I dont usually divulge so much information on the internet for strangers to see but being that Im leaving in about an hour or so I feel safe telling you this. I am from Long Island (The Strong Island!), New York. It has been my home all of my life. Suburban but still close enough to the city to feel relevant. But Long Island is the most segregated place in the entire country. Seriously. The schools are purposely zoned so that the races dont mix. If you cant tell from my blog I am Black (I know surprise surprise) and I graduated high school in 2007 with approximately 250 other students and maybe 5 of them were White. Maybe! And Im being generous because at the moment I can only recall one and she transferred our senior year.
Yeah let that sink in. In 2007. In New York. But let me tell you more about my town. Our school was technically located on the wealthy side of town. From my school you could walk to the houses of Ashanti, J. Lo and other celebrities but yet my sophomore year our roof flooded and then it caught on fire during a snow storm. I am grateful for my education though. Luckily I was always an overachiever and was placed in the Honors and AP classes throughout my elementary and secondary education. But we knew that we were not getting the same services as the wealthier schools that surrounded us.
But I digress. The segregation on Long Island is very… polite. And I have a problem with polite. Its an indifferent tolerance, a quiet neglect. The White people stay in their neighborhoods, which are always nicer and the Black folks stay in their neighborhoods which are almost always inferior. There may be a few who move to predominately White areas and vice versa but by and large we submit to the self segregation. We sold our family home of 8 years in February and my father moved South with my grandmother while my mother, brother and I stayed at my mom’s friend Maria’s apartment until my little brother finished the school year. My plan was to save money and move to the city and continue working but God had other plans.
I loved my old block. It was very mixed with Blacks, Whites, Asians, Middle Easterns, Hispanics, Everybody! I learned a few years ago that my neighborhood was created for upper middle class interracial couples to live back when interracial marriages were still illegal. That made me love it even more. But I didnt appreciate it until we moved into Maria’s house. She is an older Italian woman and she and my mother became friends when they were adult students at the local community college. They are so different we call them the Odd Couple but she has been a great friend to my mom. We stayed in her upstairs apartment and a Hispanic family lives downstairs while Maria fulfills her dream of living the in the city. She told us that we were the only Black family in the neighborhood even though we were only staying there for 4 months. Mom was concerned about this but Maria told her not to worry and that no one would care.
Again the people were… polite. The neighbors to the right would wave, even as their dog would bark incessantly every time we went to the car. And we were the perfect neighbors. Never had loud parties. Never congregated outside. Never left trash on the street. We only had one car and rarely had visitors. But that wasnt enough I guess. Someone complained that Maria had illegal tenants staying and she got a letter saying that we had to get out immediately. At first I laughed it off because we were leaving in 3 days anyway. But as I thought about it I started to get upset. She had had that upstairs apartment for 5 years and her friend Janet had stayed there for a year. But of course Janet is White. I thought about the play “Raisin in the Sun” and I felt the like the Beneatha of the New Millenium, Beneatha 2.0.
Its hurtful to know that I am not good enough to be somewhere because of the color of my skin. They dont know anything else about me. They dont know that I am a college graduate and I have an unhealthy appetite for cartoons. They dont know that my grandfather was a war vet or that my grandma was one of the first African American women to work for the government. They dont know that my humble mother who has an Associate’s, a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in Theatre is the daughter of a sharecropper and a nanny. And they dont know that my father put his life on the line for 22 years to protect this city as a police officer. They dont know any of that. All they know is that we are Black, we are different, we are other and we dont belong.
So as I pack the last of my belongings onto the truck today and watch the last images of this place fade away in the rear view mirror I do so with these things in mind.