Maybe it's the cold weather coming in, but it's time to wax serious for a moment. Well, as serious as I can wax, anyway.
In the last couple of days, I have heard two interviews on NPR* and had a conversation that helped gel a thought that has been rattling around in my head for many months. It's about race and snoburbia.
And then I heard an interview with Eugene Robinson about his new book (which I can't wait to read), Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America. He talked about how the African American overclass really did not relate to the black underclass (whom he called "abandoned"). The two live their lives largely in separate spheres.
That same day, I was having a conversation with a Japanese woman who was newly arrived in snoburbia. She said she liked Bethesda because people don't treat her as a foreigner. When she went to another part of the country, she felt uncomfortable, and people stared at her and her family. They asked her probing questions.
This got me thinking about how race is treated in snoburbia. In the local snoburban high school, kids mix seemingly without regard to race. They think nothing of calling someone of another race, "hot." (Where and when I grew up, one would have kept such a thought to oneself.) My kids and their cohort have friends of white, African American, Asian, Middle Eastern and Latino family background. They don't talk about race at all. At all. Really. It just doesn't come up, except perhaps as a descriptor.
But when I look more closely at who all of these kids are, it becomes clearer. No matter the race, all of the children are advantaged, from educated parents. Some of the blacks and Latinos are children of government bureaucrats, scientists or diplomats. Some were born in another country. But they all have at least some money and educated parents.
Left out of the snoburban teen social groupings are black and Latino kids from the less fortunate neighborhood. (There are virtually no poor white or Asian kids around here.) Those kids also attend the same high school, but they talk and dress differently. They live in one or two pocket neighborhoods and ride the school bus. They don't go to the same parties or even to the same mall. They are more on MySpace than Facebook, so their online social interactions are limited; this aspect is rapidly changing, however, and may already have changed by the end of this paragraph.
When I talk to my friends who live in the area between the coasts about my blog, they usually make the assumption that I'm talking about and to white people. Then they immediately ask me if I have seen Stuff White People Like. (Well, of course I have seen it. The dude got a book deal out of it. I'm not bitter. And no, I am not going to link to it.)
It always strikes me as strange that there is an assumption of whiteness when people who don't live in snoburbia think of privilege. In snoburbia, no one would ask Vijay Iyer why he played jazz. However, if he were very poor and undereducated, people might wonder (not aloud) how he discovered jazz. Snoburbia is much less stratified by race (though, to be fair, white people are the majority).
If a family like the Obamas moved in next door (or into the White House), nobody would bat an eye. We know them. They are familiar. They are not wearing t-shirts with baggy sleeves down to their elbows or big, gold hoop earrings [see below]. They planted a garden and go to Sidwell, so they are of snoburbia.
Instead, what gets people around here in a complete tizzy? People in snoburbia are more upset that the Obamas may not have planted an organic garden. Quel scandale!
A note about my photo: I knew exactly what type of earrings I was looking for. So I typed into Google image search: "gold hoop earrings." Many pages of results later, I still could not find the right image. Very reluctantly (and I am even more hesitant to tell you), I typed in: "ghetto gold hoop earrings." The photo you see at the top was on the first page of results.
* the CliffsNotes of snoburbia