Monday, April 14, 2008

Race and place (off-topic)

So after 16 years of living in the midwest--a place I hated passionately for at least the first 6 or 7--I've come to appreciate some of its finer points. Like the access to nature. The relative cleanliness of my small city. The neighborly feeling on our block and on many blocks.

I'm actually going to miss all that when we head east to Orange Country this summer. But there are things I won't miss, like the totally whitebread nature of our small city.

We bought a house this weekend (a house!) in the university neighborhood, which, unlike the one in this small midwestern city, is gritty and urban and integrated. I remember when we moved here from Manhattan's Lower East Side. I remember thinking, Where are all the African American people? They're here, of course, but there's not much integration here. People divide along race and class lines. I don't think I've made a single black friend since moving to the Midwest.

On our new block, on a chilly Saturday afternoon, we saw two kids on bikes. One was learning to ride. The other was running along beside her friend, holding on. Both were black. Both were adorable. A few minutes later we were able to meet one of the families on the street, a white couple in their late 50s with two soon-to-be-adopted African American daughters, former foster children. They were friendly-ish, and I'm looking forward to getting to know their family better.

Right now, our move seems scary and ridiculous. I mean, why change everything when we're relatively comfortable? So what if I don't love my job? How do I know I'll like the new one any better?**

But another part of me looks forward to adventure and change and challenge. Or at least it will when I can shake this damn midwestern flu we've all had going for weeks now.

Our new house has no fireplace (even though we've hardly used ours I like having it) and very little yard, but it does have a pantry, which will be lovely once we've gutted and redone the kitchen, redone the roof, stripped the godawful paint off the woodwork, installed full-size toilets (for some reason the previous occupants put in teeny-tiny toilets; maybe they all had teeny-tiny tushies), redone the attic, propped up the carriage house in the backyard (which Mr. Professor is thrilled to have), and a few other things.

I'm going to grow some things in pots this year in the front yard. Next year we'll figure out how to put in some raised beds somewhere. I'm a rotten gardener but I love picking veggies out of the backyard.

There's a metaphor in here somewhere, but I'm too congested to figure it out.

**The boss thing I already know is better. My new department chair is fabulous--warm, friendly, outgoing, funny.


Rachel said...

Good luck in the move and the renovations.

That's one thing I also don't like about southern Ohio - it's so white bread America. I grew up in a county which is still largely rural. I had to check the U.S. Census for a story I wrote recently about Hispanic markets there, and the Census confirmed what I always suspected growing up: the county I lived in is still 96.9 percent white. It wasn't until I attended the university here that I finally encountered some diversity, but even so, students here tend towards racial lines, also.

Cincinnati has a long history of fraught race relations between white and black, but it's not always so, well, white and black. About a decade ago, the Hindu community in Cincinnati purchased land and built their one and only Cincinnati area temple in my old neighborhood. The residents there were outraged and tried to fight it bitterly to no avail. Had it been yet another Christian white church (there are already several), I doubt there would have been much of an uproar. And the Hindu folks there are so nice - I've gone in on more than one occasion and they've patiently explained Hinduism to me and answered all my questions.

Anytime people are exposed to diversity as the norm, I think they tend to be more accepting of other people - fat, women, people of color, poor people, etc...

mary said...

Well, it sounds like it's a done deal. Buying a house and making it a home is a huge life transition. No doubt it will be interesting after 16yrs. across the country.
Just moving 2 states away has me wondering what it will be like and preparing myself with a plan that it will be an adventure yet still proceeding with caution after being burnt by "life's jerks," here in my area. At least here I know my enemies! ; O And my friends!
Your chair sounds magical. I wish you a greeting that's warm, friendly, outgoing , and funny...much like your seat. ; )

Anonymous said...

The Syracuse area is really interesting - if you like the outdoors, make it your business to go to Green Lakes State Park and the Clark Reservation. And don't forget the Regional Farmer's Market (it's on the exit to the Carousel Mall) - you can find anything there and it runs all year round. When you want to get together, email me:

Anonymous said...

How exciting Harriet--a whole new chapter!

Rachel said...

Yeah, and I'm envious of your home projects. Brandon purchased our home before we met off of a house flipper, who did most of the renovation work. We actually really like home improvement projects - for our wedding, we asked that folks donate to Freedom to Marry, but if they didn't like our choice charity, we were registered at Lowe's (not really, I don't think they have a gift registry). But while there's always work to be done on the yard and landscaping, there's not much left to do in the interior. At least, not much we can afford to do at this time. A new kitchen will have to wait, unfortunately.

Unknown said...

Hey there, Ms. Brown,

Oh nuts. I have just discovered you and we are almost neighbors with so much and so very little in common. Have been fantasizing about our being buddies for the past week -- only to find out you are leaving?

Well, good luck and godspeed and good LORD do not get trapped in the household renovations as a path to salvation.

Your neighbor (who grew up on the other side of those tracts!)


Harriet said...

Rachel, how about you come over and take on the home projects? :-) I am so not a home renovation person. Frankly I'd live in an apartment if I could. But Mr. Professor has a lot of hobbies that take up a lot of room--woodworking, photography (well, that's not a hobby), blacksmithing. . . . And I like the neighborliness of a real street and real neighbors. And my daughters like that too.

Toby, thanks for the tips. I will follow up on them for sure! And I'm looking forward to meeting you.

Harriet said...

Hey TL,
We can still be buddies. I don't leave until August. :-) Read your blog and liked it. Especially the bats.

Unknown said...

Okay, harriet,

Orange and Sullivan counties, I do have a past there.

wanna be friends? I have never played bunco and only yesterday learned of our local mah jong contingent.

I live in that new urbanish community just down the street from where you are right now...

I grew up in the urban improvement, that our small city undertook years ago. The one where racially and socially diverse neighborhoods were torn down to make way for "urban gentrification".

This was a painful process that caused much heartache and little good. I think it did truly color my acceptance of New Urbanism.

14 cent Rexall donut fan,


Rachel said...

Haha, I'm not very skilled at home renovation. I don't read directions. At all. As I like to say, I have the vision and Brandon makes it a reality.

Anonymous said...

Oh Harriet - another east coaster looking down her nose at the midwest? I too came here from the east, lo these many years ago. My whole family now lives in the stretch of Hudson River valley between Albany and The City. I long to be with them, but NOT because they are living some fantastic multi-culti, diverse, gritty dream life. Because they are my family. And they live in a pretty "whitebread" part of the country too.

Don't look down on the midwest for what it lacks - you are pretty whit e yourself, you know - but look at what it has! Organic farms galore, a hugely superior selection of locally brewed beers, the friggin' Great Lakes, the Wisconsin Idea, did I mention Door County?

I grew up in and around New Haven, Washington DC, Hanover NH, but I'm very happy here too. Life and happiness are where you are, not somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

Wow, yeah. I have to say, although WI isn't in any way an ideal situation for diversity, this kind of feels like a slap to those of us who live here and who work to increase integration of cultures, ethnicities, and races. "Oh, you silly whitebread Midwesterners," indeed.

And lo, the irony: as I look out my window, there is a white child riding bikes down the block with her Hmong best friend.

Harriet said...

Yes, let's be friends! I have facebook now. I can Friend anyone. :-)

Agree that life and happiness are where you are, kpod. It's just that I will be glad to live more in the real world on that score. In the 16 years I've lived here I've been a lot of people's first Jew, and it got old really fast. And you know, I've never felt I really spoke the language here fluently, if you know what I mean. I'm always translating madly in my head. I think it will be different to be back east. But i guess I'll find out.

Rebecca, I would never say silly whitebread Midwesterners. I know many folks here who are idealistic and wonderful and as color blind as you can be when you only see folks who look exactly like you. That's the point.