem.

  5. October 2, 2007 at 9:13 am

    Or because you are a doctor going to work.

  6. October 2, 2007 at 9:25 am

    And of course, Dianne, one effect of this kind of comment is to normalize the probably-racist white guy, and to marginalize the hundreds of thousands of white New Yorkers who don’t think it’s anything out of the ordinary to spend time in Harlem.

    Aside from all the other reasons people have mentioned why a white person might be in Harlem, by the way, the neighborhood is home to a major university, a world-famous research library, and a Chuck E. Cheese.

  7. Sally
    October 2, 2007 at 9:37 am

    This isn’t just a right-wing meme, though. I mean, it’s idiotic about Harlem, because it’s not as if there’s been any lack of discussion of the fact that well-off white people are moving into that neighborhood. But ten years ago I lived on 181st street in Washington Heights, and I recall hearing exactly the same thing.

    Specifically, I had been at some sort of political meeting, and someone had handed me a copy of a left-wing newspaper. When I was on the subway going home, I realized I didn’t have anything to read, so I decided to practice my Spanish by reading the Spanish column in the leftist newspaper. It was a perfectly valid, if sort of obvious and patronizing, article about inequality in the justice system, and it made the point that while most people in jail for drug offenses were black and Latino, many white people also used drugs. And it’s evidence for that was… “Why else would you see young white people getting off the 1 train at 181st street in the evening.” Which was pretty funny, but a tad irritating to me, a white person who was about to get off the 1 train at 181st street because I lived on 181st street. I started to wonder if people assumed every evening that I was trawling for drugs.

    And the funny thing was that, while outsiders thought of Washington Heights as an undifferentiated mass of poverty and as a solely Dominican neighborhood, people who actually lived in Washington Heights realized that the western stretch of 181st street had always been racially integrated and lower-middle-class. Since then, it’s gentrified wildly, gone co-op, and been re-dubbed “Hudson Heights” so that nobody will gasp when rich white people say they live there. Probably, none of my neighbors from ten years ago can afford to live there now. And actually, while I didn’t realize it, it was probably already gentrifying when I moved in in ’96. It was a huge bargain at the time, though.

  8. October 2, 2007 at 10:22 am

    When I lived in NYC, I went to Harlem for Dungeons and Dragons. Which category does that fall under?

  9. Dianne
    October 2, 2007 at 10:28 am

    And of course, Dianne, one effect of this kind of comment is to normalize the probably-racist white guy, and to marginalize the hundreds of thousands of white New Yorkers who don’t think it’s anything out of the ordinary to spend time in Harlem.

    I actually read it the other way: That comments like this reveal how out of it and–no probably about it, I was just being nice–how racist these guys are. I live in Harlem (ok, near Central Park North, not up near Clinton, but still Harlem) and my neighbors are an interesting mix of ethnic groups, including many immigrants. I’m phenotypically white and don’t look out of place in the least. Nor have I met a single prostitute or drug dealer (at least not that I recognized as such)–in contrast to my experience living in, for example, the East Village. How could anyone who knows anything at all about NYC consider Harlem a place that white people only go for drugs or to meet prostitutes?

    However, I think that for the majority of the country you are probably right. What do people in North Dakota know about Harlem? What these guys tell them, probably.

  10. Betsy
    October 2, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    Gee, and to think that I was under the impression that I was visiting a friend of mine who lives there. Since I don’t do drugs, i must have been there for the prostitutes! Who knew?!

  11. Stop Columbia
    October 2, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    Drugs, prostitutes, or to build a huge biotech research center.

  12. Josh Jasper
    October 2, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    Dianne is spot on, and said what I was going to say far better. It’s not just that these putzes are racist, it’s that they’re so clearly disconnected from reality. Harlem is, and has been gentrified since the early ’90s. There’s plenty of white people, including *rich* white people living there.

    For god’s sake, Columbia University is in Harlem.

    If you want a more minority neighborhood, try south Riverside.

  13. louise
    October 2, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    Me too, Betsy- and my friend was also white! Of course, there’s always the chance we have a mutual friend…

  14. Laurie
    October 2, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    When I lived in NYC, I went to Harlem for Dungeons and Dragons. Which category does that fall under?

    Drugs, obviously. Something like crack, only cheaper and more addicting. ;) Not to mention the caffeine/Cheetos/Doritos fix in addition to the Dn’D. Seriously whacked!

  15. ellen
    October 3, 2007 at 12:38 am

    Heh… When we were in NYC on vacation, we took a whole bunch of self-guided walking tours featured in the Lonely Planet guide. One of them was in Harlem. We had to laugh – as my so-white-he’s-afraid-of-the-sun husband and I were bopping around, dropping into galleries, looking at historical places, and enjoying the food – we kept seeing those red double-decker tour buses filled with gawking white people go by. We still laugh at the idea of the white-people buses, and what they were missing by just driving by.

  16. Bruce
    October 3, 2007 at 12:41 am

    I am glad to hear that guys like Bill O’Reilly and John DiPietro only go to Harlem for drugs and prostitutes. Since I am not in the market for either, I won’t have to bump into them in line at Sylvia’s or any other restaurant. Appreciate it actually. I know O’Reilly went to Sylvia’s once recently but probably won’t be going back soon.

  17. Stop Columbia
    October 4, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    Re. #12: Yes, and Columbia University has been one of the major engines driving the gentrification in Harlem!

  18. Mollie
    April 4, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    Psh. Please. Mad white people live in Harlem.

    This reminds me though: Anyone know of Newburgh? It’s about an hour-ish upstate, on the Hudson. Very bad rep, lots of drugs and gangs and stuff. I (white teenage girl who looks a bit like a boy) was walking to work, from my house, in the city of Newburgh (“the ghetto”) and some guy walking by was like, “What you want some weed? You want some drugs?”

    Yes, because I only go to the city for drugs. Duh.

  19. April 4, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    This is so laughably out of touch with reality that it’s hard not to gape, just like you would if you heard someone say they were scared of going to Chicago, because of all the mobsters with tommy guns having shootouts.

    I’ve lived in Harlem for 8 years now and I’ve watched it change — because of Columbia, because of Bill Clinton, because of huge chain stores moving into the area, because of rich folks wanting to buy brownstones cheap, simply because people from other more privileged demographics (yes you, white people, yes me too despite being a POC) have moved in and are changing the face the community, making it not what it once was. But even in the early 90s, it would have been a ludicrously racist statement to say that the only reason white people would go to Harlem would be for drugs or sex. There are a dozen other places you could go for that, all of them probably with less police presence than Harlem! It’s just the 70s-fueled stereotype of a racist doofus.

    Sylvia’s, incidentally, is an incredibly popular tourist attraction. There are visitors from all over the world there on a daily basis. It’s hard to even believe that there were no white people in there when O’Reilly and Sharpton had lunch. There are lines around the block for that place, and the lines always have white people in them.

    Ironically, even BILL O’REILLY was capable of making far less stupid or bigoted comments than this guy, who was apparently defending the original radio clip. I am no fan of O’Reilly and he came off sounding like as much of a boor as ever, but if you read the transcript, he was trying to make some kind of point about how he thinks average black folks (e.g. Sylvia’s patrons) are just like anyone else and that stereotypes like DePetro’s are totally wrong. And this is O’REILLY making that point. Then John DePetro comes along defending him and basically spouts the exact opposite — it is to laugh.

  20. Marksman2000
    April 4, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    When I lived in NYC, I went to Harlem for Dungeons and Dragons.

    Gaming store or a friend with ployhedron dice?

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