I live in Brooklyn. Specifically, Crown Heights which just sounds like a rough neighborhood. It kind of looks like a rough neighborhood, too. That’s why when I first moved here I was a little skeptical—frightened, even.
My parents did not enjoy moving me in. I have lots of friends who don’t want me to walk home alone late at night. I also have friends that would rather not visit me anytime after dark.
But I stopped being fearful and started listening more closely the day I walked in the wrong direction for half an hour and a black man walked in front of me and then behind me when he yelled, “Oh! There goes the neighborhood!” I chuckled in response when I really should have felt a little surprised and arguably somewhat embarrassed. To him, I was an intruder; probably unwelcome, but, regardless, he had to point out the irony.
There are some that are more openly welcoming to these random white people showing up in their neighborhood. Most of the people around my block are those welcoming people, but they kind of have to be. They see us everyday. The other day I was walking home from the grocery store with a friend who was visiting from Louisiana. As I opened the door to my apartment building, a man with sunglasses and his dreads wrapped in a rasta turban was walking behind us and as he passed us, yelled, “Oh look my two little vanilla neighbors!” (In trying to recall his exact words, we realized he very well may have called us his “two little vanilla wafers.” Can’t be sure.) This time I could not even try to be shy about laughing. We let the door close behind us as we laughed out loud for a few seconds from the shock and humor of it all. He’s not the first person in Crown Heights to make the chocolate/vanilla analogy, but he was definitely the most creative (so far—like I said, I’m listening for new material).
Either way, I really love my neighborhood and I’m happy in my superficially (but not actually) sketchy area. I have THE friendliest neighbors you can imagine. Every day I walk down the street and people are asking “How are you doing?” “Have a wonderful day.” I’ve edited out the catcall parts of those, but, still, it’s always affectionate.