When Your Neighbors Think You’re Moving Weight
People don’t see a teacher on a summer-break schedule — they see someone who’s around at strange hours and up to no good
J. Cole is a millionaire many times over, but despite fame and fortune, his neighbors still made him feel like a criminal. His song “Neighbors,” he has said, was inspired by a real-life SWAT raid on his house — the result of nearby North Carolina residents assuming he sold drugs and calling the police. And ever since I moved into North York, a so-called “more established” part of Toronto, I have a newfound appreciation for the track.
After growing up in Scarborough, a somewhat notorious part of the east end of Toronto, I moved to North York smack in the middle of summertime. Since I’m a teacher, the timing was perfect; I didn’t have other obligations and could move in and get settled on my own schedule. But since I’ve been living in this new location, I’ve begun to sense a peculiar vibe from the new neighbors I can’t shake.
In the elevator, my “Good morning” and “What floor?” courtesies have been met with cold responses and no eye contact. When I go downstairs to the condo gym around 10 in the morning — again perfect for my summer-break schedule — I feel subtle, incessant stares. I get part of the curiosity. Condos in my city are like neighborhoods of their own, so it’s only natural for people to wonder about me, the “new guy.” But from my perspective, these staredowns continue longer than they should. I feel like my neighbors are thinking, “Why is this guy working out at this time of day? Doesn’t he have a job?”
That experience has strengthened my empathy as a teacher. How and when are we making assumptions about children who we think are not trying hard enough?
I do my best to check my male privilege when I enter the underground parking garage with a woman. I create some distance or jangle my car keys so that she knows that I have a car parked down there, too. When I’m walking around other common areas of the building, I try my best to minimize my presence. Still, whenever I encounter someone else, especially during the day, when they feel that…