After moving into the predominantly and historically black and rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Harlem, recent college grad Jenna Nolan found an ingenious way to pretend that she isn’t part of the problem: She simply avoids making eye contact with any of her neighbors!
Jenna is grateful for her inexpensive one-bedroom apartment in a neighborhood with decades of cultural significance for the black community, which her real estate broker called “up and coming” and “sort of shady at night.” She has adapted to her new environment by rarely engaging in local commerce and never, ever making eye contact with those who have lived in the area for generations.
By casually avoiding eye contact, Nolan hasn’t even noticed which neighbors have had to move out because they can no longer to afford to live in the area. She has also been able to preserve her energy for noticing other things, such as the new bone broth store on her corner, and the bespoke toast shop that’s opening down the street.
“I’ve lived in Harlem for 67 years,” says neighbor Jackson Plummer. “Now suddenly there are white people flooding in, refusing to look us in the eye? Does she think we can’t see her?”
Just the other day, Jenna hurried past a black neighbor while a police officer was randomly frisking him for sitting on his own stoop.
“I knew what was happening was wrong, but I didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that I’m a white person living in a black neighborhood, so I just avoided eye contact out of respect,” Jenna explained. “He yelled at me to help him, but I knew that deep in his heart, he just wants me to remain aloof and indifferent.”
When a recently evicted neighbor had to sleep outside in a nearby alley one night, Jenna briskly walked right by him.
“Wait, he was my neighbor?” she said. “Why didn’t he just pay his rent?”