We've finished moving. We all survived. Three humans, four common agouti-coated Rattus norvegicus, four colorful cichlids, and one bottom-feeder called a "pleco" which I'm told is actually some kind of catfish, but which is functionally a small armored Roomba.

(I don't have any clue how to deal with fish. You can't pet things in a water tank, and you don't spoil fish by feeding them, so I'm out of ideas. My introduction to the pleco was walking into the living room one day to find it smashed belly-first against the front pane of the aquarium, eschewing dignity of any kind, licking frantically at some invisible food molecules on the glass. Ah, I thought. It's an underwater rat. I know scavenger behavior when I see it.)

Every time I move, someone, generally a middle-aged white person, reacts to my new place like I've just arranged to rent a room in Mos Eisley. I haven't spoken to my own parents in something over five years now, so this time around the role was filled by Jazmin's mother, who spent yesterday evening alternating between being impressed by the woodwork and furniture the previous owners left us, and inventing scenarios in which the lock on the door to the back stairs proved wholly inadequate. (The back stairs are accessible only from inside the house. The only other inhabitants are two elderly women on the ground floor. We made vague noises about calling the landlord about it, which we are absolutely not going to do.) We got a dire warning about not going to the nearby park at night that was almost word for word what I got from my mother when I moved into the dorms at college about not going down to the student union -- a building that was not even 500 feet away from my dorm, visible from my window, abutted a parking lot regularly patrolled by the campus cops, and moreover had an emergency phone on a big blue pillar directly between me and it -- for dinner after dark.

I am not entirely sure whether the root problem here is that the neighborhood is full of people who are not white, or that the neighborhood is full of people who are not rich. As far as I can tell, the neighborhood is just full of people. Most of the catastrophizing, surprisingly, seems to come from the women of my mother's age, particularly those who have only daughters. I can't help but wonder if there is something weird coming out of the collision between being the first generation of women who were not just allowed (or encouraged!) to live on their own without the protection of fathers or husbands, but still got their ideas about 'staying safe' from a generation who considered women weak and vulnerable by nature.

I cringe when I see how much of that they have made a special effort to pass down to my generation. I understand the loudest people in a movement are often the least sane, and that all bad things are scarier when they happen to someone who seems a lot like you, but there are a lot of young women walking around convinced that they might be raped and murdered at any moment, and live their lives in terror accordingly. Technically, this is true -- horrible things can happen without warning. The thing is, the risk of horrible events has always existed. Convincing people that they can eliminate 100% of the risk of horribleness if they just take control and do something is disingenuous at best, and life-ruining at worst. Think anorexics, who believe their lives will be perfect if they can just control their appetite. Agoraphobes who control their terror of the outside world by refusing to go out into it. Domestic abuse victims who think they can avoid being hit again if they just behave right.

I'm not saying don't ever try to change society for the better. But insisting you have control over everything in your life, when you very pointedly don't, will drive you fucking crazy.

Terrible things happen in pasty white suburbs, too, I promise. They're just different terrible things that don't show up on crime maps. I would personally consider many of them worse, because a lot of them by their very nature can really only be properly done by people who swear blind that they love you and want to keep you safe. Sucks when someone steals your stuff, but sucks more when your entire life is hemmed in by random terror of anything seen as 'abnormal'. I grew up in the most blandly mayonnaise-y Wonder Bread suburb you ever saw, and I specifically hate living in places like that, because I have swum in that tepid pool of homogeneity, and it produces some of the most indescribably intolerant xenophobic asshole behavior you have ever seen. You look like them, they assume you think like them, and when it turns out you don't, they try to punish you right back into the fold.

I would much rather live in a building of illegal immigrants who don't speak English. People who don't speak your language and are afraid of attracting any kind of attention at all just avoid the hell out of you. The ladies in abayya and headscarves whose evening walks take them right under my window are not bothering anyone. The only time I've ever had anyone unauthorized try to get into my home was in Brighton, by far the WASPiest area I've lived in Massachusetts, and it was a goddamn Realtor who either didn't know the unit was occupied or didn't care, trying to show the place to prospective tenants.

Places like East Somerville and Dorchester may well have been hellholes back when I was born. I really have no idea. According to crime statistics, everywhere was terrible in comparison to now -- since we quit putting tetraethyl lead into gasoline, the rates of violent shithead behavior have rolled rapidly downhill, and now in most towns you actually have to sort of hunt around for a slum apartment where the local crackheads might stab you in your sleep.


  1. People get nervous in my neighborhood too. It's annoying.

  2. People get nervous in my neighborhood too. It's annoying.


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