When Shady Neighbors Come to Call

She was worried that the new neighbors might paint their house purple, until the conversation turned to race and a whole new set of troubles revealed themselves.

A woman uncovers her prospective neighbor's racial prejudice

Cars, trucks, and vans had been coming and going for weeks. The house next door was for sale. My husband and I had liked our neighbors, but they had a chance to move to Myrtle Beach. Who could blame them for leaving?

Getting new neighbors is always scary. I never know if they'll be friendly—I love to talk. Or will they mind if my dog meanders into their yard and does her business every once in awhile? Will they have kids, and how old will they be? Will they paint their house purple?

Spring had arrived. The daffodils were blooming, and traffic to see the vacant house had been increasing. Eager to find out who the new owners might be, I watched the comings and goings closely. My husband said I was just nosy.

One sunny afternoon, I was weeding pansies in our flowerbed. A car pulled into the driveway next door, and a young couple with a child got out. They walked over to talk. "How are you today?" "Isn't the weather beautiful?" We chatted.

Then they went into the house. A half-hour later they emerged. I knew they were interested. It was a long time to be looking at a house on the first visit. The couple walked around the yard, surveying it. They glanced around the neighborhood. Finally, they came back over to resume our talk. Wanting to be helpful, of course, I took a break from my gardening.

"How long has the house been for sale?" the man asked. I told him it had been on the market since fall.

Then the woman whispered, "Do any blacks live around here?"

I was speechless. I thought this couple was going to ask me about the schools, the carpet, the dishwasher, something pertinent.

Finally, I mustered a response: "Well, the house over there has a black family." I pointed two houses away. "Oh, and my youngest son is biracial. Does that count?"

Now it was the woman who was speechless. But she quickly gained her composure. "Oh, I'm not prejudiced," she stammered.

Her husband interjected. "They live in our apartment complex and bother my wife," he said.

"And they play loud music," she added.

I swear I hadn't seen a cloud in the sky all day. But looking around my neighborhood, I realized that a dark cloud had moved in from somewhere. Suddenly, the day seemed dismal indeed.

The couple quickly got in their car and drove away. I stood in the yard, frowning. I couldn't garden. I couldn't even move.

Racial slurs have always enraged me. Since adopting my son, I have become even more aware of how damaging words can be. These people's remarks cut to my heart and hurt like no hurt I'd ever felt before. They were talking about my son—someone I love more than anyone in the world.

As the shock of the conversation wore off, I remained in the yard thinking. After a few minutes, I managed to break into a smile. These were two shady neighbors I would never lay eyes on again.

 

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