From the center of Ridgewood, I can go 4 miles northwest to Wyckoff, 4 miles northeast to Hillsdale, and 4 miles southeast to Oradell. But if I want to go 4 miles southwest, it is normally said I’m going into Paterson. Just a slight change in direction and preposition, except that the phrase “going into” is generally reserved for places like the hospital and outer space. When I was part of a couple of intentional interracial partnerships I spent quite a bit of time in Paterson. One night on my way to a church meeting I was stopped by two Paterson police officers. They told me the only reason white people “come into” Paterson at night was to buy drugs, and I ended up with a police escort to church. Another evening I went with a friend of mine who was giving a talk on organic gardening. We got lost and stopped to ask directions of a group of teenage boys. I found it heartbreaking to see the looks of real terror on their faces – they assumed that two white women who would ask directions of a group of young black men must be armed or insane.
Many Paterson folks still come into northern Bergen County to work in hospitals, businesses, and private homes. I’ll know that the prepositions and the relationships have truly realigned when on my street I finally see a white woman pushing a black baby in a stroller.