Yesterday was block party day in New York, it seems. It's the end of summer, and it's been a beautiful warm summer.
We moved to our block just one year ago, so we missed the block party last year. Our block is small, and most of the homes are owned by couples in their 40's or 50's, or older. We are one of two white families here; everyone else is West Indian/African American. When we first moved here, I was worried, I will admit. I was worried about moving into a neighborhood where I was the minority. I was worried about moving into a neighborhood where I didn't know anyone. I was worried about crime. I was worried about how our unusual trans-racial/adopted family would be treated.
I was wrong to worry. Our neighbors have been friendly and kind. Our children have been looked after, kept safe and been handed treats to give to pet dogs. We've had to deal with some late night loud music, yes. I have been that crazy white lady complaining about the blaring music at 1AM. (Yesterday at the block party a group of old ladies passed me and said, pointedly but with smiles, "Are you enjoying the music?")
Yesterday at the block party I saw the older teens teaching my son how to do a skateboard trick. They included even the smallest boys and the oldest grandpas in a basketball game. When I couldn't find Lily in the crowd 5 people pointed her out to me. The party started off slowly (there was rain, the block down the avenue had a bouncy house)... but by dinner time most folks had dragged their barbecue out to the front and started grilling and passing out food. Andrew and I sat in front of our home and ate some snacks and drank a beer. We were completely, utterly at ease. And I thought, not for the first, I'm so glad we moved here.
In the reality of racially segregated New York, we had a stark choice before us last year. We could not afford to buy anything in the one or two multi-racial neighborhoods... the ones that provide the backdrop to "Girls" or "The Cosby Show." We could afford to live in either an Asian neighborhood, a white neighborhood, or a black one. Either we are all the minority, Andrew and I are the minority, or our children are the minorities. The choice was easy. We choose to move into a black neighborhood. Our children, adopted away from a black country, growing up in a mostly white family and a mostly white church, deserved to be the ones who fit in where we live. Luckily for us, the neighborhood we choose also had a good train, nice homes and a decent park nearby.
I'm so glad we moved here. Because I have learned over the past 3 weeks of watching the news from Ferguson in horror, that I am inadequate to the job of raising my black son. I cannot find the words to teach him how to deal with the police; how to be safe in a country that seems bent on killing him or locking him up. But my neighbors can.
Last night, just as the barbecues started to glow and the plates of food started to get passed around, the cops arrived. They parked at the end of the block. One small boy rode up on his bike yelling, "The police is here!" I hid my beer. The two officers walked, not aggressively, up the block to speak to the DJ/block captain. It turns out, the block party permit had expired at 6PM. This time, there were no problems. The cops moved on, and we all hustled to take down the barricades and move the toys and basketball net out of the street. The music was turned down. I took the kids inside for their baths, thinking. All those neighbors, even the smallest kids, knew exactly what to do when interacting with the cops. Stand still, talk quietly, smile.
When it is time, and the time is coming soon for my son who is growing tall so fast... When it is time for "The Talk", I know who to ask. All I have to do is look to my neighbors.