I live in Hamilton Heights. That’s in Harlem, on 152nd Street. My wife and I have lived here for two years, we just signed our third lease, and our rent was bumped up another $75 a month. It could be worse; I’m reminded on occasion.
I do the laundry every Saturday in the laundry down the block, on the corner of Broadway and my block, across Broadway.
When we first moved in there was only one New York Times laying on a stoop down the block every Saturday. I notice things like that, because there was a time where I would have helped myself to a free paper, or at least the magazine, which has the crossword in it. After all, a Sunday Times is five bucks, and that’s a lot for just the crossword. It would be like buying an album for the only one good song on it in the old days. But I don’t do either anymore.
But I still notice the paper sitting in front of the building, and soon after moving in there were two papers.
Today there was a third. More New York Times deliveries mean more white people, which mean gentrification.
When I first moved in I had to visit seven different bodegas until I found one that carries the New York Times. They only get five copies a day, compared with twenty or so Posts and News.
You might wonder why I don’t just subscribe, that’s something I’ve done before. But aside from getting my paper stolen I only do the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday crosswords, the other days are just too easy. And as I mentioned before, the price of the Sunday paper is just too dammed high.
But the point isn’t the price of the paper, or the paper itself, it’s young white professionals (or unprofessionals, whichever the case may be) moving in to a primarily Black and Dominican neighborhood.
In my building the mix is close to 50-50 right now. Old person of color resident dies or moves out, young white person moves in.
The thing about most of the new white tenants is that they don’t say hello. Or even acknowledge any of the other tenants, not even each other.
I know this is New York, the land of mind your own business, but the Black community in particular up here is pretty tight knit, and most people say hello and good morning. When people smile at me and say hello and good morning, or at least look me in the eye, I respond in kind.
Danusia is great at it; she has such an effervescent personality that she just exudes charm and kindness. She says hello to the trees. I swear.
I’ve learnt a lot of things from her, and being nice and acknowledging your neighbors is one of them. She actually knows peoples names.
I’m working on it.
A friend of mine, a white friend but one that is closer to my age was looking at an apartment for her twenty-something daughter over on Edgecombe Avenue last month, and she related this little story to me.
She passed an African American couple whom were sitting on the stoop on her way up to look at the apartment, they were just sitting there chatting. They were in their thirties.
After looking at the apartment, she came back down and said hi to the couple.
“Excuse me, do you live here? Can you tell me a little about the building? Do you like it?” She said the couple stared at her for a second before the man answered.
“You know, lady, white people that move in here don’t even talk to me. You’re the first white person to come in here to even look at me. New people move in, and they make believe we don’t exist. So when I see one of them getting mugged on the corner, I make believe they don’t exist.”
A sobering observation indeed.
I know most young white people that move up here are afraid, and the fear makes them wary. But it can also make them a target. And believe me, the only way to become a part of a community, and to enjoy the benefits of being a part is to acknowledge your neighbors.
Resentment is a powerful thing, and you cannot control when someone choses to resent you for some unnamed reason, but you can at least give them less reason to do so if you say hello. If you look people in the eye and not just at the ground in front of you. And don’t forget to smile.