I’m Buying A House Based On My Neighbours’ Body Hair
Location, location, location. Even more important than the home itself, where you choose to buy or rent needs to be a good fit with your personality and lifestyle.
Transport links, green spaces, local amenities and (if you’re a parent) proximity to a good school. I had thought these were the most important factors to consider when searching for a house. It dawned on me very recently though that there was a far more important question to consider — will there be enough hairy brown people in this neighbourhood?
Pillow Time v. Zillow Time
The realisation came only when faced with the prospect of living in a predominantly white area. “It’s lovely, look at the view!” my husband exclaimed as he surfed Rightmove (the UK version of Zillow) close to midnight. Instead of sleeping or masturbating as most men should do when their wife has popped on an eye mask and turned her back to them. He proceeded to insist he had found the perfect family home and that I needed to watch the online house tour immediately.
Our property search has been less than fruitful. An impending sale means we need to pick up the pace. However, I was resistant to moving away any further than necessary simply for more space. We are happy here, a hop and a skip to three different tube lines and the schooling is good. We have good leisure and shopping facilities (I can get exotic ingredients fairly easily) and the local population is friendly and diverse — the borough is made up of 50% black and minority ethnic groups.
A quick google search of the locality my husband proposed showed that although it was on the Underground network it wasn’t actually within London and had an older than average median age. No matter, we all get old I thought (kidding, I’m so not getting old). Tellingly it also revealed that 86% of the population was white, 80% of whom are white British. This lack of ethnic diversity made me fearful.
I can handle being the only non-white person at work, in a pub or at a party. I am also light-skinned enough to hold the proximity to whiteness – and the benefits of it – that many of my darker-skinned sisters and brothers cannot. The ambiguity of my ethnicity means I can’t always be easily placed. This means I’m less likely to have a racist slur shouted out to me in the street — unlike my aunt when she wore salwar kameez to her local grocery store back in the day.
Here was a grown man who felt entitled to openly comment upon the hairiness of the only other brown girl on the floor.
I am well aware that I’m fortunate not to be hindered financially in this search. To decide if an area is safe, diverse or clean enough isn’t a choice everyone can make. And so I used this privilege to decide that I don’t want my daughter to be the only girl in her class with visible dark hair on her arms and legs. Or eyebrows that meet sparsely yet prominently above her nose. Or one of only a couple of pre-pubescent girls with visible moustache hair. If she has my genes then sadly those things are coming, baby girl. As will the teasing. What I DO know is that the teasing is less and more bearable when you’re not the only one. My high school was majority South Asian so I didn’t feel the pressure of hair removal as early as my cousins of the same age did at their mainly white schools.
I’ve also worked in places where I have been the only Asian person in my department, and only one of two BAME people in the entire building. I recall a male colleague who had attended an expensive day school alongside Sacha Baron Cohen. Here was a grown man who felt entitled to openly comment upon the hairiness of the only other brown girl on the floor, a sweet Guyanese Indian who was born and bred in South London.
Scenery v. Society
I reluctantly viewed the house and it was admittedly amazing. With a beautiful terrace and oodles of space indoors and out, overlooking a huge field of green. But I don’t want that. It’s fine for holidays — a prerequisite even. But every damn day? Give me the view of a busy bus stop instead, the creaking of red double-deckers and the sound of drunk people disturbing my sleep with argument or song in Polish, Punjabi or Portuguese (depending on whether they had that one extra shot).
A stroll through the main high street revealed some friendly faces but only two brown siblings pushing their bikes. “Look. Brown folk!” my husband exclaimed. They look bullied, I retorted. According to the census, only 79 individuals identified as black in the entire place which felt even more worrying. This is three times lower than the national average.
A middle-class utopia for the city folk who have sold up their pokey zone 2 flats for the commuter life trade-off of more space and countryside living
Living my life 24 hours a day in a place where I am one of only a handful of people of colour has deeper consequences. It’s a sense of non-belonging. The white British population there would be in line with the national average, yet this takes into consideration all the many places I’ve visited and been the only non-white person. Which is fine for a work meeting, a weekend or a week. But not everyday life while we raise our children.
People from different income brackets are not living side by side in this small village on the outskirts of London. Granted, not everyone there is comfortably off— but many people are. It’s a middle-class utopia for the city folk who have sold up their pokey zone 2 flats for the commuter life trade-off of more space and countryside living. With London Marylebone and Baker Street only thirty minutes away they can have their fill of both village and city life.
As we drove home my husband agreed the area was beautiful but just not for us. Despite the significant amount of additional property we could acquire for our budget, it felt too rural. We would miss the diversity of friends and residents in our current neighbourhood, the safety of the familiar.
London’s identity doesn’t come solely from its rich history. The mix of cultures and backgrounds of its inhabitants make it a truly global city. Even the outermost suburbs are populated with a mix of ethnicities making life more interesting, vibrant and (above all) real.
This multiculturalism and the less extreme stratification of social classes is something I would long for. The country pubs, cleaner air and pretty cottages lining the winding lanes of this Hertfordshire parish just wouldn’t make up for it. According to a University of Oxford study, it was voted the happiest place to live in the UK in 2004. It was also recently ranked the least deprived area in the country by the Department of Communities and Local Government. But the low crime rates, sense of community and Neighbourhood Watch scheme doesn’t entice me in the way it might others.
Even as a minority, you cannot argue for racial equality in the same way if all your peers are white.
It doesn’t matter if I’m only a short tube ride away from the diversity of central London. My children and I need to see people of colour every single day. Do I fear sounding like the privileged white woman who wants to mix with poor brown folk for social kudos and liberal brownie points? If I was moving to an area with an 86% Indian population my fears would be the same. We need friendships to include people who don’t all have similar experiences of culture, language, religion… and ultimately, life.
My children have an advantage others who share the same colouring may not have, due to the education and socio-economic status of their parents. Being quarter white and looking racially ambiguous does make life easier for them. As does having a mother who can look and articulate herself well enough so it’s obvious I’m British-born and educated.
I personally believe that you can’t be a good ally if you don’t know any black people. Even as a minority, you cannot argue for racial equality in the same way if all of your peers are white. As a child, if the non-white friends you do have are mostly all wealthy (and therefore privileged) you can’t understand the way the real world works. It isn’t possible to be accepting and appreciative of different cultures, customs and religions to the same extent if you’re only exposed to them through media or travel rather than on a daily basis in real life.
Ethnic Diversity as a Deal-Breaker
That evening I wondered if I had made a mistake that I’ll regret in a decade. Would I kick myself for not realising the potential of this beautiful village? The local state comprehensive is highly sought after and accepts pupils from further afield based on academic excellence and musical talent. The website showed articulate and polite children, well-spoken teaching staff and beautiful grounds. But I’m not sure I want that enough to warrant the upheaval of a move.
I do want a good school — but a local one with the diverse ethnicity of teaching staff that reflects the large student population. My children can have friendships with children in social housing and those with holiday homes. With children who attend Arabic, Japanese and Hebrew school on the weekends. I want the high school experience for my children to be both fun and educational outside of the curriculum. And to include girls with hairy arms.
The inevitable personal grooming of high school girls starts earlier now and I want my daughter to hold off for as long as she and her fellow hairy brunette friends feel comfortable. Though seemingly unavoidable, the razors, wax strips and IPL that beckon can wait a little longer. There is strength in numbers, sisters.
Sanctuary in Small Spaces
Lockdown has also made me view where I live as less fluid. The ability to escape and be in different environments has been taken away from me and so I need to feel at home, not just in the sanctuary of my home but in the many streets surrounding it.
The wealthier white British families with no familial connection where I live could have chosen to live in a less diverse and far more picturesque place on the tube. And had a much larger house and garden to boot. But they didn’t — and I like that about them.
There would no doubt be some great friendships to be made in a smaller neighbourly place. But the prospect of making new friends during a lockdown or a post-coronavirus world feels strange and discombobulating. Would village life feel too insular and small? Without the daily commute in to London there would be no balance of colleagues in town, tourists and strangers of all ages and ethnicities. Without it I feel happier about turning down the chance to live in the happiest place in the UK. All in exchange for people who are rich and poor, black and white. And of course, in pursuit of both the smooth and the hirsute.