heterogeny vs. cultural support

I live in a town that is physically beautiful, relatively small, predominantly Caucasian, liberal, with a strong financial backbone of hidden wealth, retirees, and some tourism. I love it here. But – it’s a bubble. Sometimes I ask myself: is it right to live in a bubble? Am I confining myself to my “comfort zone” or is it proof I have sought out the resources I need for raising my family? Should I seek out where I feel comfortable and supported? Or should I move just to prove I can – even if that means uprooting my family and the community I’ve built?

I moved here in 1999 directly out of school – in fact, I hadn’t even completed the last few credits of my degree – for an engineering job. I retained the job and loved it; I fell further in love with the town. I begged my then-boyfriend to move to this lovely burg; after a couple years he finally did. We were married, had babies, I eventually quit the job, and then we tried to figure out who was going to work. Although single-earner prospects looked dim in Port Townsend, we stayed on (through a year of financial near-ruin that has been difficult to recover from). We are established here now, more or less. I have a love / hate relationship with the town and inherent culture itself; but the geography, lifestyle, and my group of friends is fiercely dear to me and I would be terribly sad to leave.

One of the complaints you will hear from some of our residents is that there is not enough diversity in Port Townsend. By this they mean: not enough racial diversity. This is an oft-voiced concept by the middle-class or educated elite I run across in conversation. I don’t need to detail the cultural enhancements we’d get from a more ethnically diverse culture: the music, customs, sights, sounds and smells of a true “melting pot”, which we do not have in terms of skin color and associated customs. But dig a little deeper and you will find the individuals loudly clamoring for diversity moved here, or continue to stay here, for the homogeny of belief and culture they found in Port Townsend: for a small town that enjoys many geographic beauties; a very nice co-op filled with organic produce, much of it locally grown; an artistic community of prolific talent who mysteriously have enough means to be a decidedly non-starving; a thriving Unitarian church of lovely, if somewhat intellectually snobbish, philanthropists.

What are these individuals who claim we need “diversity” really asking for? From those I’ve talked to, I haven’t been too impressed with their motives. Recently at a party I challenged a friend who claimed this desire. Racial diversity means cultural diverisity and different values; was she willing to be stymied in the grocery store by a throng of individuals on their cell phones speaking loudly in Korean? Was she willing to “suffer” ghettos (of which we currently have none in town)? How about being neighbors to a family that lived with a pile of old household items in the yard – because that was an acceptable livable norm in their culture of origin? Did this desire for “diversity” extend to right-wing rednecks? Finally my friend said, “Well, I want more people like me who share my beliefs and such but are, you know, racially diverse.”

Ponder the implications behind that statement for a moment; this mindset seems to want the status or claim of a “diverse” community so they can satisfy themselves they have met some sort of Progressive standard for themselves. This person is not, in fact, too terribly interested in experiencing culture clash but merely wants the progressive accolades of a heterogeneous culture without the pesky “work” of living in it.

Another example: this summer I was working alongside a young matron raised in the South. I overheard her discussing how horribly racist her homestate was. “People were offended because we had black friends,” she says, her voice ringing with righteous pride at her enlightened attitude. I’m thinking, OK, so you hated the oppressive bigotry you experienced in the Deep South. So you move to a town with half a percent black population. What a great solution!

These individuals who so loudly voice a desire for diversity – as if the rest of our burg has somehow failed in their inability to ship in our brown-skinned fellow earthlings – will they enjoy Mexican gang activity or women who wear burqas and believe themselves under the total headship of their husband? Do they realize that being brown-skinned often means being economically disadvantaged; being poor often harbors the institutions of fast food (which we keep out of our town), Walmart, and affordable daycare (our programs are generally high-cost and lofty in ideals, calling themselves “schools”). No: please give them rather the Mexi-cart food at the Farmer’s Market, the quaint ethic remnants of henna dyes sold at our co-op. That is truly where they are comfortable; that is what inspires my bitterness and skepticism for their ideals. These same people scorn the Poor White in town, those who venture to WIC and have too many grubby babies wearing pilled-up footie pajamas and buying formula – these families are eschewed as quasi-Untouchables by the so-called “pro-diversity” elite classes in town.

This brings me to my next point: what diversity do we have in our burg*? We have social class diversity: besides the independently wealthy / comfortable we have government jobs (the second-largest conglomerate employer in the county, I believe); many tradespeople, artisans, and service workers – boat-builders, carpenters, landscapers and a large flock of those who seek seasonal employment working sometimes three jobs as waitress, bartender, and barista biking to work, sometimes saving up for travel in the off-season. We have WIC and food bank families and a severe meth problem. Despite a relatively high cost of living and lower relative poverty rate we, as a township, truly are not a Shangri-la of comfortable Birkenstocks and biodiesel cars.

This brings me to my frustration and confusion, because most of the people who have expressed desire for this “diversity” are doing little to nothing about the issues of our citizens of lower social and economic classes: job security, lack of health benefits, co-parenting as a community, elminating the scourge of meth. I don’t even mean supporting these people financialy or with helping hand programs; I mean comingling. Individuals in my peer group have claimed to me that our social set does not segregate or disallow the – to put it plainly – white trash moms to come to our playgroup; for some reason they just don’t (anyone experiencing the shivers of Queen-Bee speak?). Why don’t they, I wonder?

I am not trying to villianize the residents of this town or the circles I inhabit. Many of my peers truly do have a spirit for adventure and a desire to experience new people and cultures. I do not blame them if they forget to occasionally look within see what they can do in the here and now of Caucasian liberal homogenous culture. And I do not believe we should categorically shame people for self-segregating into a group that supports ones goals or lifestyle. There is a legitimacy to seeking likeness in ideals, diet, and lifestyle values. Particularly for those aspects of our lives we feel shaky a bout and need support in: the vegan, the born-again Christian, the career mom; one who feels marginalized in their current culture. This individual has the right and should seek out those who can support, who can understand, and who can provide guidance. In the case of the individuals I’m mentioning here, they truly bel
ieve they want a more diverse culture; but paradoxially their quest for support in lifestyle choices has led them to a burg of likeminded clones – whether they like to admit it or not.

* As of the most recent Census data the racial makeup of the city was 93% white, 0.6% African American, 1.3% Native American, 1.3% Asian, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 0.9% other races, and 2.5% from two or more races.

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