I was sitting in a room studying with my usual study partner and her soon to be roommate, also a classmate of ours. Both of these girls have grown up in the more affluent parts of the island.
My study partner, we’ll call her Julie, is one of those kids–very well meaning and so, incredibly involved. She has incoming 1st years coming to visit her. These two boys have been driving around the island, meeting with landlords about houses to move into for the school year and they have not had any luck. Julie invited them over so that they could take an air conditioned break.
When they arrive, the boys look tired and dread that they have a couple more houses to look at today. One of these houses is located in my neighborhood. This is when the soon to be roommate, we’ll call her Emily decides to weigh in.
Emily: Ohhh, avoid looking in that neighborhood!
Boy A: Why?
Julie: Are you okay with waking up with a dead body in your back yard?
The boys stare blankly, surprised.
Boy B: What neighborhoods should we be looking in?
Emily: Just anywhere but there…
Meanwhile, I sit there quietly, trying very hard not to say something. Emily turns to me. I guess we’ll give her that much credit.
Emily: Oh! You live in there!
Me: Yup, and I have never felt unsafe, actually. My roommates also don’t seem too concerned.
And, can you just hear the inflection? Her voice got pretty high just as she made it over the U.
Julie: But all you hear is gunshots and police sirens all the time…
“No, not really.” I say flatly
Julie: Oh, well, you’re from Harlem, you’re used to it!
Emily: Yeah! You don’t even hear it, do you?
At this point, I had a choice to make. Being at this school with these people who say such things, is basically that–a series of choices where you walk out of an interaction with a new reputation.
Do I make a big stink about these words? Is it worth it?
This is the point at which I had had enough.
I walk out slowly, because what do you even say to that? I visit the vending machine and eat my feelings. Lays chips, a snickers bar, and honey wheat pretzels–my favorites!
No, I do not live in the nicest neighborhood and you are right, I never have. Yes, my ears are likely desensitized to police sirens and gunshots and domestic arguments that might end in violence and the screams of grandmas whose bags are stolen for petty cash. This may all be true. What a pretty picture to paint of my neighborhood–from one who has never stepped foot in it or one like it, from one whose knees would shake and buckle at the mere thought of having to visit.
Little Ms. I-owned-two-ponies-as-a-child has never left the soft cushioning of daddy’s credit card and feels that it is okay to say these things in judgment of what she does not know.
Can I even blame them for their words? Do they even know better? Do they realize how isolating it must be to be me and to be among them, when this is what I hear?
Here’s the thing, while it is possible that there is some validity to their belief that I, as a member of this foreign society, have lost the ability to hear gunshots as they occur, there is also truth in the fact that each of us who lives there works incredibly hard for just a bite of what you have.
Let’s be clear, I am not justifying any of the adversity. I am simply stating facts that have been well researched and should be well known.
In my neighborhood, sure, there is crime, but there is crime because there is poverty. And there is poverty because there is discrimination and a lack of quality education. We work harder than you will ever know…just to feed the kids.
Some of us work so hard that we get to do exactly what you do. You see Emily and Julie, there is no excuse for someone like you to have achieved just as much as someone like me, someone from this neighborhood with no resources. And yet here we are.