Why should the lack of diversity in a setting bother me?
This is one of those unsettling questions I have been asking myself for which I have no ready answer. It was triggered this time by a brief overnight foray into the Shenandoah Mountains with my wife. With our daughter Rosie in Canada on an extended field trip, we had an opportunity to escape to a B&B. Because we hadn’t done much planning in advance our selection was somewhat limited. We ended up in the Rose Room at the Cross Roads Inn, in downtown New Market, Virginia.
I knew where I was going and felt prepared. This is God’s country. Off came the antiwar bumper stickers that were now pretty pointless anyhow and might well cause a brick through my car window. The further you get from D.C. the more you feel the old South surround you. Maybe it is every highway seeming to be named after General Lee or General Jackson. Maybe it is grits on the menu. Maybe it is the churches every few miles on even the most remote roads. Or maybe it is the way the people become more and more Wonder Bread the further west you go.
New Market is not a large town nor does it have much in the way of diverse dining experiences. A frozen custard stand and a Godfather’s Pizza counter wasn’t quite what we had in mind for dinner. However there was the Shenvalee Country Club (a play on “Shenandoah Valley”, no doubt) down the street that offered casual dining and decent food. So we went there, although it was hard to find a parking space because we were dodging golf carts.
We were shown to a large dining room and elected for the buffet dinner. At $15.95 it was a pretty good deal: the food was better than average and the guy at the carving board was generous with the cuts of prime rib he was handing out. Our waitress was very attentive; I couldn’t take more than a few sips of coffee before she refilled my cup. And it certainly was a pleasant place with quiet and lovely green grass to look at outside the dining room window.
Still, I felt like I had hives. And it took me a while to figure out why. I was back in the 50s. I was in Leave it to Beaver Land. At first it was the lack of African Americans I noticed. But the more I looked around the weirder it got. There was no one of ANY color here at all. Not one of the hundred or so patrons. Not one of the waitresses. Not one person on the course or driving range. No blacks. No Hispanics. No Americans of oriental ancestry. Just lots and lots of WASPs, many right off the course, many with large nice white Wonder bread families in tow.
I only remember feeling this way once before, some seven years earlier when I was in Salt Lake City. Except actually I saw a little color there. There were a couple Native Americans hanging around the street corners in Salt Lake City. Otherwise it was Wonder Bread City: a whole city full of happy, prosperous, family-oriented white largely Mormon types.
At the Shenvalee Restaurant it was Jarhead City. Crew cuts were in. Most of the people looked retired, military or ex-military. Some of the golfers were reasonably svelte, but most were overweight or obese. On the other hand they all seemed to be good people. There were no crying brats. The kids were well behaved. The people were friendly.
So why was I getting a case of the hives? After all I grew up in Wonder Bread land too. Endwell, New York in the 1960s was just like this country club. Maybe people didn’t make as much money. But I was in tenth grade before I recall seeing a black person. There were no Hispanics. There were probably a couple Orientals but I don’t remember any. (I will note that in 2000 I returned to the area for a short visit and did find some diversity; the people who ran our hotel were Middle Eastern.)
I’ve been out of Kansas too long, I guess. The Washington D.C. area is nothing if not culturally diverse. Now I do live in a predominantly WASPish sort of community, but we do have at least a large smattering of people of color. It’s not unusual to go running and see some woman in a sari walking down the street.
And it’s not like I don’t generally hang around with my own race. I have African Americans here at work I work well with but at the end of the day we go back to our separate communities. The UU church I attend has exactly one black member. (Hey, at least the man heading the denomination is African American!) But I don’t feel I am prejudiced on the basis of race, sex or religion.
I do wonder though if I am prejudiced against my own race. Or maybe I am prejudiced against those with strongly conservative values who look like me. At the Shenvalee Restaurant I felt in the minority, but I also felt cloaked. Here I was a liberal, agnostic anti-war liberal in the midst of a group I perceived to be conservative, military, rich and overly Republican. Maybe that’s the issue and it’s not an issue of race.
Maybe. Or maybe it is also that I am “color expectant” now. It seems weird to me to be any place now where people of different colors and ethnicities are not intermingling. I would have bet that in the dining room of the Shevalee Restaurant there was not a Jewish person there either. I even wondered if it was a private country club that restricted membership based on race. I don’t know. It is probably not that kind of place but I suspect a person of color might have a hard time getting a membership there.
If I were colorblind then it would make no difference to me if 100 people in a restaurant were all WASPs. So I think I must be color expectant now. I want and expect people of all sorts and from all backgrounds to be wherever I am. And when I don’t have it, it seems as weird to me as it probably did when the first African Americans were bused to the local all white schools.
Am I showing some sort of reverse prejudice? Am I leaping to conclusions that I should not leap to? Your comments are appreciated.