The ceramist Beverly Granger, a longtime resident of Sag Harbor, N.Y., in front of the beachfront home she inherited from her parents.Credit...Jon Henry
Before a home is a place of beauty, or a stage for its inhabitant’s personality, it’s something that provides that most essential of needs: shelter, whether from weather or, as we all now well know, disease.
Those of us fortunate enough to have a home — though having a structure to protect you from the outside world should be a human right, not a matter of fortune — have probably spent more concentrated time in it over the past six months than (in my case, at least) the past six years. At times I fancied that my apartment was first bewildered, and then irritated, by my constant presence. When you live in Manhattan, nothing is commodious, and over those weeks, I became intimate with previously ignored details of my home, and suddenly, its long-neglected flaws and illogical organization systems began to feel unbearable.
But at the same time, I found myself taking new comfort in the physical fact of my home. Anyplace I looked was an object or color that reminded me of a trip I’d taken, a city I’d visited — of the life I’d once had. It was, I realized, a home-as-scrapbook, a space meant to reflect my life back to myself. To others, it would appear haphazard, patternless, but it wasn’t meant for others — it was meant for me.
The same can be said for the homes in this issue, each of which is beholden to no logic, or aesthetic, other than their residents’. Because of that, they are inimitable and uninterpretable: repositories of personal histories, a diary written not in words, but in tones, textures and things — spaces the rest of us can enjoy, but only their creators know how to read.
A home is the place we live. But it is also the place we want to feel safest. Sometimes that place isn’t a physical structure, but a community, a city, a country. And if the pandemic reminded all of us of the fundamental need for protection, so too did the killing of George Floyd remind us that some Americans were not being given that protection — not in their streets, not in their cities, not in their country.
In “On Long Island, a Beachfront Haven for Black Families,” Sandra E. Garcia visits the historic Black neighborhoods of Sag Harbor, N.Y. Like East Hampton and Southampton, its wealthier, whiter neighbors on the Long Island shore, Sag Harbor has long been a summer destination for beach-going New Yorkers. Unlike them, it has also long been a place where Black Americans could buy property without fear of discrimination and, since the 1930s, live in a community where they could, as Garcia writes, “rest, grow, raise families and simply exist without the burden of systemic oppression.” As she notes, places of leisure — including pools and beaches — were some of the most heavily policed areas during the Jim Crow era. In Sag Harbor, though (as in other Black-created summer communities like Oak Bluffs, in Martha’s Vineyard, and Highland Beach, in Maryland), they could relax without fear.
The right to relax is granted to too few of us. But it, too, is an elemental human need. To be able to rest somewhere without fear of attack or oppression or bigotry, to be able to be physically and emotionally vulnerable when we’re at our most exhausted, is a necessity. A society cannot function at its greatest potential when too many of its citizens feel constantly depleted. It’s our collective job to make us all comfortable — even if the discussions and actions that challenge demands are uncomfortable ones.