Original Post Nov. 2012:
The most shocking thing I’ve learned since moving to Michigan is that, apparently, 72% of the population of the U.S. is white. I had no idea. Maybe that’s because where I’m from, Prince George’s county Maryland, only 26% of the population is white. In addition to this reversal of typical U.S. racial divisions, Prince George’s county is also a decidedly affluent, upper-middle class county with the median household income at 70,000 and the median value of homes at 327,000. So, what’s even more confusing (and frustrating) for me here in Middle America, are the stark double divisions between race and class. I mean that, in PG County and the D.C. area in general, your racial identity does not necessarily indicate your socioeconomic class.
I don’t mean to romanticize the D.C. area. Racial and class divisions do exist there in very real ways. But there is something to be said for interacting constantly, on a more than daily basis, with people who don’t look like you and who have a range of similar or dissimilar life experiences to your own. Diversity is not just a buzzword there. It is still a buzzword, but it is also an actual lived experience that structures daily life and interactions with other people.
For most of the country, apparently race and class are closely tied together. I know I sound naive and ridiculous, but these are things I’m genuinely realizing firsthand for the first time. I have always read about and even witnessed and participated in racial oppression or class distinctions, but only now that I live in middle America do I realize how segregated privileged and oppressed groups of people actually are.
These realizations about race and class have had considerable influence on my understanding of that thing I’m always studying, education. I’ve started to see why people get so invested-in and worked-up over debates about education. Because usually discussions about education are really veiled (or not so veiled) discussions about race and class. I don’t have anything definitive to say about this topic except that I wish more people could and would experience “diversity” as something more than just a buzzword and realize that socioeconomic and racial equality (especially as regards education) can only be achieved by relinquishing some of your own privilege, which is not such a scary thing as people make it out to be. (I know that I’m saying all this from a place of privilege, so please excuse my ivory tower).
Addition as of July 2016:
This is a thing I wrote about four years ago when I moved from the DC area/east coast to Ann Arbor/Midwest—places that have very different (and not so different) race relations. I’m revisiting it now (bc it is still relevant) with the following additions: I am grateful to have been raised in a place where lots of different kinds of people live and work and play alongside one another. This has taught me that people who might look or think or believe differently than I do are not people to be feared but people to be loved and celebrated. Maybe even more important than living alongside and talking and listening alongside different kinds of people is the (Catholic) belief instilled in me by family, friends, peers, and strangers that all people are just that: people, equal in human dignity, and deserving of love and protection under the law. I hope too that being raised in the DMV (DC/MD/VA area) has taught me to shut up, listen, and check my privilege when the situation calls for it. But I know I still have work to do on this every single day. I believe it is largely the responsibility of white people (who most often benefit from a system of institutionalized violent racism) to mindfully listen to the experiences of people of color and to adjust their own white behaviors accordingly. To make space for the possibility of conversation across racial divides, and the possibility for equality.
One (and maybe the best) way to combat individual and institutionalized racism is to make the conscious decision to live and work and play with lots of different kinds of people who have a range of experiences similar to and different from your own and to love each human person equally as persons with dignity, persons with the right to their lives.