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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.
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
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.
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.