So, yeah, Cape Cod…

July 25, 2007

…it’s a pretty white place. Hardly the whitest locale on earth or anything (Fun Fact: when you put “the whitest town on earth” into Google, references to Pfafftown, NC; Graham Hill, CA; Bozeman, MT; Westport, CT; Easton, CT; and Boise, ID all come up in the first page of references — two mentions for Connecticut!), but we definitely did not see many other black folks while we were there, or many people of color at all, really. A few of the service people at the resort were brown–either black or Latino/a–but they stayed behind the scenes, cleaning rooms, keeping the grounds, etc. All of the waiters and hostesses were white (though several had what sounded to us like Eastern European or Russian accents) and all of the greeters and front-desk staff were straight out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. Of course, most of the other resort guests were white too, but we did spot one family of Asians, and once, a tall black man with long, neatly groomed locs leaving the tennis courts as we arrived (you know there are rules about how many of us can be in close proximity in a very white place at one time–all three of us might have spontaneously combusted if he’d lingered).

ANYWAY, so I was thinking about how this resort town in Cape Cod is probably no whiter than, say, Pfafftown, NC–okay, I wasn’t really thinking of Pfafftown, NC, as I had never heard of it before Google brought it to my attention, but you know, substitute any smallish town in America for Pfafftown. The town in Cape Cod that we visited seemed like a lot of places in the US–a place where “minorities” are minorities in the truest sense of that term, a tiny fraction of the general population.

Clearly, G and I are spoiled by the incredible racial and ethnic diversity in NYC, because for us it was a real shock to be in a place like Cape Cod, where we, with our brown skin and kinky/curly hair, were a complete novelty. I should note, here, that we were treated wonderfully throughout our stay, and not just by hotel employees who are paid to make us feel welcome. Everyone we encountered off hotel grounds in Cape Cod was at least neutral, and in some cases downright friendly. But we felt very conspicuous there, in a way that we never do at home. Sure, this feeling of racial conspicuousness is technically our own “hang-up,” but to me it has larger ramifications.

These ramifications crystallized for me when I read Professor Zero’s recent blog post New Faculty, in which she poses this thought-provoking question: “Is the statement, ‘There may be too much racism here for me’ really code for ‘This town is too Black for me’?” She later elaborates on this idea in the post On Racism in Louisiana, speculating that maybe white people who claimed Louisiana was “too racist” for them really meant that “it is going to bring my racism out, and I do not want to look at that.”

These posts really resonated with me after we came back from vacation, because I started to wonder whether the majority of white Americans live in places like Cape Cod (well, you know, minus the beaches, antiques, and fried clams). Are most white people living in mostly white environments, worlds where it is a rare event to see a random black couple eating at your favorite restaurant, or swimming at your local pool, or walking around your neighborhood? If so, then it’s no wonder that the topic of racial difference remains such a minefield in the United States. It’s also no wonder that so many whites deny that racism remains a present-day problem–they aren’t really encountering enough black people to get a decent sense of things. (I got that link from ABW‘s Required Reading page, by the way)

Of course, G and I are not signing up to integrate our nearest super-white town any time soon (Westport and Easton residents are perhaps breathing a sigh of relief as I type this). In fact, we’ve pretty much decided that we’re going to have to stay in NYC forever, in spite of the fact that we’ll probably be renters for the rest of our lives. Not only so we can feel a little more comfortable in our brown skins, but also so our future kids aren’t the only black faces in the local elementary school classroom or neighborhood park.

See how I brought this post back around to our future kids? Full circle, my friends, fuuullll circle.