Friday, July 9, 2010

On Contrasts and Color

Driving from New Hampshire south into Boston is figuratively equivalent to driving from segregated Mobile, Alabama to Eatonville, Florida, circa 1925. At first, I felt vaguely racist for noticing the increasing number of non-white people, for having an ear that is unaccustomed to foreign languages.

In June, I flew back to Seattle from the Boston Logan Airport via Baltimore. This was the first time I've been outside of the New England area since Christmas, and I was struck by how ethnically diverse the other parts of the country I saw actually were. Because while Boston does have its diversity, it's got nothing on Bodymore.

In Jamaica Plains, my sister's Boston neighborhood, a good portion of the population is of Hispanic or Latino descent. They come from countries such as the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Puerto Rico--very few are from Mexico, which is where many of the Hispanic population in Washington have their roots. I had my first Cuban sandwich of my life around the corner from Scarlet's condo, and walked past quinceanera dress shops and latino grocers and hair salons catering to Dominican women.

When driving into my sister's new neighborhood in Boston for the first time, I passed a car carrying four or five elderly African American women, and each one was wearing a beautiful black crown with flowers and veiling and feathers. I'm not sure if they were on their way to a funeral, wedding, or church, but it's surely not a sight I would ever see where I currently live.

In 2008, 95.5% of the State of New Hampshire's population was Caucasian. Of 48 students, I have not taught one who was non-white. Not a single one. In my previous classrooms, the white students were outnumbered--either by students from Korea or Taiwan, or by students whose parents emigrated from Northern Africa: Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia.

I found myself struggling last year as I taught essays by Malcolm X or Frederick Douglass to my students at UNH. Or rather, I found my students struggling with comprehension and even acceptance, and I struggled against their initial struggle. (Sorry, I just like the word struggle.) My peers who teach 401 joke that some of these students coming from Northern New Hampshire have never seen a non-white person before coming to university, and this is where their baffling views on race--or rather the lack thereof--come from.

But this joke is actually true in many cases. When Kili visited in the spring, she told me that in her entire time in New Hampshire, she saw only two other non-white people besides herself. She then realized that she had just seen the same person twice. And this in two of New Hampshire's largest and most diverse municipalities.

Oh, New England.

1 comment:

Chelsea said...

Where we are staying in Amsterdam right now, everyone in the building is black. Except the flat we are staying in (I'm not even joking). When we arrived for the first time, I was like...whoa. It's been a long time since I've been the ONLY white person in sight.