I can see your little beady eyes through the blinds, neighbor. I was minding my own business, walking down the street and listening to my podcast — ironically, the episode is about the complexity of gentrification, the fact that there aren't always clear-cut reasons for why urban displacement happens the way it does outside of those forces we already know are at play.
Why are you watching me so closely? Is it because my body and my skin make me a walking violation of the unspoken rules here? Are you worried that I'm going to rob you? Don't. You don't have anything I want. I love my life. I don't want to have what you have or be a part of you or drive your car or eat your food. And I'm certainly not going to jeopardize my future over you and your insecurities.
But I'm irritated. Despite my innate status as a habitual line-stepper, I do follow the rules. Obsessively, even. I have created my own internal taxonomy of the unwritten rules, research spearheaded by my decades of necessary study of how you move through the world and the hateful current you leave in your wake. I clean up my trash; I leash my dogs; I don't make too much noise. I am loud sometimes sure, but that's just how I am sometimes. You'll be all right. I hold the door and smile and stand up straight and don't walk toward you too fast and jingle my keys or cough when it's dark outside so that you know I'm coming and don't accidentally call the police to have me arrested for the crime of breathing too close to where you've decided you want to be. All of this in 2017, a time when I'm more than justified in cursing you out for slights old and new. But I'm trying to be nice, stupid me.
And what's really screwed up is that I don't have time to worry about you. I have to worry about my city being the "bankruptcy capital of the U.S." I have to worry about the Tennessee Historical Commission blocking us from removing the honorable racist general and his horse from our public parks. I have to wonder how my little brother is getting home from work and whether or not my dog can go another week without a bath and whether I've wasted $30 because I didn't freeze the three pounds of catfish still sitting on the bottom shelf of my refrigerator. I have to worry about whether or not Amazon or "public improvement projects" or any number of contentious developments are going to once again extract labor and time and pain from poor people here and use it to pad their pockets. I have a lot of worries, you see.
You'd think that black neighborhoods were cesspools of savagery, with broken-down cars and untended yards and robberies — all reasons why they deserve to be kept in disinvestment purgatory. But the folks in my previous neighborhood were calm and kind. They let my dogs run in their yard and pulled my trash can to the street if I forgot and let me borrow their jumper cables. They gave me spare change when I needed it and brought me back bags of Flamin' Hot Cheetos from the corner store even when I didn't ask them to. The way they looked at the space that we shared included me, saw me and my family for what I was in truth, not for what I represented based on their silly biases and lack of empathy.
You're not good at sharing, which is what you're supposed to do in spaces like this. You're not good at sharing because you've been centered in everything since the beginning of this grand experiment, and this centering, all this attention paid to you is so deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness and in our operation that you feel truly justified in the disgusting ways that you behave toward me in this space that we've both paid for access to. I don't have room to be a bad neighbor, which sucks, because if I could I'd invite my thuggish rapper friends over and I'd pay them to jump up and down and spit fire verses over those dank beats y'all like to play in your Prius. But this would be in the middle of our shared street, and all of the other black people over here would dance around the glow of my rapper friends' gold chains like it was a bonfire and we were casting a dark magic spell to banish you from our space.
But I'm not a bad neighbor, so I won't do that. Instead I'll continue to find joy in being better than you and making you so uncomfortable that you'd rather disappear than chance a meeting with me in the hallway. Oh, and my address has finally been confirmed on NextDoor.com, so be careful, because I'm lurking. The next time you make a frantic post about how scared you are because there are strange black men walking down the street like crazed gorillas, I'm gonna spam your posts with that picture where somebody photoshopped buttholes over Donald Trump's eyeballs and mouth. In the meantime, I'm going to get to work on having my rapper friends come over to our part of town. It's gonna take us a while to get this dark magic spell cast, and I want to make sure it's done just right.
Troy L. Wiggins is a Memphis writer whose work has appeared in the Memphis Noir anthology, Make Memphis, and The Memphis Flyer.