You happen to be my neighbor and I needed to share this with you. First and foremost, I am not one to take part in racially divisive discussions. Furthermore, I am nervous to even post this on a blog that I created to uplift our generation, not tear it down. However, what has been said of many of the people who look very similar to myself is appalling and incorrect. Before I go into any detail, this all began before Trayvon Martin was killed, before President Obama was elected, and even before Vanessa Williams was crowned Miss America. This began before Reconstruction, before the founding of Howard University, and before Booker T. Washington graduated from Hampton University and came to Tuskegee. This that I speak of is institutional racism. This is the set of canned lines given when what I see as injustice must be justified as okay. This is deeper than Paula Deen saying a few bad words. This is the reason my parents had to endure forced integration. This is what the state that I was born, raised, and educated in struggles to correct when another one of my brothers is missing from the classroom. This is the reason for the coded language spoken about immigrants coming to this wonderful Nation.
However, I digress. What I am writing to inform you happened last year. You and I had never met, but we would cross paths in a night that has stained my mind forever. You see, I moved in next door after months of looking for somewhere to live. It all began with my parents, two Americans who raised my sisters and I to believe that we should go to college, go to graduate school, find a good job, and become productive members of our community (now, let me be clear, “our community” is America).
Unfortunately, my parents taught me all of these things south of the Mason-Dixon line. Yet, I believed it would all be possible in this rural town in east Alabama where you and I live. So, after months of searching through real estate websites, local listings, and pondering over savings, I settled on our condominium community. I was absolutely thrilled and terrified, all at once. I now had a mortgage! You must realize by now, since I see you watching me through the blinds and I have caught you writing down my tag number, that besides being Black, I am also young. Well, I was twenty-seven when I purchased this place. I had been through graduate school and the torment there should have made me leave this state. However, I stayed here to educate those behind me of all races. I ignored the notion that our generation would not buy property and saved some money. What I didn’t have, my parents and grandmother gave to help. I closed a few days before my birthday, cleaned up, and painted the walls a cool shade of blue. I was so proud of something that belonged to not only me, but my family.
A few nights later, I began to see some of our other neighbors. It never dawned on me that they were all white men, and larger than my 5’1” petite frame. I never thought to clutch my purse, lock my car doors, or cross to the other side of the narrow tree-lined streets in our neighborhood. Maybe I should have.
I know you have a real fear of what a man may do to you on an elevator, because I am a woman. But what of the two men that lived across from our building that tried to break down my door? What of these two men that made me fear living in my home? What of these two men that the police, who I thought would understand my side, but laughed in my face? What of these two men that, because they were inebriated, I was told everything was okay? What of these two men that were justified by race and alcohol? What of the two police officers that told me I was wasting their time and these two men wouldn’t do anything to me anyway…?
You know those neighbors of ours? They all laughed about it after they sobered up. They even taunted me when I would leave for work. No, I don’t need to march in the streets for this one. My grandmother already did it over fifty years ago. However, I wish instead of watching me through the blinds, you would have the mutual understanding that only another woman can have. Maybe I really am wishing on a star…
The events of the early hours of that Sunday morning allowed fear to live in the place of happiness for over a year. It has forced the realization that I do not have the privilege to call 911 and expect to be treated the same way you were when you suspected someone “suspicious” was walking through the neighborhood. It stopped me from coming to see if you needed help when you rang my doorbell after one of your loud parties. I only knew it was you when I found your vomit on my welcome mat. Don’t worry, I figured you were okay when you were watching me through the blinds again the next day. You still don’t speak when I try to wave and you don’t bother asking me if everything is okay. However, what you don’t realize is that you and I are both women of this generation with similar concerns. I wish I could get you to see that if I were on that elevator, I would wonder what you thought of me. I am now spending time with my parents, and will soon be renting out the condo. You won’t see much more of me and maybe you will feel more comfortable with whoever moves in. It is ironic, though, that I feel more at peace back in the neighborhood you would never want to get lost. I did love the pale blue walls and my beautiful teal kitchen, but I hate the dent that was left in my front door. I can’t let go of the image of the spit and mucous left on my welcome mat. Although I love this house, I would rather feel uncomfortable on an elevator than in my home.
The Black girl with the Afro