A Tale of Two Neighbors
A little over four years ago we moved our entire family to Dallas, TX. My husband had gotten a new, higher position in his company that required the move. With my freelance work being often undependable, he is the major bread winner for our little family of four. Because his industry is largely blue collar, it isn’t a huge amount. With my added income we make a few hundred dollars above the poverty line. So penny pinching is just part of our life.
Where we decided to live depended on three things — two bathrooms, manageable rent, and close proximity to his work. We were lucky to find exactly what we needed almost within walking distance of his work (we did an online search). He did walk it a few times, but he’s nearing 50 so walking several miles up and down hills isn’t the breeze it used to be. Still, the point was to save on gas and the home we moved into does that for us.
The day we moved in our new neighbor to the West of us waved and introduced herself. We’ve become good friends since. She’s a retired single mom of a teenage boy. When we moved in she had been living in the area 14 years. She’s been an invaluable fount of information about the neighborhood, Dallas and more. We’ve settled into a mutually supportive neighbor relationship. Her son mows our grass. If I make too much food, she’s the first person I call. We bum cigarettes off each other. If either one of us needs anything, we ask the other. We’ve done lunch a few times and sat around each other’s living rooms talking about our lives. Her grand kids play with mine (she has an older daughter not living at home). Her son plays basketball in our backyard.
I know some of the other neighbors, but not well. We all wave at each other when we drive by each others’ houses. Our kids play with the other kids around their age up and down the street. It’s a friendly and mostly quiet neighborhood. One of the best neighborhoods we’ve ever lived in. Maybe THE best.
Now the neighborhood has its issues. Mostly the fact that it is one of the poorest in the Dallas area with little to no businesses, jobs or opportunity close by. We jokingly call it the ‘black hole’ of Dallas. If we do a search for, say, a mattress store, a movie theater, a clothing store, shoe store, department store, etc. we find they are all located about equal distance from us in most any direction. Problem is they are all ten plus miles away or more. Often in a different city. Even grocery stores. Up until a month ago, our area was just a huge food desert. We have plenty of convenience stores, dollar stores and fast food restaurants, but very little else. Our area is predominately the Southern warehouse district. There is a new warehouse being built all the time. Most of the jobs are with them or in trucking. My husband works in the trucking industry himself.
Our neighborhood is also predominately Black. Presuming the local elementary school statistics mirror the neighborhood in which it resides, our immediate area is 85% Black, 13% Hispanic and 1% White. In addition 86% of the student body qualify for the free lunch program. So you can discern about how economically depressed the area is in general. That’s another aspect of the ‘black hole’ effect, once here it is very hard to get out again.
When we moved into the area, we were completely unaware of all that. And even if we had been aware, it probably would not have changed anything. Since I moved out of South Dakota in the mid 90s, I’ve always lived in mostly Black or Hispanic areas. And except for the neighborhood we found ourselves in in Phoenix, AZ, they’ve all been good communities filled with hard working, friendly people. And we’ve been largely very happy living here for the last four and a half years.
On our street everyone is Black except for us and the lone Hispanic family across the street. When there is loud music or party noise, it is almost always the Hispanic family. They know how to have a good time. :) It happens so seldom, though, we usually don’t complain. On the days we do, they are usually very courteous and turn it down a notch or two. If, for some reason, the noise and such persisted, we have two watchdog neighbors who are very quick to report anything and everything. Which is fine and good for us! Whenever a questionable element has moved in, they are quick to let them know they are not welcome. They also know all the land lords. Needless to say our white presenting family was thoroughly checked out years ago, and we’ve never heard a complaint from anyone... until very recently, that is.
I say white presenting when that is kinda the case, but not really. I’m off the rez originally. My mother looks her heritage of Oglala Lakota. Myself and my sisters, not so much. I’m the whitest of all my siblings, actually. I’m still pretty prideful about my gray eyes and long black hair (going gray now), though. My husband, on the other hand, is almost glow in the dark white. Our son IS (we tested). Our daughter takes after me a bit. My husband, however, is also mostly bald up top and shaves the rest, usually has a strawberry blond and gray beard, and is a pretty big guy. I joked he was already dressed as a scary character this last Halloween — your stereotypical white guy. We realize that is only funny to us. Some things are legitimately scary as hell.
Which brings me to our tale.
Since this election things have gotten tense. And not just online. My family largely went one way, my husband’s the other (and your guess is probably wrong as to which went which way). The Holidays are going to be fun! Not. My daughter’s environmental school practically shut down the day after the election from depression (they are new to the area; my son’s school was not surprised). And where people aren’t depressed, they are scared. And a small number are angry. Who can blame them? Okay, yeah, I know… but getting back to the story.
A few days after Thanksgiving, later in the evening, there was a vehicle up the street with its base thumpin. We let it go for awhile, but I was soon sporting a headache, the kids were complaining, and the house was vibrating. So my husband, with son in tow, walked up the street to ask them to turn the base down a bit. It was two doors up. Just on the other side of my neighbor friend. He knocked on the door and a young man answered. My husband asked politely if he were in charge of the music coming from a parked vehicle in front of the house, when the young man said yes, my husband asked, also politely, if he could turn the base down since it was vibrating our house. He said sure. He didn’t seem to be bothered by the request at all. Suddenly Jill (the older woman who lives there with her husband and two dogs, name changed to protect the innocent), came up demanding to know what was wrong. My husband repeated what he had said, and Jill seemed a bit put out, but otherwise ok with the request, too. So back to our house son and husband came, and the music was turned down a bit. All cool we thought.
Within minutes, however, there was loud banging on our door. Turned out to be Jill. She was fighting mad. We were puzzled. She said my husband had no right to go up and ask her son (adult son, btw), her company, to turn down his music. It wasn’t loud, she maintained. She couldn’t hear it from inside her house. She called my husband a bitch, said we didn’t belong here, and was gearing up for quite the tirade. I immediately put a stop to it. Honestly, I thought she was drunk. She was spitting food and being completely unreasonable over something so small. I figured if she were drunk, it was best to cut the conversation off as soon as possible before she (or us) said something we truly regretted. I wasn’t about to get in trouble beating up a crazy enraged old lady. Up until that moment she’d never shown even the slightest antagonism towards us. She had always been sweet to our children, and would wave at us coming and going. We should have locked the door, though, because she barged right back to throw off another insult before finally leaving our lot.
The only two things I knew about Jill were that she was a bit of a gossip and maniacal about her lawn. I figured the first thing she would do is talk to Joan (name changed again), my immediate neighbor and friend who lives between Jill and I, so I gave Joan a call. I let her know what happened and how weird it was. She told me it wasn’t actually all that weird, and proceeded to tell me about an incident that happened across the street one morning when I was apparently not home, because I missed the whole thing.
Our Hispanic neighbors decided to go all out for Halloween. They had pumpkins, cobwebs, bats, a scarecrow, a skeleton hanging from their basketball hoop, and more. We thought it was cool and marked them for trick or treating later.
Jill, on the other hand, took one look at the skeleton hanging from the basketball hoop and pronounced it a lynching and the family racists. She went up and down the street banging on doors and getting everyone down in front of the family’s home to show them the offensive bit of decoration. Joan knows the patriarch of the Hispanic family very well, and made a point of telling Jill that what she was ‘seeing’ just wasn’t there. Our other neighbors said the same. She also tried to tell Jill about Day of the Dead and how culturally it was an important holiday and that no offense was obviously meant.
From what Joan told me, the local media was on the verge of covering the whole mess. Police were called. Eventually they got Jill back into her house with the help of her family. But the damage was done to the Hispanic family’s Halloween decorations, as well as their festive Halloween spirit.
While Joan was telling me about this, sure enough, Jill started pounding on her door. I let Joan go to deal with Jill, and I went back to making dinner. The kids were all a bundle of energy and wanted to eavesdrop so bad. They ran in and out of the backyard reporting what little they could hear. Basically, she was yelling we had no right because we did not belong there. At one point the kids ran out the front to see if their friends down the street could play, but Jill yelled at them and they ran back inside. That’s when my husband got mad.
He left to go confront her and I kept the kids in the house.
From what Joan and my husband told me later, Jill threatened to have us thrown out of our house, and she brought up an incident from three years ago to heckle us with. She brought up again how we didn’t belong there. She went on about how her grandfather built the house she lived in, and how she has lived there for over 40 years. Eventually, though, my husband was able to reason with her. He apologized profusely for any role we may have played in the miscommunication. It helped her own husband and son backed him up.
Joan called me later and said, straight up, Jill is prejudice. That Jill sounded and acted like someone who has lived in basically the same place all her life. Joan, herself, is the daughter of a military officer. She’s lived in several countries, she’s well educated, and very worldly. And she was embarrassed for Jill and apologized for her. I appreciated all that, and I realize Jill may be all that, but she also has a legitimate fear (exacerbated by the recent election results).
Granted, we’ve lived here going on five years now, so if we were the harbingers of gentrification, we wouldn’t still be the only white family in the neighborhood. But this is Texas. This is the ‘South’. And America as a whole, the South especially, has done terrible (and worse) things to Black folk historically. And goodness knows there is still much institutional racism going on. Evidenced by my own short time in the Dallas judicial system where I was only one of two white women among dozens of Black and Hispanic women being booked that day (the incident Jill brought up to heckle my husband with).
I could not have a better neighbor in Joan. I owe her much. But Jill is my neighbor, too, and she deserves my understand. I’m thinking of inviting her and her husband over for dinner some night. Perhaps if she got to know us better, her fear may go away. At least in regards to us. Fear makes people irrational. We’ve all seen that.
This is our neighborhood, too. We cant live here with a threat of eviction for no other reason than we don’t fit in with the status quo. No, it’s not reverse racism. Even though we are a ‘minority’ in this one community, we still have privilege here that Jill, and most everyone else of color, just does not have. Regardless of where you live or your economic status.
As a member of a privileged class, it is up to me to provide her with the opportunity to understand is. We may never be friends, but I do want us to be good neighbors again.