Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Jersey World or is it New Disney?

This is awkward to write. It sounds awkward. But it felt so nice. So new. So encouraging somehow.  Forgive me for it being completely politically incorrect. I'm being genuine.

You see- Last week, I drove to southern New Jersey for an Alumni event. I took the opportunity to stay with one of my high school friends and her family. It was wonderful to spend time with her. She had it tough growing up. To say the least. But I can write a whole ode to Randa on another day.

To say there is a 'lack of diversity' in my homeland- would be an understatement. (For the record: I dislike the word "diversity". For some reason it doesn't sit right with me ...)  It's discouraging- given what is to change in my life. But it is what it is- and I go forward.

Randa lives in a beautiful area. One of those cookie cutter neighborhoods with matchy street names- but an established, well maintained - safe, not creepy kind of place. As the sun rose, I walked outside to the car. Taking in the warm morning air - I looked across to the neighbors yard and watched the kids and a dad kicking the ball around their white picket fenced yard.  Older guy, I thought. I wonder if they are grand kids. He's keeping up with them pretty good for an older fella. HEY! (excited reality setting in) They're brown! They are brown! Randa has brown neighbors!!  I practically skipped through the yard.

Color. Oh the color!!  I loved the all the colors I saw. The brown skinned neighbors. The bright colors in the scarves of the Muslim women. The many accents of those at the CVS, different than those at the gas stations.  The mixing of English with any number of other languages.  Forgive me- but I felt like a 5 year old at Disney World!!!

Of course, there are many races, religions, accents, here. In fact we have the 2nd largest Somali population outside of Somalia itself. The large nearby college does an admirable job *recruiting a diverse population*. The Muslim women locally where beautiful head scarves. We have a new mosque that serves the college and surrounding community - but even so- ... lily white mill towns make up the majority of our small population.

Its awkward to admit that when I notice a person of color in Sunday Mass, I want to skip over and sit next to them. I don't. But I must admit- it makes me so happy - I'm almost giddy.

I find myself being extra nice. An extra smile. Greeting. "Go ahead. You first." if I notice the person next to me, or serving me doesn't fall into the lily white world I normally live in.

You know when you go to a museum, or show and come away surprisingly happy, moved, motivated. You didn't go in expecting anything - but you are all a chatter with the things you saw!  You know that feeling?    That was my trip to New Jersey.

Here is the uncomfortable- odd - thing:   It feels wrong attaching these adjectives to human beings. Individuals. It isn't right to think look- "New!" "Different!" Gawk like a start struck teenager. These are people, for crying out loud.

As 'exciting' as it may have been. It still makes me wonder- how will he do? How will he feel, being the one stared at. He'll look different. Refreshing. Exciting. Different. Exotic. Regardless of motive. He'll stand out here. No way around that.

It is beautiful here. And family is family.  Its just very very white.

Some say- "No don't leave- we need you here. If all the people of color leave an area, for a place with more color.... it leaves this place whiter. Who else will come if you leave?"  And yet- is that a decision to make for him. That he must be the *magnet*? That he will be the different one? I don't know. I don't know the answer. Not yet. Maybe never. Right now. I think it is important to question it and look at it.  sigh. 

Here is the other sort of weird part. When I graduated college- I was recruited to go directly to New Jersey and work. I suffered from culture shock so badly- I turned my car back north 365 days after arrival.


kristine said...

wow Shannon, this is a wonderful post!
it's going to be very hard for him. i can tell you that without any doubt. it's hard. but hard does not necessarily mean bad. it's not hard=bad. it also does not mean good. it just is. personally, i'm not the kind of person that can say 'well, we'll suck it up for the benefit of mankind'. i don't really care about helping white communities become more diverse. that's not going to happen soon. there are more white people in this country than brown. that will change but not tomorrow.

if you're able to travel a little bit so that there are moments of 'relief' for him that might be important. i know we always vacationed in europe because it felt much more relaxing. we weren't 'famous' the way interracial couples are in the US. yes, even amongst people who are 'happy' to see you. it's exhausting. imagine, every single time you leave your house people 'noticing' you. it's tiring. you can't hide. white people hide all the time, in large crowds, they can hide.

just in case...i love love love our town in the hudson valley! i know, you'll get a lot of people saying the same. and you can't just pick up and move. and maybe you shouldn't. you might be in the right place.

it is hard. but that doesn't mean it's bad. you're just starting to experience a teeny bit of what it's like to be a black family in the US.

Staci said...

isn't kristine the best? what a rock. i am with you girl. i find myself going out of my way to connect (even in ridiculous ways, like more eye contact) with the people of color that i run across in my world. i worry sometimes i am using them for their blackness. but then i think, i "use" people for their characteristics all the time. i am friends with some people because they like something i like. friendships are built on tiny common threads. very quickly those threads stop being the basis for the friendship replaced by a mutual respect or shared experience. but they have to start somewhere. i dunno. figuring this stuff out is not easy.

Leesavee said...

Shannon, can I tell you HOW excited I was to discover that a mixed-race family moved in two houses down from me? And how grateful I am that Tiffany, Dan and Petros are two miles away? I know this won't be easy for us, living in a state that is not filled with "variety" -- but we will do our best.

Liz said...

Shannon, I am thinking about some of the same things these days with a slight my post on Friday! In the meantime, good luck figuring it all out...

vitamine b said...

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I just wanted to say good job. I really enjoy reading your posts. I'll be visiting.

Anonymous said...



Get packing!

Ditch dance and baseball!