Blackness, Expensive Old Houses + Pioneering Domestic Dreams

My mother says, that I have an innate ability to create my own Sesame Street wherever I live. She’s right, I’ve always been a bright bird, ready to walk into a modern version of Mr Hoopers store and make friends. In fact, last fall, I worked part-time in a restaurant, where the best part for me was getting to know the regulars, some who greeted me with masked hugs and familiar pleasantries. Additionally, in an effort to actually move my body (because health) , I take morning walks around my New York neighborhood. Honestly, New York mornings are the best. Except for some trucks, my hood is pretty quiet and morning air is bright and crisp, even if sometimes cold and biting with wintery breezes. Somehow those walks help as much with my sanity and I find myself being able to create space for day-dreaming especially about the homes and the people who live in them. Somehow I’ve become a student again, studying the the design of these lovely enclaves of urban villages set in my adopted borough of Brooklyn.

All of this dreaminess is grounded by two articles that I can’t seem to get out of my head. Many weeks and months ago, I read an article in the New York Times about a man, Thomas Holley, who in an effort to be friendly to his neighbor with a hello, was quickly rebuffed and dismissed as someone who was unhoused and begging. It turns out that Mr Holley lived on the same block as the dismissive neighbor and had lived there for 58 years. Mr. Holley had raised his family in his home and hoped to one day pass his home to his children or at the very least selling to a person or family of color. The article hit very close to home as I have had similar conversations with my home-owning black Brooklyn neighbors and made think about if I could one day afford a home here. Honestly, at the moment I can’t. The nightmare of Covid times, put some dreams on pause, but it doesn’t stop me from dreaming about a home, where I have a backyard and a garden, where I entertain, work and live in the nicer east coast seasons. It’s not wrong to want to keep these homes in the communities that they cherish. Memories, sometimes, lend purpose to the future, even after we pass on. What I find interesting is the continuous need to create communities, both virtual and in real life, that highlight the yearning for a connection to space, land and nature.

Whether we are performing domesticity or are pioneering it, there’s still an aspect that others or dismisses the Black experience of while we are living our day to day lives, even when we set the lifestyle trends and create communities that people love.

That brings me to another article on I read on Cottagecore (is that a thing in the winter?) and how it seems to have left people of color out of the moment, at least in social media communities. I actually believe this resurgence is cyclical, with every generation thinking back to slower times, in fashion and the built environment especially in times of social change. I saw it as a teenager, as I collected tea cups or mimicked the high-wasted, dresses I saw in the pages of Seventeen, Harper’s Bazaar or whatever Jane Austen interpretation was out. And then in 2016, on screen of Beyonce’s Lemonade ( which references visual elements of Julie Dash’s lush film Daughters of the Dust). There, its depiction of Black and Brown women blurring the lines between the space of our bodies and the interior and exterior relationship with our environment reminds me that we can’t be left out of movement we created. Our stories and elements of our material lives are collected and curated, passed on from generation to generation. We’ve designed homes, clothing and products long before the word designer was a thing. We picnicked, bird-watched, farmed, fed and healed folks in our spaces. But what happens when don’t have space, homes or land to purchase and pass on? Do we move on to communities that we can afford? And would those communities be welcoming or watching? I don’t have any answers yet but I have watched every episode of Cheap Old Houses, wondering this very thing. Whether we are performing domesticity or are pioneering it, there’s still an aspect of that our domestic lives that is “othered” or dismissed within the Black experience, while we are living our day to day lives. Sometimes, even when we are setting the lifestyle trends and creating communities that people love and gentrify.

Like, my morning walk, space, land and nature force us to slow down and observe what’s around us. And even though I’ve lived here for 10 years off and on, my observations also led me to become a part of my neighborhood in a way I never imagined. I live here, work here and chat people up. I pet overly friendly dogs, flirt with my neighbors and chat up mamas and babies alike while grocery shopping ( or wine shopping). I pop into quirky neighborhood shops, speaking to shopkeepers who have been embraced by neighbors who didn’t know they needed their wares. And, because, I designed signs, storefronts and store interiors for so long, I often silently observer and sometimes judge those elements as well .

What can I say? I am a work in progress.

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