Saturday, October 14, 2017

Adam Ruins the Suburbs: a review

This video clip is an EXCELLENT short explanation of a complex social problem: systemic racism in American housing and public education.

As a white person who has lived the majority of my life in suburban Kansas City, from 1977 to today, what's most fascinating to me is the trend of white gentrification occurring in some areas of downtown Kansas City while the suburban neighborhood where I live has evolved into a diverse community of Whites, Latinos, African-Americans, and lots of interracial families. When I was a kid, it was the opposite: mostly white kids lived in the suburbs and mostly non-white folks lived in downtown Kansas City.

I love seeing the mix of diverse kids at my daughter's suburban public school. It's so different than my public school experience in the 70s and 80s where my first encounter with a black kid at school was in sixth grade. 1982.

When my friend invited me for a sleepover at her apartment, I met her mom, who was just as white as my own mother. I asked where her father was, and all she said was that she never knew him and her mom wouldn't talk about him. So this black friend of mine, turns out, is actually biracial, and she didn't grow up around her black family or experience living in a black community. In fact, she was kinda racist. Or, maybe not racist, but self-loathing. She would make comments about how she wished she had pretty, straight blonde hair like me. For the record: I did not have blonde hair in sixth grade. It was brown. Not even "dishwater blonde" as my mom described my hair when I was younger. But for some reason my friend insisted that I had blonde hair. I didn't care. I'd say things like, "I don't know what's the big deal about my hair. Your hair is pretty, too" but she never seemed to hear me. I realize now that it was my white privilege that allowed me to not "know what's the big deal about my hair." Actually, I even knew then. I was telling what my mom would call a "white lie" meaning that I was lying, yes, but only to protect someone's feelings from getting hurt. White lie. What a stupid term. How woven into the fabric of our daily lives is systemic racism.

My friend and I lost touch after my family moved to another suburb and I switched schools. We ran into each other four years later, when we were sophomores in high school. 1986. My friend pulled out her wallet and showed me a picture of a brown-headed, smiling toddler.

"That's my daughter. She's almost three. Her daddy's really nice to me. And, look! She has blonde hair!"

I was horrified. I didn't know what to say. Almost three? So, my friend had a baby when she was thirteen? Can a thirteen year old consent to sex? All I knew is that whenever someone who seemed to me to be too young to have a child would get pregnant, my mom would say, "Well, Mary was young when she had Jesus. That's how it was back in those days."

Back in those days? You mean now.

Those days. Not so long ago.

Our society is as imperfect as it is ever-evolving. My daughter is going to school with and growing up around kids from all kinds of cultures within our mainstream society. It's the best education I can give her. Demographics show that some of my white neighbors have decided to move out south or west, or to downtown Kansas City. In reports where they are asked why, they inevitbly say so they can live in "a better neighborhood."

A better neighborhood? What on earth do you think they mean by that?

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