I’m the Only Black Person in My Neighborhood—Here’s What I Wish My Neighbors Knew

The things that I deal with every single day are things that my White neighbors have never even had to think about.

As a six-foot-three Black male, I am well aware of the presumptions made about me. I know that the “angry Black man” stereotype exists and that, as a result, my very likeness is a threat in the place that I should be able to feel the most safe—my neighborhood.

I am a single Black man, and I live in a suburban community in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania that is predominantly White. Though I grew up in a bustling urban community in Brooklyn, New York, it wasn’t until I moved here that I realized just how visible I was to the watchful eyes of my neighbors.

Stereotypes are designed to control people

I understand that stereotypes carry an intent, but my neighbors might not. Many stereotypes about the angry Black man stem from slavery and have continued to the present day, and they serve as a justification for the harsh treatment of Black people, especially Black males. We live in a time where the idea of Black deaths showcased on social media has become normalized. The killing of George Floyd was played non-stop on the news, and videos of the deaths of other Black people are played heavily for the world to see. It is hard to take. Plus, in America right now, it is not uncommon for Black people to be detained in their own homes—or, worse, murdered. Breonna Taylor was killed in her own home. Atatiana Jefferson was fatally shot in her own home, as well.

While social media is new, this pattern of devaluing Black lives was established a long time ago. In 1787, at the United States Constitutional Convention, the Three-Fifths Compromise held that only three out of five slaves would be counted for the purposes of determining the amount of taxes that would be paid by the states to the federal government. Black bodies were not even counted as fully human for the sake of economics.

I see how you’re looking at me

Today, those old stereotypes are still projected onto Black people in predominantly White neighborhoods, by White people who feel as if Black people do not bring value to their communities. Racism is so embedded within American society, there seems to be an innate fear that a Black person might retaliate against the generations of terror committed against them. The paranoia projected onto Black people is evident in the way that the media and society consistently try to paint us as something to be feared. I believe that these actions are designed to justify the oppression, the high incarceration rate of Black people, systemic racism, and stereotypes.

I know what it feels like to be seen as a criminal on my own street. I can see the fear and judgment in people’s faces as I walk to the grocery store. I notice the store clerk who is not interested in helping me but who keeps a watchful eye on me as I stroll down the aisle. Their faces say, “He’s aggressive. Look—he’s a thug. He’s a danger to the community.” When people embrace those negative stereotypes, it’s a form of reverse psychology that helps to perpetuate racism. What others need to realize is that I do notice how watchful you are of me and other Black people, even though you may try to hide it.

PTSD as a result of constant racial profiling is real

Every day, I am reminded that I am Black. It comes in the form of a new security guard in my gated community following me home or the neighbor who’s preoccupied with the friends who visit me. I notice the peeks through the window, the excessive trips to take out the trash, and the overly friendly gestures. I don’t need to be under anyone’s constant watch just because they feel that it’s their neighborhood. It’s my neighborhood, too.

I also go through the same mental and emotional conversations with myself every single day. I go out wondering if I will get pulled over, and if I do, what will happen. I see some horrific, racially-based story in the news and I think, That could be me. I’m no different. If I go to the gas station or if someone sees me entering my home in this predominantly White community, I could be approached and gunned down by the police.

I have no idea what it feels like to go about life and feel “unseen” or unwatched. That takes an emotional toll on you after a while. I get questioned all the time about where I’m headed in the neighborhood, and the questions are interesting. When new local security patrols, I get questions like, “What are you doing here?” or “Who are you visiting? We haven’t seen you around here before. Let us follow you home.” To which I reply, “I’ve lived here for quite some time. I know my own way home.” I’m sure this treatment wouldn’t happen if I looked differently. That’s a huge mental stress to always have to watch your back. There’s a nagging agitation that comes along with constantly having to navigate systems that are designed to oppress you over a long period of time.

The Black body was the foundation for America’s success

It’s so strange that people fear a Black male presence when our very bodies were once used in this country to fuel the economy. When I think about the work that slaves did for free in this country, the things they built, and the abuse they endured, I know that I have a right to live in whatever community that I choose. My ancestors helped to build this country. Historically, when you look at all of the things that Black people have contributed to America and American culture, it can be disheartening to see how even when I work hard, I’m still not treated as equal.

I am entitled to the same rights as you

I am Gabriel Sharpe, and I am tired of being watched. I am a father of two kids, and I want the best for them. I work in music production, and I am a creative being. I am not interested in erasing my authentic personality just because my neighborhood is gated. I want to have the same comfort and the same rights that others do—everywhere, including in the place that I live. I am unashamed of who I am, and this is who I am: I’m a human being. I am no different than anyone else; my heart beats just like yours. I want my neighbors to know that it’s OK that we’re different skin colors—we can still coexist. And no, I am not a criminal.

If you want to be a better neighbor, check out these small ways you can fight racism every day. And for more on this important issue, see our guide to the Fight Against Racism.

Editor’s note: The opinions here belong to the author. To submit your own idea for an essay, email [email protected].

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