Thursday, October 13, 2011

Living in the White, White Suburbs, Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

I love our neighbors.
And I mean (okay, so I only just met them, and only a couple of them, but) they are really great.
And it's only taken a few days to meet them.

They are so friendly.  When I walk down the street, pretty much anyone who is outside will stop me and have a full conversation with me.  It's amazing.  I've honestly never experienced this type of neighborly hospitality in my hometown suburb.

But it makes me wonder a couple things, as I continue to grapple with the cozy whiteness of where I'm living.

1) Would I experience the same hospitality if I were a person of color?

My gut reaction says, very sadly, no.  Probably not.  There is another extremely affluent suburb close by where I attended college (and where we now do ministry).  The black students have a saying about going out into the neighborhood, and it's called, "Walking While Black."  Their experience walking around the town is much different than mine.  I really couldn't put it in my own words, so here's a bit of what it means to say WWB (in the words of my friend):

"I'm referring to the feeling that many people of color experience when walking in an environment that is not predominantly of their race... I will grant you that this feeling can sometimes be attributed to my own innate sense of insecurity, the idea that people will somehow know that I don't belong here." (Just a side note - I totally feel like I don't belong here and do belong here at the same time.  But whether or not I feel a certain way about the place, I still look like I belong here, and that makes living here much easier for me than it would be for some of my friends.)  "Then there are other times when I'm certain that it has nothing to do with my insecurity and everything to do with an unjust reality... Walking around [these types of suburbs] can be intimidating without white friends... It doesn't matter where you were raised, at some point you will encounter and remember that you are Black and in some cases still not wanted around."  

The words of my friend echo in my head and am greeted again and again by my lovely neighbors, all the time thinking: What if I weren't white?  And why do I deserve such niceness based on the color of my skin?  (I don't.)

2) Why didn't I experience this same type of neighborly-ness in the last (extremely diverse) suburb I lived in?

Don't get me wrong -- people were friendly in our old neighborhood, and truthfully, we would love to move back there someday.  But it was much harder to make friends there.  People tended to be a bit shyer, and in many cases, there was a language barrier.  Still, the whole time I was living there, I so wanted the immediate connection with them that I am now experiencing with my new neighbors.  But it never happened.  Nothing was immediate and I admit, I didn't go out of my way.  I was shy.  I didn't know what to do.  I tried to make conversation when I could, but many times I just sort of smiled and kept walking.

Maybe the key to living in diverse neighborhoods and learning to love your neighbors well is planting there for the long haul.  Our time there was like the blink of an eye.  We barely had time to get the soil ready before we were out (and we didn't leave because we were looking to; God opened a really neat door for us to walk through).

I don't have a profound, succinct way to end this post, but since I want to encourage others to engage with this conversation, I'd like to hear from you:

Have you ever had an experience similar (or exactly like) WWB?  What was it like? 

If you haven't had that experience but are learning about it for the first time, does it change or challenge the way you see your own neighborhood?

For those of you that have lived in diverse neighborhoods, how did you connect with your neighbors?  What made the difference, and how has your life changed because of it?

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