For the last supper we each ordered our own plate, five sides for $8.50. I ordered double kabocha squash because it’s my very favorite, accompanied with okra, collards, and chickpea stew. He chose a platter of mock meats.
Imhotep’s, a Jamaican vegan spot on Nostrand in Crown Heights. It was our go-to for a hearty meal filled with perfectly spiced vegetable slops and vegan proteins. Usually we shared one plate and were plenty stuffed, but since this would be our last time, we went extreme: They were going to close for good on Christmas Eve.
Afterwards, our stuffed, content, yet sad bellies strolled down Franklin Avenue snarling at the bars and fancy joints stuffed with white hipsters. “God, they are so dumb. If only they walked two blocks over to Nostrand where the real food is.” Our conversations in this hood generally take this turn, and it’s only because every single day there’s a new cheese shop, yogurt joint, or oyster bar. We continue, “ugh, gentrification, race, class, money, hegemony, blah, blah, blah.” Our over-educated analytical brains can’t stop critiquing and criticizing.
We enter my apartment building and greet the man who lives downstairs on the first floor. He and his family have lived in the building for years. My apartment was above theirs, a recently renovated one where I live with three other 20-somethings. Across the hall the same deal, and up and up, the same deal. Every floor houses two apartments stuffed with four to five 20-somethings.
He went into my room to change and I went into the bathroom to wash up. This is when everything got real.
While I was washing my face I accidentally looked in the mirror and something horribly disturbing, but necessary happened. Provoked by my white skin, I started thinking. I scanned the kitchen looking at the cheaply made appliances.
I’m living in a dorm building made for transient 20-somethings who are easily manipulated by landlords. Is that what I am too? What fool am I to think I have ownership over this space and this neighborhood when I have lived here for four months and likely won’t live here much more than two years! What fool am I to be using pretentious jargon that I learned in my overpriced and overrated education that only equipped me with the skills to criticize everyone who looks and acts like me! And damn it, what right have I to be sad that the neighborhood is changing and that my favorite restaurant is closing even though it has only been my favorite for four months! What about the people who have been going to Imhotep’s for twenty years! Ugh, learning truths about myself blows!
Wait a doggone minute! Just because I am white, from a middle class family, and “educated” (ugh, spare me) doesn’t mean I’m a jerk-off. Does it?
And then the vision of a pie chart popped into my brain, one I was forced to look at years ago in a group-think session. It was about social identities and you had to fill in the circles with traits about yourself that were out of your control; race, class, gender, age, etc. We then shared our social identities with the group and I recall feeling ostracized because they all felt more comfortable identifying in these ways than I did.
I don’t wanna identify as a white female from Maryland and have to associate with the same people just because we all were born into the same lot. Uck! I want to identify as other things, personal things. Real things.
And then the vision of the other pie chart I was forced to look at popped into my head. For this one we had to fill out our personal identities; the food we like, the music we listen to, the books we read, the activities we participate in.
Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about, why can’t we analyze difference based on those personal identities? As in, I like Miles Davis, you like Miles Davis, a match.
It went on.
And how the heck do I even know what anyone in this neighborhood prefers? I am semi aware of everyone’s social identity, the traits they were born with, maybe their gender and race. But I don’t know what the 20-somethings that live above me think or do or like, and I don’t know what the owners of Imhotep’s who have lived in Crown Heights for decades think or do or like. (Kabocha squash?) And it’s because I exist in my own damn lone brain all the time and what I really need is to get out there and start talking to people! The new, the old, both, all! I need to go beyond their birth given identities, and get to know which slop they would choose double of at Imhotep’s, damn it!
And that’s what I am setting out to do, stepping out of my fantasy brain and onto the streets to understand the entire hood, past and present.