March 27, 2010

Is Boulder too “White”?

Stuff White People Like: Diversity.

I was at a Topo Ranch party in downtown Boulder last night, and a nice, blond (and yes, white) German lady was thinking about moving to Boulder.

Our mutual Indian-American friend was one of the few non-white guests at the party, along with my friend Tashi (half African-American, half White).

Why should I move to Boulder, she asked?

Our Indian-American buddy and myself went through the usual: Boulder’s a big town (lots to do, don’t get too bored), yet still a small city (still intimate, community-focused). We’re healthy (mountains five minutes outta town—five minutes on bike, that is), and were recently named Happiest City in US. Boulder is well-educated, has a strong tech and entrepreneurial community; we’re safe, green-minded, bicycle-friendly, etcetera.

But I could feel it coming: But there’s no diversity, she asked/stated. Actually, I think she said, gesturing around, But everyone’s white.

Actually, I said, we have a strong Latino population. And the student population, about 33% of our town’s population, is of course widely diverse. But yah, you generally only see “white” people.

Now why is that, you might ask? Well, first of all, unlike the East coast or the South, Colorado was never a slave state. That’s a good thing.

So, for better and worse, we don’t have a more or less indigenous black population.

And then, of course, and here’s where I could see I was gonna get in trouble, I charmingly said, and what do you mean by “white?!” People in this room (a room filled with art, laughter, a band playing in the window, children and my dog Redford, organic spirits and microbrews…a room filled with community) hail from everywhere. Is Jewish is the same as German, or Polish the same as Italian?

I have a little problem with the whole term “white.” Why? Only 60 years ago, just in order to do business in NYC, my grandpa had to change his name from Leplivech, or somesuch, to Lewis. My grandparents were raised in a world that saw the extermination of their Jewish brothers and sisters by “Aryans.” And, last I checked, and you may laugh, but “white” people hail from radically different cultures, some of which oppressed one another.

So don’t lump us all in together.

I may look like a Norman Rockwell Archetype on the outside. But on the inside, I was raised Buddhist, and poor. I remember a few of my burlier high school classmates made sure I knew they thought I was weird, and inferior, when I was a little freshman at a new fancy school on scholarship in Vermont.

And while I know that I look like a Boy Scout, and inevitably receive preferential treatment in ways I don’t fully realize, but ought to…well I also couldn’t complete Graduate School because, there were only scholarships available for minorities at the time. No matter that I had straight A’s, and my single momma was dirt poor. Do I support Affirmative Action, nevertheless? While it may be an imperfect program, hell yes. The troubles the Jewish side of my family went through are nothing compared with our Native American or African American friends. And I’m a passionate supporter of full and real rights for our GLBTQ friends, who are to this day oppressed by our own government and people.

So dig this, Nation: Boulder, which did its best to drive off and/or kill our Native American brothers and sisters 140 years ago, and is full of a strong Latino population, and a young and diverse student population, and mixed-breed “white” citizens from all corners of an ethnically troubled Europe and America and elsewhere…is just about as effed up, as fraught and complicated both culturally and historically, as any small city in the US.

Happy now, my new blond friend?

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