I am feeling consumed. I know I am not supposed to allow things to consume me.
I hate this intersection; mental illness and race. It pulls at my soul. It makes me feel powerless. That’s not a good feeling. Society keeps saying I should fight injustice, and I endeavor to, whenever I get the chance. But the past few days, I have been unable to free myself from the constant barrage of intrusive thoughts.
I got a letter from my landlord on June 8th, threatening legal action if they did not receive my rent. I had already mailed in the envelope with the check, but for some reason, they didn’t receive the payment until the 10th. I have been living in this building in this part of Flatbush for many years.
Last year, they demolished about 7-8 houses on the block and have almost finished 8 6-story apartment buildings. On one black. block. These buildings are different. I know that they are not for me. I know that they are not for black people. I know the renovations and the clean streets around the neighborhood are not for me. Or my people. I read that landlords aren’t renewing some leases preferring to leave the storefront stores locked awaiting the more valuable White establishments. There are more police around. There is more order to be maintained.
The deputy mayor said that change is inevitable. Gee.
And as they begin to trickle in, landlords have started to nudge us out. The repairs that went undone. The complaints that we filed. The shit that we endured. These landlords that the city didn’t care to hold responsible. They finally cleaned the streets. We finally got new mailboxes that couldn’t be easily burglarized. That was last month.
But the rents started rising last year. Well, the year before. For a while. There is a feverish air to the neighborhood. As though, the see-saw is about to become unbalanced in the opposing direction. Change.
The letter was a red flag. Or maybe it tapped into something that was simmering beneath the surface all along. A growing fear of a perceived threat that seemed to materialize even if momentarily. The letter went so far as to threaten to take me to court. As I read (present tense), I feel the tide rising against me and I become many things. Anxious? Annoyed? Scared? I feel threatened. My stability is suddenly threatened. I can no longer pretend for the sake of inner calm.
I feel disrespected. I feel that I matter less than the white people coming in. When will my apartment become their apartment? Is it a matter of time before our places become their places, and I feel like an outsider – like when I’m in Williamsburg. or Greenpoint. Or Manhattan. It’s strange to think about becoming a foreigner in your own space. When you have so few spaces.
Moving doesn’t bother me, moving on their terms does. Do we matter so little that you are quick to use the white wealth to displace us? I want to ask the social justice liberals moving in.
Where is our justice? How can you displace my neighbors who have nothing because you have more stuff? You have placed a value on their lives, and a right to it. I disagree with your math.
People said white liberals were supposed to be allies in the fight for justice. Progressive, forward-thinking, socially aware, “woke’.
You have a decision and I already know the answer because I saw it play out north of Flatbush in Bedstuy, Bushwick, Fort Greene, Dumbo, Red Hook, Sunset Park, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights and Lefferts Gardens.
Am I really supposed to pretend that this isn’t a race thing? But isn’t the economy, a race thing. Isn’t the economic divide, also a racial divide?
So Why Am I Telling You?
I have been unable to think about anything except gentrification and the destruction of my community. I am usually very aware of the issues in the community. But the last few days have been different. I have had a few days of spiraling obsessive, intrusive thoughts about nothing except feelings of instability. I know I don’t do well with instability because I moved around so much as a child (15 times by the age of 25).
Its like I’m having a health scare except instead of believing I’m dying, I am reacting to a different threat. The threat of a hostile landlord, the threat of harassment to get me out of my apartment. I am reacting to the stories I’ve read about tactics that they use to get you out of the apartment. I am reacting to feeling like I matter less than the people with the money, white people.
I joined a tenant coalition to do something about the threats facing the community. And still, I’m upset. I can’t scream it out. I envy my wife who compartmentalizes and does not allow racial things to get under her skin. The black experience can be very mentally consuming. I want to shout, enough!!!!!! (<- multiple exclamation marks for emphasis)
But I ferment it. And regurgitate it. and suck it back in. Until it passes with time. We are always taught to be polite, proper and Christian. But who does that behavior serve as I am politely, properly and Christianly forced from my home? Sometimes, It is too much and it plays against my anxiety. It adds to my apprehension that I have to continually be on alert, stand up for myself and be ready to fight. The disrespect that people believe they can lob at you if you drop your guard. It is exhausting. I feel mentally drained. If you’re black you know the feeling.
I try not to internalize the oppression, anger, frustration, hurt and racism. But I feel like I walk into it every time I leave my door. It’s waiting for me. And I have to stand up to it every day. I deserve peace of mind. I deserve to feel free. Do you ever get tired of the same fight? I feel like this new battle at my front door, is the same fight.
I have to work on a better balance. My peace is as important as the fight. I have to fight it, without internalizing it.
Okay tenant coalition, I’m ready. You have an anxiety-ridden black man, ready to fight! To fight, so that he doesn’t feel powerless.