Board ‘The Magic Bus’ for Tour of Coney Island – A Multicultural, Multiethnic Community

TV report transcript

Producer Larry Clamage spent three weeks on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn, New York, in search of the formula for peace on Earth. Larry reports that the diverse ethnic communities of Coney Island Avenue are not trouble-free.

Dr. Jerry Krase, a sociology professor, has been riding the Coney Island Avenue bus to work for more than 30 years, which helped him to arrive at an incredible theory about people's acceptance of other people. Dr. Krase claims his bus ride actually contains part of that formula. He explains, in own words.

“Most people know me as Jerry Krase. I’m professor emeritus at Brooklyn College. I was the Chair of the Sociology Department at Brooklyn College. I was there for 33 years.

For most of my professional career, I’ve been studying neighborhoods, urban neighborhoods, of various sorts. And, one of my specialties is a ethnic neighborhood. And in recent years, the Coney Island bus has been my major route going to Brooklyn College.

This is a very mixed area. There’s a Bukhari catering hall we just passed on one side and on the other side is a Mariachi Mexican Restaurant. Some people have called these neighborhoods, ‘global neighborhoods’. They’re places where immigrants come the first time, for the first time they get here.

Coney Island is a major commercial avenue. And it basically connects the middle of Brooklyn to the sea. It’s a vehicle through ethnicity. It’s a vehicle through various peoples. It’s a vehicle through religions.

And what I have been able to do over those years is to see how Brooklyn, representing in many ways the United States, has changed over the course of that time.

There are two different ways to ride the bus.

One is to look out the window of the bus and see the neighborhoods as you go by. Another way is to look inside the bus. You have all these different populations, which are constantly mixing as people get on and off the buses, depending on where you are along the Avenue.

In a sense it’s a marvelous thing to see. Because we see Orthodox Jews and we see Muslims. We see Mexicans, people from Pakistan. We see people who might be warring with each other in some other part of the world—and maybe even the day before they got here—all getting on the same bus. They just kind of understand. They kind of grasp, almost immediately, that this is not the place for that. So, it’s as though Brooklyn, or New York City or The United States was this bus, you know, that’s taking them someplace. It’s such a good metaphor I think for American society and it’s multicultural, multiethnic, multiracial, multi-religious makeup.

I can’t imagine Brooklyn as anything other than a diverse place. I’ve lived here all my life and what I take for granted is diversity. It’s what continues to make it I think an interesting place—and in another sense, a proof of what’s possible. I mean how is it possible for people who are different from each other to live together in relative cooperation? What makes it possible?

We have conditions in the United States—if we think of Brooklyn as a metaphor for the whole country—where in order to get what it is that you want, if you want prosperity, if you want education, if you want a decent place to live, if you want safety, if you want security, what you must do is you must cooperate with other people. And we have a place, which is filled with diversity. And as a result of that, you have to cooperate. You have to be able to get along with people with whom you are different.

Sociologists would call it “Exchange Theory.” What we say is that people engage in social relationships in order to benefit from them. You’re benefiting, you’re benefiting by interacting with people who are different from you, and you’re not losing by it. And so that’s why the metaphor of the bus works.

What makes it possible is that there is something that both, or many group’s need; they need to get from one place to the other. There is only one thing providing the possibility of them getting from one place to the other. They must use the same bus. People will help each other. People help each other getting on and off the bus. Someone may say...why did they do that? And they’ll talk about, how, well, they’re nice people. They may be nice people. We think they’re nice people because of what it is that they’re doing, it’s what they observe, how they are getting on and off the bus.

What could be a very simple response to it is that, if you don’t help people get on and off the bus, you’re not going to get on the bus, or you’re not going to get off the bus. If they have conflict with each other, that bus it not going to move, something is going to happen. They’re not going to get where they want to go.

So, what they learn in the process of this, maybe intuitively, is that they must cooperate with each other in order to get to where it is that they want to go.

That’s the key to it, that bus; the Coney Island bus becomes the vehicle, the ‘Spaceship Earth.’ And that’s what makes it possible. It’s magical, but it’s not magic.”

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