Why I Choose to Live in Harlem
Harlem became my home in 2003. Previously, Brooklyn, the South Bronx, and New England served as my home away from Los Angeles. In response to the New York Times article entitled, A Stubborn Racial Disparity in Who Calls the Upper East Side Home, I’m honored, ecstatic and proud to be an African-American man that has chosen Harlem as his home.
I found the article disturbing for it appeared to take lightly the notion that African-Americans, in particularly females who live on the Upper Eastside, are presumed to be nannies. Secondly, I took umbrage to the idea that African-American communities in Harlem and Brooklyn are merely options rather than socially & culturally historical communities striving to maintain its culture and identity despite the waves of crime, poverty and gentrification. It also failed to note the multi-cultural make-up of these communities.
Harlem became my home after close friends of mine from college informed me that an apartment would be available in their pre-war building on St. Nicholas Avenue. Full disclosure, none of my aforementioned friends were of African descent.
I chose Harlem because only here do I have a sense of place, a sense of home and a connection to the past, present & future struggles of being African-American. When on the Upper Eastside, common courtesies such as Good Morning, Afternoon or Evening aren't frequently exchanged with me. As opposed to a woman of color who can oftentimes be presumed a nanny, I'm a six-foot-three African-American male. I wouldn’t fit anywhere in the realm of possibility in the minds of Upper Eastside residents. My presence oftentimes causes an awkward and uncomfortable silence. More significantly, I could be presumed suspicious by police who too would consider me an oddity. So although it is quite provincial minded to think that a black women on the Upper Eastside is presumed to be a nanny, a Black man must be presumed suspicious.
Harlem has its social ills, no doubt. On any given day, innocent lives are taken and the pen used to sign the social pact to maintain a sense of community appears to have had invisible ink. However, Harlem isn’t a transient community. Harlemites have lived on blocks, in brownstones and buildings for generations; and after having moved-out, consistently return, if not to live, than to just be. But where else can you find a Farmer's Market with a live DJ every week. What other community features Soul-food, Italian, Mediterranean, Scandinavian, and Asian cuisine within a ten-block radius. When Michael Jackson passed and Barack Obama was elected president, we took to the streets out of shock, elation and the dawning of a new day. Similar to the Upper East Side, Harlem also has a grid. But Harlem’s bebop jazz roots prevents it from being orderly, but rather improvisational and harmonic. George Jefferson may not have moved here when he was moving on up, but chef Marcus Samuelson did. When he walks the streets of Harlem as I often seem him do, he’s not anyone more or less than Marcus Samuelson. To think otherwise would be uncivilized.
George Jefferson couldn't start a trend on the Upper East Side of financially well-off African-American families even if he wanted due to de facto racism coded as strict coop rules. How else could you explain why according to the article, the Brookings Institute claims that New York City is the second most segregated city in America. Yet, the irony is that just as economics serves as a barrier for African-Americans and the like to diversify the Upper East Side, economics also serve as a barrier for African-Americans to relocate to any of the new luxury developments in Harlem. Therefore, even if African-Americans wanted to live in communities once described as Nigger Alley, Negro Plantation or Little Africa; they might not be able to afford it.
This is my community. This is where I chose to call home. Better yet, this is the community that has called me home. Harlem.