Monday, November 9, 2009

My Dream House

I grew up in a large house that my parents built on a couple acres of land in a northern Virgina. Beyond our property boundary was a pond and woods. Since there were no houses behind my house, the pond and the woods felt like an extension of our property. Since we lived on a cul-de-sac we also benefited from a bike bath that the town had put in to run from my neighborhood to several other neighborhoods and to the high school for kids who walked and biked to school. The bike path also lead to a basketball court and a creek. I have fond memories of riding my bike to my friends houses, walking to school for special events and wading in the water and playing basketball with my friends and family. We always had parties and barbecues at our house because it was a great location. I couldn't have asked for a better living situation.

Unfortunately, developers bought the property behind my house a couple years before my family moved out. They drained the pond and cleared out some of the wooded areas to make room for additional housing developments. The basketball court, creek and bike path are still there but perverts and other undesirables have taken over the wooded area surrounding the path so it isn't safe to explore any more. The man who bought our house ended up putting up a large fence to separate his property from these new unwelcome neighbors. I distinctly remember that the only houses that had fences when I was growing up had pools. It was sad to see that my idyllic little Virginia town now needed fences to protect its citizens from the outside world.

I have lived in apartments, townhouses and dorm rooms of various sizes over the years. I have lived in the city, in a college town, in both rich and poor suburbs of major cities and dealt with all the good and bad things that come with each of them but nothing has come close to the house that I grew up in. The house that I live in now is very close to what I want. It provides more than enough room for my husband and I and our furry family to live comfortably. We have about an acre of land, an in ground pool and live a short drive away from a medium-sized city.

The only problem is that I live in a large neighborhood with hundreds of houses and am surrounded by major roads on all sides. If I could move my house to a more rural location and at least triple our current acreage I would be much happier. Unfortunately, all the areas where my husband and I have visited that fit this mold are not very diverse.

When my husband and I go to events in these towns I rarely see another non-white person and am blatantly stared at by complete strangers. When running in road races in these towns, I have seen people cheering for everyone in the race stop clapping when I pass by and avert their eyes only to hear the clapping start again after I pass. I try to say hello to everyone that stares at me but am often met with a blank stare. Didn't their mothers teach them that staring was rude? And be clear here, I'm not talking about children (while that happens as well) I am talking about adults.

Even people in the neighborhood that I live in now often express their surprise that I am educated and friendly. Apparently I do not live up to the stereotypes that they have collected after years of ignorant media images. The Cosby Show, A Different World, The Fresh Prince, these are all completely contradictory to the lives that some white people seem to think that black people live. I bought my house before I met my husband so the looks and comments that I got from contractors, neighbors, etc, while generally not blatantly racist, were completely ignorant and offensive. I'd like to think that I'm just being paranoid but my husband and friends have noticed these things when they're with me as well. I don't want to give the impression that these things happen every day or that no one is friendly but the ignorant, unfriendly people have a much greater impact on me. I can go weeks without a problem and then will be slapped in the face with such blatant racism that it makes me want to go in my house and never come out.

The beauty of Northern Virgina and many of the Washington, D.C. suburbs is that class is primarily dictated by money and not race. The D.C. suburbs are filled with politicians, diplomats, college professors and various other professionals who want a short commute to the city but don't want to live there. I was exposed to rich, middle class and lower income people among all races growing up. While there were plenty of incidents of people being racist towards me or my friends and family, I never felt like I wouldn't be able to live somewhere because of my race. The general openness of the most people outweighed the negativity of the ignorant few.

My husband and I have discussed moving closer to Rochester or Buffalo, much larger cities in upstate New York. Aside from the increased racial diversity, living close to a bigger city will also account for some of Syracuse's other shortcomings. The short list includes: bigger airports with cheaper flights and more possible destinations, a better selection of concerts and cultural events, a bigger selection of national restaurant and retail chains, black hair salons and stores that sell ethnic skin and beauty products, more job opportunities, alternative medical facilities and more social groups and clubs. We frequently drive for 90 minutes or more for many of these things.

Sadly in making this decision we will never be able to live as far from the city as we would like. I'm getting tired of being the ambassador for black people. Just once I'd like to move somewhere where people don't consider me a credit to my race, the exception to some rule, not like other black people, etc. It's hard to convey to other people how difficult it is to go through life listening to people talk about how racism is dead when I still deal with it on a regular basis. No matter how successful I am financially, I will never be able to live any where that I want without serious consequences to my emotional well being and that is depressing.

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