We packed up our stuff and moved back to Connecticut while we did our house hunting in the city. We could have afforded to buy something in one of the core Manhattan neighborhoods. But it would have been a really shabby studio or one-bedroom kind of like the one we stayed in when my family first moved to the east coast. It wouldn’t be on the top floor. It wouldn’t have a view. And it would be in need of updates which we would be unable to afford.
I really wanted some kind of outdoor space with a view. I was starting to suffer from nature withdrawal. This combination of factors had us looking at new construction condos in rapidly gentrifying areas like Greenpoint, Fort Greene, Astoria and Harlem.
I kind of don’t want to tell you the Harlem story but for some reason I feel obligated. The apartment was brand new, beautiful, squarely in our price range and it had a huge terrace on the top floor. I could even see downtown from there. And it had great access to the subway. The interior was under 1000 square feet but not by much.
We went to see it several times. I was standing on the terrace looking down at the street. I wasn’t seeing any white people at all. On the opposite side of the street there was a fried-chicken shack; on this side there was an upscale, Nubian-themed health food store.
As I contemplated the possibility of living in Harlem, it felt… racist. There’s no way else to say it. Living there would be awkward at best. My problem was that I didn’t know whether I was being racist for wanting to live there or racist for not wanting to live there. Not knowing the answer filled me with anxiety.
We went around the neighborhood, ate in the local restaurants and coffee shops. We made sure to talk to people wherever we went, and to let them know why we were there. I wanted to gauge their reactions to us. They were universally welcoming and friendly. But their best efforts were insufficient to make me comfortable there.
I was used to being in the background until I wanted to be in the foreground. In Harlem I felt like I was always in the foreground.
I was a white dot on a dark background and I didn’t like it one bit.