explorations of mindful fatherhood

The Only One: Bi-Racial in the Burbs


White_picket_fenceLike many families I know, ours recently committed urban flight.  We left the big city for the wide lawns and picket fences of the suburbs.  Like many young couples, my wife and I spent most of our adult lives in cities.  East Coast, West Coast, Rocky Mountain, and Midwest, we’ve lived all over.  With the birth of our son, we initially decided to stick it out in the city where everything was close and convenient.  We could walk to the grocery store, meet up with friends, pop by the coffee shop, and stroll to the park.  We had the best of both worlds: family life and city living.

Then Kindergarten hit.

Concerned about the reputation of our urban public schools, we put our son’s name in the hat for charter school drawings.  We even looked into some private options.  But neither the celestial nor financial stars aligned for us, and his Kindergarten year was spent in public school.  We were lucky enough to live in the catchment area for one of the “best” urban schools in the district, but it turned out to be a really rough year for our little guy.  He would report lots of yelling by teachers, kids getting choked on the playground, and students peeing themselves without the teacher noticing.  We tried our best as parents to volunteer and be active, but this was a challenge as well.

After that critical K-year, we were at a crossroads and decided to sell our house in the city and move to a neighboring suburb, renown for its high-performing schools.  This community is fairly affluent, but we were lucky enough to find a tiny home right on the edge of a developement of mini-mansions.  Our house looks as though one of the garages from the big homes was violently ripped away during a coastal hurricane and blown onto our lot.  Let’s just say that the SUVs down the block have more elbow room than we do.

This was a huge decision, not only because we were giving up our urban identity, but because we are a bi-racial family.  For us, leaving the city not only meant leaving its conveniences but also its color.  Ours wasn’t the most diverse or integrated of the East Coast cities, but at least there was a language of diversity.  There were enough people of color, international college kids, and diversity of sexual orientation and SES (among other diversities) that put us a bit more at ease.

Our suburb is 96.4% White.  So much so, that at nearly every community function or family outing , my wife and I play the tragic game of “The Only One,” in which we scan the crowd to see if she’s the only person of color in the crowd.  The vast majority of the time she is.  Now in our 8th month at the new house, the realization of aloneness is really sinking in for my wife.  So is the fear of constructing a life of racial isolation for our son.  This is the struggle we’re dealing with now.

I am White.  If I had married another White person, I likely would not see the world in the same way I do now.  I probably would have taken a lot more for granted.  My wife often laments that “White people can live anywhere.”  By this she means that a White person or a White family can move to just about any city or town in the US and find an area of safe harbor; an area where the majority of people look like them.  Therefore, race is hardly ever a deciding factor when a White person wrestles with the limitations of where they can comfortably live.  This isn’t the same for people/families of color.

If I hadn’t married into the family I did, I wouldn’t realize this struggle.  I’d likely regard it from an intellectual level: I’d know that it’s probably hard for a non-White person to live in mostly-White suburbs.  But it wouldn’t necessarily affect me and where I can live.  This struggle has now become my struggle.  I’m not saying that I feel the differences as viscerally as my wife or son.  I’m not saying that I can’t hide behind my White face.  I can still sit in a coffee shop by myself, and my Whiteness dissolves into the sea of other faces.  What I’m saying is that the concern and vigilance about the type of world I’m presenting to my child becomes more prominent in my mind.  I have become more mindful about the real limitations of his community and the trade-offs that families often make to preserve their children’s educations.

It’s a constant struggle to understand our place in this community, and it’s that struggle that keeps me mindful of my family, our surroundings, and my son’s perception of himself in the world.


Author: CJ Nigh

I am an East Coast writer with a Midwestern soul. Undead Dad is a blog about mindful fatherhood in the deadening age of hyper-technology and over-work. I also write science fiction for young adults.

6 thoughts on “The Only One: Bi-Racial in the Burbs

  1. That’s quite a trade-off; either a better education for your son or social comfort for your wife. My insight on this is limited, as I’ve only had to deal with the inherent bias against being a female farmer in a male-dominated industry. For what it’s worth, though, here’s my perspective; before your family arrived, most of your neighbors had little to no experience with people of color. What a great opportunity y’all have to expose and educate them to the limitless benefits of diversity. Some folks won’t have any interest in changing their views, of course, but hopefully the ones that embrace the change will make up for the jerks.

  2. I phrased that first comment badly, CJ. I should have said your family’s social comfort. This is what happens when I try to type before I’ve had sufficient amounts of coffee.

    • Thanks for your comments hillbilly! You are right that every community needs to start somewhere, and we can do our best by being active members of the town. I think it is tough at times when people of color feel like they have to be the educators, since it’s a weighty responsibility to bear. Hopefully we won’t run into too many jerks!

  3. my wife and i were in a slightly similar situation, living in a city and then moving out, although the circumstances of where we were and where we ended up were a little different. when choosing a neighborhood we definitely chose the more diverse part of town.

    • Thanks for the comment jaytee. It’s definitely difficult here when there’s no diverse part of town. I joke with my wife sometimes when we look at my son’s class picture, “Look at the all the diversity, this school has blonde boys and girls!”

  4. We, if we are truly alive, are all “pioneers” of some sort. Today, given the state of affairs on Earth, the stakes are higher than ever. Don’t lose your heart; it’s in the right place – challenging the status quo.

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