Saturday, April 02, 2005

princess neck snap

There's been such a rash of postings on the parenting blogs lately about folks feeling that they want to move out of the city and into the suburbs, and their attendant fears of wall-to-wall whiteness, that I thought I'd post a somewhat opposing view of life in suburbia.

About seven years ago, when landisdad and I began to contemplate starting a family, we knew we would move out of the Bay Area and to the East Coast. The housing prices in SF and Oakland were already so out of control that we knew that we would never be able to afford a house, and we didn't want to try to raise a family in the two-bedroom that was stretching our finances as a childless couple, much less having to add the cost of daycare, baby supplies, etc. In addition to that, both of landisdad's parents were in the process of moving East, and we were faced with the prospect of entering parenthood with no nearby family support. Six years ago this month, we moved to the suburbs. The suburbs that were 3,000 miles away from the city landisdad grew up, and where we had lived together for four years.

So we moved, and the Bumblebee was born, and for a short time, while we looked for a house, we lived in a very crappy apartment in the town that we live in today. Landisdad didn't want to try to buy a house until he got to know the area (I grew up not terribly far away from where we live now), and we both didn't feel that we could buy a house at the same time that we were becominng new parents. We ended up moving into our house when the Bee was about nine months old, and this is the only house that either of our kids will remember as their childhood home.

One of the things that we took into account when we starting looking for a place to live was the diversity of the area. While our town is relatively diverse, we live two towns away from a place that is 95% white. Neither of us wanted our children to grow up in that environment, which would never challenge the extraordinary privilege that they were born into. So we stayed in place, in a town that is majority white, but has a growing black and Latino population. A town that has a growing gay and lesbian population. And a town that has a lot of tension over how it is changing, with much of the power (if you can call it that) still in the hands of whitefolks, who constantly express the fear that we are turning into the kind of place they (or their parents) fled twenty or thirty years ago.

But even living in this diverse little town, we have to constantly challenge our own privilege, in order to expose our kids to diversity. It's still extremely easy for us as white people to stay in a 'safe' zone, where we don't associate with those who are darker, or poorer, or different from us in significant ways.

One example of this is in the available daycare in the area. We went through a variety of in-home daycare providers when the Bee was a wee tot--a struggle I'll have to write about some other time. When she was about two, we decided that we couldn't deal with the drama anymore, and that she was ready to go into a daycare center. We looked at a few different centers (only those that were NAEYC-accredited). And we narrowed it down to two centers. Both were about equidistant to where we live. Both had low staff turnover and paid a living wage. But one of them was in a predominantly white community, and one was in a suburb that was largely minority. In the center that was in the white community, the Bee would be in a class that was entirely white--I think we only saw one child of color the whole time we were there. In the other center, she would be the only white child, with classmates who were biracial, black and Latino. Not the only white kid in her class, the only white kid in the entire center.

In the end, we decided to put her in the center where she was the only white kid. She thrived there, and we've never looked back. When the Sweet Potato was born, there was no question in my mind but that he would go there too. We didn't experiment with in-home babysitting, we just sent him into the infant room, and he's never gone anywhere else.

There's been some resistance to this plan from our families, particularly mine. My mom has told me that she thinks the Bee has learned aggressive behaviors there, because "those kids learn that at home." It makes me sad that my mom is a racist, though I didn't call her that at the time, but instead pointed out that the Bee was in trouble for fighting when she went to a totally white, middle-class babysitter--she came out of the womb fighting. But it reinforced my decision to keep sending my kids there, because I think it's only through deep experience with people of other races and backgrounds that we can overcome this kind of prejudice.

My kids have learned some interesting things that I never would have taught them, as a result of this experience. At one point about a year and a half ago, I took the Bee to work with me, at a place where all of my co-workers were Black or Latino. After witnessing her talent for the neck snap, one of my co-workers asked me, "where does that girl go to daycare, 'cause I know she didn't learn that at home." Another of my (now former) co-workers still laughs about the fact that my daughter, in pretending to do hairdressing, will talk about the need for hair grease. My son's first word was in Spanish (although unfortunately, since neither dh or I speak it, it took us a few weeks to figure that out).

I'm not trying to convince anyone to move out of the city (whatever city it is), or to jump into suburban life. It's not easy to make that decision, and it deserves your full attention. I do want to debunk the idea, though, that city life is always more diverse than suburban life. We still live in a country where it's very easy for whites who have a lot of privilege have the ability to avoid mixing with people who are different from them--regardless of what form that difference takes. It's our responsibility to work to overcome that privilege, for our children's sake, and the sake of our country's future, no matter where we live, or why we've chosen to live there.

• Posted By landismom @ 4/02/2005 12:13:00 PM
You've really done right by your kids! The thing about diversity and suburbs is that 86 percent of whites who live in suburbs live in areas that are overwhelmingly white. So while there are lots of suburbs that are not white, it is so easy for white folks to stay in the white bubble -- which is somewhat true in many cities too, as you point out.

And my experience is that for lots of white folks, black and brown mean "dangerous", regardless of the facts.
ITA with your comment about black and brown equalling dangerous for most white folks. I think that for a lot folks, there's also an equation that impoverished=criminal. I've spent time in what are called bad neighborhoods, and the thing I've mostly found are people who are poorer than me--not people who are more likely to be criminals. It drives me crazy when middle class white people are afraid to go into a neighborhood just because there are guys standing on the street corner or whatever.
GREAT post, Landismom - I agree 110%!
Jessica--thanks! It's nice to know that other folks don't think I'm crazy.
landismom, you're surely on the right track. It is only through education - and by education I mean exposing children to diversity - that we'll be able to fight racism & prejudice. We need more people like you. Parents who are not afraid to expose their kids to the realities of life.
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  2. My daughter is the Bumblebee. My son is the Sweet Potato. You'll have to ask their father.

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