Why do I live here? Why do I live in a predominantly white, rural (at least to me), small town in the Midwest?
I live here because my job brought me here, because my son attends a school that mostly serves his needs (not as racially diverse as we would like), not because I want to live here.
I live here because to not live here means a 45- to 50-minute commute twice a day and when you are in your mid-40s and middle-income, that is a tough prospect long term.
I live here because my partner’s job is in this little town. I certainly don’t live here because of safety, not because of the low cost of housing, not because of the community. I live here because it’s practical. I live here for now.
On a day like Saturday, Aug. 12, when I sat in front of my TV watching the violence in Charlottesville, Va., it is lonely. On such a day you are acutely aware of the ways you are in white space because nobody mentions it when you go to a store or chat with people on the street.
My partner and I sit in our home with our outrage, I check on my children, talk to them about what is happening, and I talk to our friends and family from afar.
You think to yourself on these days, “What the hell am I doing here?” And then you become indignant about your right to be here. The right of your children to have space to run and experience what it is like to play in a wide-open space.
You are pissed that the “simplicity” of living, if one is not blessed with wealth or access to family being close by, has become what feels like the exclusive domain of whiteness.
You are acutely aware of all the ways the homogeneity of stolen rural spaces have become the breeding grounds of white supremacy. It isn’t simply about big pickup trucks, guns, flags or Trump stickers, or being taught to explicitly hate people. Rather it is the lack of relationships across difference that you witness.
It’s the child who stares at you at Target because they have never seen a black person up close; it’s the adults who touch your kid’s head before you can swat their hand away or say something; it’s the awareness of how you are the one always making the calls for play dates, not the other way around; it’s the recognition that most of the kids in the town will have deeper relationships with other children and families from other countries before they ever get to know the ones in their own.
These are the spaces that some would say “Make America Great.”
There is power that comes with the exclusivity of knowing the unwritten ways of being because you grew up in the town or a similar town, go to the right church, belong to the right social group or have the kid who behaves just right. The privileges that exist in white space — the good schools, the ability to avoid discomfort, the sheer access to space to grow your own food, as well as enough to feed your neighbors and then some — breed an expectation of what life should be with little regard to what is missing or what could be better.
People don’t witness suffering in this space without looking for it, and, to be clear, suffering abounds. But you wouldn’t know it when you walk down the street or drive around the town, unless you know where to look.
The violence of racism projected on the screen is a reminder of how extensive white supremacy is in its multiple forms. When you leave your house you are aware of the sympathetic smiles from the well-meaning white people who care that you are OK, while you are wondering, “What are they thinking about their people right now? Do they realize the ways they are breeding supremacy? Are my kids the only black kids their kids know?”
And then you go back to wondering how often they sacrificed their comfort because it was “practical,” and then the cycle of pondering your decision starts all over again.
Lisa Moore, of Northfield, is an assistant professor of social work and family studies.