When Chris Arnade first walked into the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx, it was because he had been told not to. He’d been told it was too dangerous and too poor, and that he was too white. He’d been told that “nobody goes there for anything but drugs and prostitutes.”
By Chris Arnade
The people telling me this were my colleagues (other bankers), my neighbors (other wealthy Brooklynites), and my friends (other academics). All, like me, successful, well-educated people who had opinions on the Bronx but had never been there.
It was 2011, and I was in my 18th year as a Wall Street bond trader. I spent my work days sitting behind a wall of computers, gambling on flashing numbers, on a downtown Manhattan trading floor filled with hundreds of other people who did exactly the same thing. My home life was spent in a large Brooklyn apartment, in a neighborhood filled with other successful people.
I wasn’t in the mood to listen to anyone, especially other bankers, other academics, and the educated experts who were my neighbors. I hadn’t been for a few years. In 2008, the financial crisis had consumed the country and my life, sending Citibank, the company I worked for, into a tailspin stopped only by a government bailout. I had just seen where hubris – my own included – had taken us, and what it had cost the country. Not that it had actually cost us bankers, or my neighbors, much of anything.
I was in the habit of taking walks, sometimes as long as 15 miles, to explore and reduce stress, but now my walks began to evolve. Rather than setting out with some plan to walk the entire length of Broadway, or along the length of a subway line, I started walking the less–seen parts of New York City. Along the way, I talked to anyone who talked to me. I used my camera to take portraits of people I met.