The implications of living in a multiethnic neighborhood

Carol and I live in a multiethnic neighborhood. Based on income, class, and cultural attitude, the people in our neighborhood are just the kind of people who would come to a Unitarian Universalist congregation. I’ll give a brief description of our neighborhood, and then based on our experience of living in our neighborhood I’ll tell you why I think they wouldn’t be welcome in most Unitarian Universalist congregations.

The people across the street are white, and the family has been living in the same house since it was built in the 1890s. The house next to us on one side was recently purchased by an immigrant Russian couple, and we often hear them speaking Russian to their Pug dog. Down the street are several houses and apartments with Latino families; the ones we know about are Mexican. There used to be a couple of African Americans living down the block, but I ahven’t seen them for a while. We see east Asian people walking down our street, and based on their looks (an unreliable way of determining ethnicity), I’d guess some of them are probably Filipino, Chinese, and Japanese.

The people in our neighborhood have a variety of professions. We know there are several gardeners in the neighborhood not just because our landlord hires one of them to take care of the yard, but also because they park their pickup trucks on the street. We know of an architect, an artist, a college student, and a test driver who tries out new cars. We all learned there was a child pornographer, but he’s in jail now. There’s a stay-at-home mom, a school bus driver who parks his bus on the street when he comes home for lunch, and several people who walk to the Caltrain station dressed in business casual. Continue reading “The implications of living in a multiethnic neighborhood”

Another experience of race

In her book Working-Class White: The Making and Unmaking of Race Relations, sociologist Monica McDermott offers an interesting perspective on the intersection of race and class, based on her field work in Atlanta and Boston. She writes:

The experience of whiteness in the Crescent [her Atlanta field work site] provides an intriguing example of the ways in which racial cues are bound up with class and the local context. “White” is typically conceived in terms of economic and social advantage and residence in predominantly white, affluent areas. What, then, becomes of the white racial identity of those whites who are poor or working class and live in an area with a substantial black, working-class population?

The results are not the standard ways in which whiteness typically functions in the United States — as invisible privilege, even for economically disadvantaged whites. Whiteness in this context does not simply function like “blackness” when the usual constellation of class and racial cues is reversed. Instead, whiteness becomes a badge of inferiority — one that is contingent upon a global view of whites as more deserving of nice neighborhoods and good jobs than blacks. It is also bound up with expectations about racial segregation and the characteristics of those who live in racially integrated areas.

Being a white person in this type of neighborhood is distinctly different from being a white person in a predominantly white area. The underlying assumption in the Crescent and Greenfield [the Boston field work site], held by both blacks and whites of various class backgrounds, was that the whites who lived and worked there were somehow defective; that the least capable whites were most likely to live among large numbers of poor and working-class blacks. As one of the working-class men studied by Lamont (1999) asserts, there “is no real reason for a white guy to be a failure.”

While McDermott is quite clear that her study is limited in scope because of her methodology, nevertheless it occurs to me that that class location probably always influences experiences of race.