The safety of the suburbs can seem desirable, but when bigotry dominates, these cozy feelings vanish.
My dad has lived in the same small town his entire life. He was born there, went to school there, got a job there, and unless some unforeseen circumstance should interrupt the future’s inevitability, he will die and be buried there. This is all by design. He’ll toy with alternative timelines in which he moves to Florida to become a professional scuba diver, floating through 100-year-old shipwrecks, but these feelings of longing leave quickly at the thought of moving away from his home.
When he visited me in New York for what he admitted would be both the first and last time, he made it a point to see Trump Tower. He was excited to visit his presidential candidate’s monstrous, horrendously outdated skyscraper. My feelings about ol’ Donald aside, they really are hideous buildings.
We caught up on family affairs, the Doberman my sister adopted and returned after it almost mauled her, and whatever else occupies my family’s time nowadays. Somehow, when it comes to my dad, the conversation always turns gruesomely political. “Gee, the weather sure is nice today,” I’ll comment. “Yeah, just don’t get a sunburn. Obamacare won’t pay for your melanoma treatments. Not unless you’re an illegal alien. Then they’ll practically fall over themselves to treat you. And you know who’d be paying for that?”
The small-town mentality has its perks. It’s nice to walk down the street and see the friendly smiles and warm “hellos”. I’m generalizing when I contest the good with the understanding that this same small-town mentality can foster misunderstanding and intolerance as well. Take my dad’s cozy village; they use phrases like “lily-white” as terms of endearment. When a person of color moves in down the street, they criticize the appearance of their home, saying, “see, they just have no respect for their property. There goes the neighborhood.”
Having lived in New York for two years now, I can see the difference in people’s mentalities clearly, though the Big Apple does have its bigoted pockets. But urban spaces don’t have to be the only setting for the development of empathy, tolerance, and understanding. There are surely those small towns that foster diversity and education towards differences, whether it be socioeconomic or racial differences. This is the key. It is crucial to educating oneself on how differently people are treated in the same system. This is what fosters the development of a tolerant community, and a socially progressive society at large.
The suburbs of Detroit, where I grew up, are a perfect example of this. After the race riots in the 1960’s, spurned on by the dislocation and general mistreatment of minority groups, the black community, in particular, the city fell into shambles. Crime and poverty increased to levels that are still widely unmatched. As the city burned, the white families that occupied the city fled to the safety of the suburbs, remembering only the violence and destruction they saw, and blaming the minority groups for it. That mentality was passed down to the next generation, and the generation after that, creating a disparity between the city and the suburbs that is starkly visible.
We were afraid of Detroit as kids. When a person of color would walk next to the car, we would hear the door locks click, and our eyes would follow them as we faced forward, pretending like we weren’t staring them down. I moved with my mom and my brother to a different suburb for elementary school, one that had incredible diversity. From kindergarten to 12th grade, I was exposed to a great deal of cultures, religions, races and sexual orientations. This was a blessing, I see that now. Comparing this to my father’s town, it’s sad to see the lack of progress and the lack of any desire to make progress. But some people just don’t see the need to walk in someone else’s shoes.
To say a person’s worldview is constructed solely based on their environment is not completely accurate. Experiences and other factors play a part. But it also cannot be an excuse for bigotry, though many times it is. We live in the age of information, and this frame of mind is no longer excusable. I’ve learned to offer my opinions constructively and take my family’s with respect, knowing that both parties are completely unreceptive to the other. In the end, it’d be easier to convince the wall to cook dinner than to change my father’s views. But I try nonetheless. Until this world changes, one lily-white, Doberman-regifting household at a time, that’s what must be done.