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    « Lists. Thoughts while painting. Is it the fumes? | Main | I've made it this far, and I'm feeling pretty good about it »

    August 16, 2011

    Beach Demographics

    This morning, having woken up on the Generous side of bed, decided to do something fun with the kids instead of dragging them to Home Depot for the forty-third time. So we went to a little beach park about 10 minutes away. I'd heard about it, but never been there before and it was PERFECT. The perfect amount of grass and sand and calm lake water, no having to drag all your stuff across an acre of sand like at the real beach, and I had kids old enough to entertain themselves in the water and dig in the sand. It was about fifty thousand times better than the wading pool. Never again, wading pool! Even Jack agreed with me. 

    So I could tell you all about what a lovely morning we had and how totally exhausted I was when we came home, but instead I am going to tell you that every single person at this beach park was either a white 30-something mom or a white preschooler. If you had been listening in on the conversations (which OF COURSE I was doing) you would know that the big issues of the day were Montessori waiting lists, kindergarten teachers, and mothers-in-law who do not mind their own business. The kids had names like Ava and Lucas and were loaded down with sunscreen and toys and floaties and many of them had obviously had swim lessons and it was all very Young-Ish Mom In The City. 

    I didn't have to notice this, right? I AM one of these moms. My kids weren't quite as white as these, but my Asian-American husband didn't make me any different from these women. I am just like them and I had the privilege of not noticing this at all. 

    But I did... I don't know if it matters. One thing I've noticed about our new neighborhood is that it has a large population of North African immigrants. There was one time we went to the neighborhood playground and it was packed, but I was the only white person there. (Not counting my kids, though I assume they will identify as Asian-American when they're old enough to identify as anything. Or maybe not. I have no idea.) One thing that is REALLY drawing me to the church and church school near my house is the diversity and the fact that many of the students speak a different language at home. (Other than that, I am MEH on the whole switching churches thing - that's another post.) Our rental house was in a trendy affluent neighborhood. Our new neighborhood feels shabbier, not as well off, more overgrown. And as much as I loved (LOVED) our old neighborhood and would have loved (LOVED) for my kids to attend the excellent schools there, I can also appreciate where we are, the people we run into, the faces we see at our new playground. I want my kids to be part of this. 

    One beef I had against Catholic school (before I started investigating the local Catholic school options and therefore had no idea what I was really talking about) was the idea that it might be loaded with rich white kids who could afford it. I wasn't sure if I wanted them to be in that environment. I couldn't really explain WHY, but something about it just didn't feel REAL. I grew up on military bases and there are ALL KINDS of people living on military bases. I never ever thought about diversity or race or anything like that. Even though I hung out with almost exclusively Filipino kids - and talking to them a few years past graduation they confessed they never thought about it either. 

    But I remember walking onto the UW campus at age 18 and being floored - seriously - by how WHITE everything was. (And how many Asian people there were, to be honest.) It was so different than where I came from. It was STRANGE. I got used to it (and it was easy for me, being white!) but now, having kids, I'm aware of it again. And my kids... well, I hesitate to say what they'll think or how things will be when they grow up, but I'm assuming they won't have my "advantage" of not noticing. I want them to be around differences as much as samenesses. 

    I am making a huge deal out of going to the beach, huh? I didn't have a friend along to distract me, so this is what you get. Overwrought melodramatic discussion over a trip to the beach. This is why I blog! Anyway, I want to be sure you know I am not, like, JUDGING the beach moms or anything (except for the one who named her child Diego), especially as I am ONE OF THEM, but we're part of a pretty privileged group, I think. It's not wrong to acknowledge that. 

    Do you guys do this? Sit around and see what kind of people are doing what you're doing? Who they are, where they come from, what the stories are? I suppose I need a little more in my life than paint and pregnancy, eh? 

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    One of the main reasons we switched churches (actually, switched religions) was that I didn't want my children to be the token African-Americans at the church. We adopted interracially (sp?), and so I've always paid attention to the neighborhoods we've moved to, what type of people are at the schools, etc.

    I think that it can almost be a disservice to our children if we don't pay atttention to race. Good for you. I don't think you are making a big deal about it. I think you are paying attention to what is surrounding your children.

    I do this, too. Though usually at the beach I am judging swimsuits -- good and bad. I'm shallow like that.

    But I do think it's important to think about race and diversity. I grew up in an almost completely white, rural area, the kind of place where prejudice just IS because people literally don't know anyone personally who doesn't look like them. My kids are growing up in a much more diverse area, and, like you, I don't want to put them into a situation where they're surrounded only by affluent white folks. That's not life around here.

    Yes, I do this. Ren's daycare class is all white except for one Hispanic girl, so I was really excited when another non-white kid joined his class a few weeks ago. My husband thinks I'm kind of weird.

    One of my kids' grandparents is black, and I feel like I should talk to them about it, but I don't know what to say. "Hey, did you notice your grandpa is black?"

    My post-military-lifestyle-thoughts exactly! Sometime in adulthood, I remember looking around and thinking, "When did I become friends with only white people?!" And yet, like you, I never really noticed the diversity until it was gone for a while. I miss it, a LOT, and I'm trying to find ways to give my kids a broader perspective without it being manufactured. I suppose that's why, one day, Daughter #1 got the history of the civil rights movement, from slavery to Barack Obama.

    Also, if it helps, I do think growing up in a biracial family helps. You kind of know instinctively that different people look different without knowing that you know it. At least I did.

    Quick funny story: I get suuuper tan in the summer, right? So one day, at the playground in our white, affluent neighborhood, someone asked me, in so many words, if I was the girls' Mexican nanny & how much I charge per hour. Totally without guile, it was just REALLY funny.

    I will be totally honest here and admit that this is probably my biggest beef with the Greater Boston suburbs- just about everyone is white and wealthy. I didn't grow up like this at all, so it's hard for me to relate this very privileged life that I now find myself living. Because as you said, it does not feel "real."

    Funny how everyone's perspective is different. I was floored at UW at the amount of diversity! But, I came from a highschool with all of 2 black students (at a school of allmost 1000), and they were sisters and were actually biracial and only a handful of afluent Asian kids.

    I think it's important and wonderful that you notice it. I know my kids (being a military family) are definitely experiencing more diversity than I ever did growing up in my small, rural, almost exclusively white town, and I'm so glad. What I sometimes wonder is how and when is the right time to get them noticing the same kind of thing.

    I am with the people who think this is incredibly important. I grew up in Africa, and now live in the state south of you, where things are incredibly white (especially now that I live in a smaller city). I said something about what a relief it was to go to Michigan last week and see how comfortable black and white people are relating to one another there (by comparison to out here), and a friend of a friend told me I was racist for noticing and appreciating the diversity in Michigan. Whaaaat? Definitely a white privilege position - he said we shouldn't see color at all (as if that would make the issues go away...). Clearly that is not an option, and I think it's important that we think about these things in our lives and choices. So, thank you! I needed to know that I am not the only one thinking about this right now.

    I grew up in SUCH a white place. A little rural logging town in the Northwest. There were no people of color at all. And I really wish I had more exposure to diversity as a child because when I moved to a very slightly larger town as a young adult, and did start meeting a greater variety of people, I often felt awkward and uncertain when talking to someone of a different race than myself. I knew that racism was a bad thing, and I would always feel on edge, worrying that I might offend accidentally with something I said, worrying that this black person might find out I didn't have any African-Americans I knew well enough to call "friend," worrying that NOT having any African-Americans I knew well enough to call "friend" did actually make me a racist! Part of that is just that I'm a worrier and a shy person anyway--but part of it is that I just wasn't used to be around anyone who looked any different than myself. Although I knew mentally that all people are people, and are the same on the inside, when you grow up in a totally homogenous environment, you never get to experience that truth for yourself. So anyway, long comment here, but yes I think it's really good thing that your kids get to experience diversity from a young age on.

    Diversity is definitely something that I think is important to expose kids to early on. And I absolutely don't think it's wrong or racist to notice that people are different races, as Jen's friend noted!
    My university experience was the opposite of yours. I grew up in a very white town. I never really thought about it, until I moved into my dorm. My mom (who I discovered to my surprise was a closet racist) said "aren't there any white people in this dorm?!". But I really enjoyed getting to know people with all different backgrounds and stories - it was a lot more interesting than home, where everyone had exactly the same history.
    We live now in the DC area, and my kids are exposed to a lot of different races, backgrounds, and languages. I think that will help them.

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