Some past comments on this blog have got me thinking: maybe we should just go ahead and plan on never moving from Jersey.
Don’t get me wrong: New Jersey is not my favorite place. It is certainly not all sunshine and roses. In fact, and the winters are cold and the summers are horribly hot. Last week we had a (weak) earthquake and just last night Hurricane Irene flooded our basement. Making all of this worse, the affordable housing in Northern Jersey is generally ancient and our house is a 1920’s colonial with no central air conditioning. Yeah! Plus, and I know many people will take offense to this, but I swear people are meaner here. I do not leave the house without seeing at least one angry confrontation between strangers over very small issues (bumping shopping carts, cheese on a sandwich when they SPECIFICALLY asked for NO cheese, failure to signal before changing lanes, etc.). My neighbor’s wife has literally never said hello to me despite my very friendly demeanor. But, I will say that New Jersey is not all bad.
When we lived in Montclair (for two years) there was rarely (if ever) a time when I was the only interracial mom/baby pair at the playground, the YMCA, or a restaurant…and, believe me, I paid attention. Our public pool in West Orange, where we moved last year, is THE most integrated public pool I have ever been to in my life, and I love that my son sees lifeguards of all hues, ages, and sizes. In my son’s preschool class there are at least five children that appear to be multiracial (I’m not going to assume they are all multiracial/biracial, although I know that at least three of them have a parent that looks white or Asian and a parent that looks African American). Probably a little less than half of the class appears white and the rest of the class is from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. He really…blends right in…and, I know from talking to my husband about being one of the only black students in his school, that this is something that may help him in feeling proud about his identity.
Plus, he is starting to notice differences in color. He calls me “yellow” and will tell me sometimes that someone “is yellow, like you, Mommy” when he is describing another white child (even one that is not even close to my skin complexion). So far, it doesn’t seem to be a topic that interests him that much. And I do wonder if he will become used to being one of several biracial students in any one place and be blindsided if we ever move (although we would never move to a community without considering whether there are integrated families in the area).
I also wonder if I am becoming complacent, because in our area I very rarely feel conspicuous as a member of a biracial family or as a mother of biracial children. My husband and I met and began dating in Williamsburg, VA, which is a lovely place…but it is not so racially progressive. Its lovely when your neighbor “warns” your landlord “the girls across the street let black ‘boys’ come over” (she thought he should be made aware, apparently). Then I lived in Chicago, where my poor husband (then boyfriend) could not get a cab after dark to save his life, even when he was wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase!
I know that my interest in this area for its progressive feel* is partially my own selfishness; it’s not just for our children. I don’t want to feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to look out of place. Hard to admit, but true. I’m also afraid that my children would be able to sense any discomfort I might have in a situation where we were made to feel out of place and feel…fear? Anger? Embarrassment? Shame? I’m not sure how they would experience that, and I’ve allowed myself to avoid that feeling for the most part. Our family is, quite simply: not unique around here. And, in the last year, I’ve noticed that I have started to feel a sense of entitlement: I feel entitled to feel like we belong and to be seen as what we are: just another family. I feel like we deserve not to be stared at or questioned. I have grown so accustomed to being one of many multiracial families that I am rarely even on the look out for nasty glares or comments. If people are shooting me looks, I’m not seeing them. I think, in many ways, being in an area where I am growing so confident in our right to be a family and in our right to love each other is a good thing. I hope that my children can feel my confidence and I hope that helps them build self-confidence, as well.
I also know that it’s not always going to be an easy road. I know that just because my husband and I feel comfortable here does not mean that my children will also feel comfortable here. I also understand that my views are influenced by my family’s socio-economic status and also by my being a white woman in a straight relationship. Feeling like I am a part of a more integrated community does not in any way mean that there is no racism here, or that race does not influence where you live, where you go to school, the policing of your neighborhood, your job opportunities, etc. I also know that we cannot avoid racism, which permeates into all areas in our country. But, I can’t help but feel a sense of community when its hard to spot him on a crowded playground because there are multiple children there that share his coloring and his curly/fluffy, dark-brown Mohawk. For now, I’m just going to try to enjoy it.
What do you think, readers? Do you feel comfortable in your community/neighborhood? Where are some places you would recommend or discourage for multiracial families? Do you think an integrated community is important for your family? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
*I completely understand that all members of the community might not feel the same way about the community as my husband and I. I know that this is easily the most racially integrated community I have ever lived in… and I grew up in the DC suburbs and my parents then moved to Hawaii (also very racially diverse with many multiracial families). My husband and I feel like we really fit in here, and given our past experiences, it means a lot to us.