Thursday, December 20th, 2007
I had a blast living in Spanish Harlem. I was pretty much the only white person in a 10-block radius, but that never bothered me. The UK tends to be much more liberal in terms of race relations and with upwards of 60 million people living on that tiny island, you live side by side and on top of people from all corners of the world. But even in the melting pot that is New York, it’s incredibly segregated by comparison, which kind of freaked me out. Whenever I told people where I lived, they’d always say ‘Oh, so you’re looking for a new place right?’ I had a great apartment in a cool neighborhood with very little trouble (well, there was that one guy who got killed in the bodega across the street, but apart from that…)
When I first moved there, the locals were very wary of me, pegging me as an undercover cop. If the police department ever sent someone as pale as me undercover in that part of town, I don’t think it would be a very successful rouse.
Over time, I got to know a girl in my building. Fatima was a 250 pound black girl. Her entire bottom row of teeth were gold and she looked like if she blew on me hard enough, she could knock me out. Obviously, this was someone I should be friends with.
No matter what time of day or night I got home, Fatima was always outside the building talking on her cell phone. The more we saw each other, the more we’d exchange a word or two.
“Hey mama, how you doin’?” She’d ask when she’d see me crossing the street. “Oh, yo outfit so cute! Yo accent so cute too! Listen to her talk,” she’s say, nudging whoever was standing next to her.
Arriving home one night in the wee hours to see Fatima outside on her phone (I don’t get why none of her phone calls could be conducted in her apartment, but whatever). She hung up and we engaged in our usual banter. There was a group of guys outside, all eyeing me skeptically. I said goodnight to Fatima and walked past the guys, their eyes burning through me, to get into the building.
The next day, I saw Fatima. She approached me, wide-grinned.
“Ooooh girl, all the boys be askin’ ‘bout you. They be all ‘yo, who that Russian chick?’”
I got a good laugh out of that one. Luckily, my gold-toothed amigo set them straight on my origin.
From that point onwards, the locals couldn’t have been friendlier. They’d find any excuse to talk to me just to hear this accent they’d heard so much about. I did half consider playing along with the Russian thing for a while. I think everyone was so happy I wasn’t an undercover cop, I might just have pulled it off.