Race matters too; but saying that is hard


In response to my post about how to choose where to live, Ayann wrote a comment saying that race is a factor as well. She’s right. And the truth is that my husband and I talked about race constantly during our decision making process because he is Latino and, therefore, so are my kids.

My husband has spent his life living in Los Angeles and New York City. I had to push very hard for him to move to Madison, Wisc., where the Latino population is less than 5%. My husband’s hesitancy to move to an all-white neighborhood is understandable. His family is almost all first-generation immigrants, and the discrimination I have seen them face is incredible. I would have never believed how ubiquitous it was until I had seen it myself.

I have written about how research shows that my children will face discrimination in the workplace because of their Latino last name. But I want to believe that they’ll be fine in Madison — that somehow goodness will prevail and people will not discriminate.

City ranker Richard Florida has a race index, sort of. He counts the gay population as a guideline for tolerance for new ideas and diversity of ideas. Madison did not score incredibly well on this index. Madison is no San Francisco, to be sure. But it’s not Confederate flag-flying either. Madison, like most of us, is somewhere in between.

One of the quirks of my marriage is that my husband routinely points out to me how I say racist things. I don’t even notice it until he shows me. But I am pretty sure that most people are saying racist things, even if they don’t mean to. I must be uncomfortable talking about this because I wrote a whole piece on my decision making process and didn’t mention race once.

One of the best things we can do to squash racism is to believe in ourselves and in our neighbors that we can beat it. I’m doing that as I move to Madison. Another thing that helps fight racism is talking about it. That’s something we can do right here.

11 replies
  1. KV
    KV says:

    I agree with your last statement that the way to remove racism is to talk onlyabout it. I think the newer generations are much more open to other cultures and races. Its part of the big world picture we have.

    On a side note, I think the optional questions about race should be removed from surveys, job applications, and the rest. The number you talked about, less than 5% of the population in Madison is Latino, was probably derived from one of the questionnaires filled out by people of Madison. Yes, asking race questions on surveys helps organizations measure their “diversity”, BUT, the numbers are also used to figure out the differences between races. You always hear about gaps between races: income, knowledge, political, etc. Recognizing differences is important, but sometimes I wonder if making us believe we’re so very different from one another is absolutely necessary. We are only racists if we are biased, and maybe this is how biases are created…

  2. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    Fascinating…I would never think of race as criteria in that kind of decision, except maybe in weighing general cultural diversity as a drawing card to the bigger cities.

    Growing up in Canada, the issues surrounding race seem to be totally different, though — I’m always surprised by the weight and intensity given to issues of race in the U.S. media. Perhaps it’s just naive of me to not think of it as a factor, and having never experienced discrimination myself means I’m somewhat blind to the reality of racism for most people.

  3. Ayann
    Ayann says:

    Responding to Jeremy’s post…Race is a big issue in every aspect of American life today, especially minorities. The USA has a deep history of discrimination starting w/Native American reservations, slavery…and though it’s hard for most to talk about, the lingering ramifications, unfortunately, are still quite prevalent today. And unfortunately, this affects school funding, employment, loans from financial institutions, etc. Bottom line – the whole socio-economic status of many minorites is largely attributed to the aformentioned discimination which plays a big part in where you want to live.

  4. Alison
    Alison says:

    Racism exists, whether we like it or not. My kids are mixed. I live in a city so we don’t have to spend our time fighting it. Sometimes I think it would be easier in another neighbourhood. (Yes, I’m Canadian.) A neighbourhood where the neighbours looked more like us. That was one of my main reasons for commenting earlier that your neighbourhood search will need as much research as your city search.

  5. Dylan Tweney
    Dylan Tweney says:

    Penelope, I’m glad you talked about the race issue. Our daughter is Black (and we’re white) so we have had to think about this issue a lot. I find the more you talk about race, the easier it gets. You have to be willing to be stupid about it too. As white people, we are so embedded in our racial privilege that we generally have no idea what’s really going on. I have gotten very used to saying dumb things.

    Anyhow: Factoring race in does make selecting a place to live a challenge. For example, Madison and Portland seem like great cities to me, but they’re so white that I’m afraid they wouldn’t be good for our kid. Richard Florida’s “using gayness as a proxy for diversity” is a cop-out that, I suspect, only a white person would consider legitimate.

  6. Darin
    Darin says:

    I’m from Madison, and although I’m white (that’s a liability these days ya know), I think Madison is a very progressive community, and most people who were worried about potential race issues will be pleasantly surprised.

    Unfortunately, the same can not be said for some of the surrounding communities. I have friends from Milwaukee and Chicago from college who were always reluctant to stay over at my place as they worried that my parents would give them trouble. However there was nothing of the same. Yet when I go to Milwaukee or Chicago with them, I notice the tension just walking around town.

    Certainly there are intolerant people in Madison just like anywhere else, but I think all-in-all we have a very open community, and all your concerns will be found wasted.

    Actually, this post is from many months ago, and I found your blog because it was mentioned in the local paper. Have your concerns gone out the door yet? If you’re interested in the Latino Community, there is Centro Hispano. I don’t know much about them, but a friend is involved and speaks highly of it. There is also a charter school, Nuestro Mundo which aims to raise bilingual children; depending on how old your children are, this may be of interest. At the very least, they could make some friends that they may be able to relate to.

  7. Lola
    Lola says:

    I belong to several list serves for entry level people in my profession. The overwhelming message is that one must be willing to relocate to get that first professional position after grad school. As a black woman the idea of living in certain states (south) or areas (rural or suburban) scares the crap out of me. Maybe my fears are exaggerated or maybe they are not and I’ll have to spend a few years lonely or uncomfortable to get my career started before I can move to a better area. We shall see.

  8. Lola
    Lola says:

    In order to advance my career I will be relocating from a city that is 40% black to a town that is 3% black. I am worried about feeling isolated and bored but I will make the effort to join a few activities so that I can get out and meet people with similar interests. I will be working for a university and college towns tend to be more tolerant then other small towns so I am hoping that works in my favor. The cost of living is cheaper and the position will be great for my resume. In a tough job market I willing to do this to get my foot in the door. Maybe I’ll love it, if I don’t I can move in 2-3 years and qualify for a non entry level position closer to home or to a city.

  9. Janice
    Janice says:

    Interesting post. Having grown up in Chicago and moved to Boston, I now realize how important race (i.e., culture) is in my life. Minorities aren’t only concerned about racism and discrimination when choosing to move to a new city. I believe the number one issue, from experience, is racial identity and community in the new city.

    Since living in Boston I never know how much I’d miss having a thriving black young professional social scene – clubs, networking events, neighborhoods, etc. In Boston, I’m almost always the only black person — in my apartment, work, on the bus. It’s isolating.

    Plus, I don’t FEEL culture. It’s as if the city lives in a progressive delusion of post-racialness: where minorities are just darkly shaded white persons. I find myself taking monthly trips to Brooklyn to be engulfed in flava (not flavor).

    Honestly, I’d rather live in the Deep South than to live in New England again. My next city will either be DC, NYC, Chicago, or Detroit.

  10. shari
    shari says:

    I was given a job offer in Madison, that would require me to relocate. I have been condo searching, pet searching, and looking up all the technical aspects of moving and race really never came up in my mind until I read this. I will be 22 when I move, and really what is slightly scary is being 22, single and all alone in a new city 20 hours away from anyone I know. I think race is only a factor if you make it out to be, even though I subconsciously I do think about race sometimes. I ride horses, and in NJ i can count 3 other black girls who I have met in 4 years who ride horses. I know there are people who will be rude, and my barn where my horse will be stabled at is going to be carefully screened to make sure that I feel comfortable there. I am not proud of doing it, but it makes me feel better. I know there are some states that I will never set foot, and that is just a fear that was instilled in me. I think if your looking for racism you will find it, so heres hoping that your and my future neighbors and coworkers are better that.

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