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We Refuse to Raise Our Daughter Just Anywhere

Photograph by Twenty20

Seven years ago, I moved to the town I live in now out of love. Well, that's partially true. Most of it was love—the rest was practicality mixed with a soupçon of laziness.

My now-wife Rachel and I had just gotten engaged and, one snowy February morning, I woke up in her condo, took a look outside and said, "Why am I going to drive back to my place?" That was all the push I needed.

Three months later I was completely moved in.

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It wasn't an ideal situation for me; I had enjoyed living in the town I was in for more than 11 years, getting to know people and being able to walk to downtown shops, bars and restaurants from my rent-controlled apartment. The train into New York was a half-block away. But because Rachel owned her condo, it made more sense for me to move south to a town that had no downtown, lots of suburban traffic, and where the closest train station was a 10-minute drive away.

I remember defiantly telling her, "I'm only going to live here for a year, and then we're going to need to look for a house somewhere with a real downtown."

For various reasons, of course, that never happened, and my demand seems laughable in retrospect. I got used to our location, found a good place for lunch and even started to get to know our neighbors.

Now there's really no place I'd rather be, and that's mostly because of my 15-month-old daughter, Evyn.

Evy is black, a combination of Jamaican and African American. (We think. The latter is up in the air, because we have no records from her birth father). Rachel and I are not African American. But the condo complex we live in, along with the town we're in, is one of the most diverse in the area. In our little eight-condo building alone, we live with African Americans, Indians, Latinos, Middle Easterners and people who are multiracial.

What we've found is that a lot of towns that claim to be diverse are really "faux-diverse," with the various populations living in their own neighborhoods and frequenting specific businesses.

One of the things we've realized about our town is that it's truly diverse, which is rare even in a supposedly progressive state like New Jersey. People of differing races live side by side, whether the neighborhood is full of huge McMansions or tiny apartments, and local businesses attract people from all parts of town.

What we've found is that a lot of towns that claim to be diverse are really "faux-diverse," with the various populations living in their own neighborhoods and frequenting specific businesses. In my former town, for instance, I rarely saw black people walk around downtown, and Caucasians rarely frequented the Latino part of town, even though they were all a few blocks from each other.

Moving to a town with "faux-diversity" would be a disservice to Evy. Granted, any kind of diversity is welcome, even if it's just in the school system. My brother and I were the only Jewish kids in our school, for instance, and I hated being left out of holiday celebrations, missing picture days to go to Rosh Hashanah services or being looked at by my classmates as the spokesman for the entire religion. But Evy also needs to have adult role models whom she can identify with, and that's hard to accomplish when everyone we encounter in other towns looks like her parents.

So, unless the school system in our town turns out to be atrocious, we're likely staying put.

That notion has really been brought home to us now that we're looking for some part-time daycare for Evy for when she's around 18 months old. We mainly want her to start socializing, being exposed to different kids (and their germs) and learning how to play in a group. So we've been taking tours of daycare centers in our area. What's struck us is that not only are there kids of many colors playing with each other, but the staff was just as diverse. Schools we've toured that were closer to where Rachel works were much less so, which has eliminated them from consideration for us.

Why is it so important for Evy to have people who look like her as role models? Because as much as we love her, and as much as we're going to keep her connected to her culture and let her know what the world out there may be like for her, it's impossible for us to know what it's like to be black. There are just some things about her life experience that will be different than ours, merely because of the color of her skin.

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We don't know what it's like to be followed around by a security guard when we walk around a clothing store, we don't know what it's like to be passed by a taxicab that doesn't want to pick us up or we have no personal experience with all of the tiny incidents of bias African Americans and other people of color have to face every single day. We also won't be able to relate to subtle cultural aspects that only people of color will truly understand. Evy having people who can set an example for her and guide her is crucial for her to not grow up feeling completely disconnected and caught in between two worlds.

So, unless the school system in our town turns out to be atrocious, we're likely staying put. We may move to a place with a yard for her to play in, but we're going to try our hardest to stay within this town's borders. It's just too critical at this point, for Evy and for us, to move somewhere just because it has a cute downtown.

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