"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, July 7, 2024

The Fallacy Of Diversity - Dim Sum, Tacos, And Shawarma

A boy like that
Who'd kill your brother
Forget that boy
And find another
One of your own kind
Stick to your own kind
A boy like that
Will give you sorrow
You'll meet another boy tomorrow
One of your own kind, Stick to your own kind

Lauren Cabot lived in the city and hated the idea of living in the suburbs.  The city, particularly the corner of it where she lived, was diverse, a potpourri of ethnic and racial groups, all mixed and congenial, sharing space and interests.  There were intellectuals from the university, working class Portagees, house painters, and Latino maids.  One could taste the cuisines of the world all within a few blocks.

It felt good to be in this very American, this marvelously complex, energetic, and forward-looking neighborhood. Suburbia on the other hand, was a vast wasteland of playgrounds, party stores, soccer fields and big box stores - anathema to the very soul and spirit she was enjoying in town.  

Every morning she happily rode her bicycle to Freeland Avenue, took the M3 into center city, and rubbed shoulders with maids, carpenters, and street cleaners. She would have it no other way.  She felt good about herself and generous to others.  On the M3 she wasn't a white, privileged girl from Beacon Hill, Wellesley, and Harvard, but simply one of the smorgasbord of Americans that made life worth living.  


Every night she had takeout - tacos, pho, curry, or shawarma.  Why cook when the cuisines of the world were right around the corner?  She tipped the delivery boy generously, knowing how hard he worked.  These immigrants were what made America strong and prosperous, and part of the diversity contract was giving back to the community. 

When she and her husband had a child, their small apartment felt like those that most of the immigrants shared - cramped and littered.  The baby squalled and howled just like the Salvadoran ones on Bridge Street, she got on her husband's nerves and he left for unexplained hours just like the absent black fathers in the ghetto. Both tired, nerve-wracked, and at the end of their ropes, they had no interest in cuisine.  

On her ride on the M3 now intermittent because of her childcare responsibilities, there was no romance in the tired-looking, indifferent lot of foreigners. They shoved their way off the bus, crowded their way on, and didn't smell all that good. 

'What am I doing here?', she asked herself.  As the bus wound its way through Azores-town, Little Syria, and 'North Carolina', the spreading black slum edging toward the nicer part of town, she saw things she never noticed before - trash on the street, men shoving women, open containers, and the smell of old grease. The restaurants were there just as they had always been, but she was sick and tired of the oily, rancid slop bagged and delivered to the apartment every night. 

What she wanted, although she was reluctant to admit it, was something very white - tablecloths, silver settings, bone china, Chippendale, Martha's Vineyard, country clubs, and cultured pearls.  She felt snookered by the whole idea of diversity so championed at Harvard.  What was so great about Cambridge in the first place?  It was no different than where she was now living.  

Diversity was no more than cheap food and riding busses with maids and leaf-blowers.  No one ever talked with a diverse person.  It was enough to look at them, to be an anonymous bit of  street traffic, to offer a 'gracias' or 'obrigado' to the occasional vendor. Diversity was an interesting display of huaraches, huipils, chador, and bling but little more.  

Hondurans, Iraqis, Laotians, and Khmer shared the sidewalk but went home to their own kind. What was Lauren doing here? Why wasn't she with her people?  Enough of this faux sentimentality about race, gender, and ethnicity.  It was time to return to Beacon Hill. 

An old, charming 18th century townhouse on the Hill would have to wait, however, but remained a metaphor; and for the time being the suburbs would have to do. 

By this time Lauren and her husband had made enough to buy in the near-in suburbs, and the one they chose was one of the wealthiest in the state, populated as it was by high-tech refugees from the city who like Lauren had gotten tired of the shabbiness, the trash, the increasing crime, and the homeless.  Diversity was taking its toll.  The Salvadoran gangs had expanded their turf, the ghetto was nastier than ever and spilling beyond its perimeter, and pockets of questionable Islamic 'faith' were more and more disturbing.

'This is my kind of diversity', Lauren said months after they had settled into the suburbs and their daughter was enrolled in the public school nearby.  Her class was well over half Chinese-American, children of tiger moms, mathematician fathers, Old World grandmothers, all with a work- and success-ethic bar none; the other half conservative white scholars, linguists, and investors.  

Let’s face it.  We like to be around our own kind.  Very few upper middle class white professionals are living anywhere near Anacostia, DC's deep inner city ghetto.  Gen X newcomers to the city live for a time with poor black families, but they know full well that it is only a matter of time before they are priced out and the neighborhood will become homogeneous again, but this time majority white professionals.

New York progressives like to look at diversity not live it.  They are content to dip into an ethnic neighborhood or two for dim sum and tamales and then return to the Upper West Side.

Everyone sticks together – white people, black people, gay people, professionals, wealthy people; and there is no reason to disrupt this natural, millennia-old tendency of likes to group with likes. There is no demonstrable advantage, profit, or gain from socio-cultural integration.  Too much has been made of sharing experiences of unlike people – encouraging the white, wealthy residents of one ward to look into the city's dysfunctional black ones.   

Lauren and her husband took to the suburbs like ducks to water.  Finally they were home, among their own kind, discussing AI, Kant, Kandinsky, and Shakespeare.  Now that was diversity. 

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