Trespass as Belonging

 Trespass as belonging.

Rather, the concept of trespass as a way we designate who does and who does not belong, creating insider and outsider, often with nothing more than a sign, and sometimes without even that. Making an invisible boundary whose transgression has real consequences. An uncritical invocation of good fences make good neighbors, an uncharitable, often evil transmogrification of people, us and them.

Our neighborhood in DC has some lovely alleys (the uncritical use of “our” a low-level claim of possession, even ownership, whose privilege suggests, and I’ll get to this, the whiteness behind it). L and I decided on a whim to duck into one of these while on the way back from our (my) coffee bean run. These alleys tend to be clean (mostly), and filled with a lush green of trees towering overhead (why are there so many ginkgo trees in DC? was nobody thinking of the fruit rot?), of plants pushing up through fences and offering enticing glimpses of gardens sequestered within. Plants in pots splayed across decks, plants overhanging balconies, and everything pulsating with the summer heat, the ever-present blanket of humidity.

These alleys offer the opportunity to see a whole new perspective of the buildings we’ve walked alongside for nearly two years, so that ducking off the main streets and back behind the apartments becomes a form of revitalization, a conjuring of the new out of the familiar, a delightful mode of rebirth. If the street-facing side of the building is its face, made up carefully and presented to the world, than viewing these backs allows one a more complete picture of the whole, making the houses more complete. Sometimes the back offers just more of the same, but often it includes blemishes. Cracked, unpainted, and more human through these imperfections.

It’s towards noon on a sunny, hot, and humid day, now officially summer. As I push the stroller behind these brownstones, I wonder about the difference in the way I travel through this space and the way someone black or brown travels through it. I wonder about how pre-acceptance influences reception, which determines the degree of actual acceptance. The stroller acts as a disarming mechanism, and the fact that there’s an actual baby in it legitimizes both the stroller (carriage) and the stroller (me, out on one). It’s apparent at a glance that I’m out with a baby and not posing a threat.

That doesn’t go far enough though, not by a long shot. What’s most legitimizing in the sense of belonging to a space, of being granted safe travel without having to think about it, a privilege bestowed without having to ask, is the fact that I’m white. As I push the stroller through the alley, I have no fear that someone, glancing through the window, will see me and feel compelled to call the police. That someone will want to call the police. In the unlikely event that someone actually does, I have no fear of being presumed guilty until proven otherwise, of being screamed at, or tackled, or maced, tased, choked out, shot, murdered, my innocence but not my body resuscitated after death, and even then, not exculpated by many who might hear of the encounter — “he shouldn’t have been there in the first place,” “why didn’t he listen to the police,” and so on, a litany of excuses for dismissing the worth of someone’s life. This isn’t something I would have ever begun to consider until after I met Carolina, until after the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction. That’s on me. My being aware of it now makes me wonder of the other ways in which I am still entirely unaware of my privilege. And the very framing of something as a privilege is worth thinking through. Why aren’t these givens for everyone? How can we make it so?

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