12 April 2008

Ethnic Diversity in Maine

...or lack thereof.

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I lived many years in Colorado, Southern California, and Washington, D.C., each of which has a large variety of ethnic representation. Colorado has a large Hispanic population, as does California. California also has a large Asian-American population. Washington, D.C. has a large African-American population.

Each of these places has many other diverse backgrounds represented, as well – I’m not trying to leave anyone out – I just want to give you a sense of how they all differ from Maine.

Suffice it to say, I grew up and spent the first several years of my adult life in areas with rich ethnic diversity.

I am white and I was raised by parents who both grew up in Texas during the 1940s and 50s. THEY were raised by parents who were openly racist. If someone wasn’t Caucasian, then my grandparents had a name for them, and it usually wasn’t pretty.

My parents (thankfully) wanted to break that legacy and they taught (by example) my brother and me to accept, befriend, and love all races of people. In fact, the really great thing about my upbringing is that I was taught not even to notice color, race, or ethnic background. Though my parents were far from perfect (sorry, Mom and Dad) they did do THIS right.

Yet when my husband and I came to Maine with three little children, I noticed that most of the people were white. Again, not all, but let’s face it, the vast majority of Maine is white. There is little ethnic diversity here.

This greatly concerned me. How was I supposed to raise children who wouldn’t see color when there was so little color for them NOT to see? Would they grow up to be ethnocentric? Would they be uncomfortable around people who were not white? Worst of all, would they judge or look down on others based on their ethnic or racial differences?

Well, I soon learned that it wasn’t so much about my kids’ experiences, but rather, the way I taught them to think. Call me paranoid, but I spent a good part of our early homeschooling years trying to educate my children about ethnic diversity. And I think they’ve turned out ok.

I’ve never seen any racism in my little circles in Maine, but I know it’s out there. It’s nothing like what I saw the year I lived in Texas during college. I was appalled at how I saw an African-American guy treated by a couple of white guys on a Christian college campus. Totally appalled. It haunts me still.

Of course that was 20 years ago, and in the South. I’d not only be appalled, but shocked if I heard of that kind of behavior here in Maine. Am I completely ignorant? I don’t think so.

While racism and prejudice will always exist, I think Mainers are on top of it. The schools all preach diversity. My son, who is an R.A. at a local university, is required to be on the diversity committee. He tells me he never sees racism, and that actually the diversity committee is mostly concerned about how to treat homosexuals... which is a whole ‘nuther subject that I’ll just have to address some other time.

Anyway, even though I’m sure, like my own parents, I’ve ruined my kids and given them countless reasons to need therapy later in life, hopefully they won’t be judgmental or prejudiced in their insanity.

Copyright © 2008 - Paulla Estes

4 comments:

LSKcrochet said...

A former co-worker of mines vacationed yearly in Maine. Everytime, that she came back she would bring me a light house and suggest that I too, go vacation in Maine. I never had the heart to tell her that I would be uncomfortable being around a prodominatly "white", community.

I live in a SUPER diverse community. There are several nationalities and cultures. Interacial marriages and biracial children on each block. We wanted to move here so that we could allow our children to experience diversity at it's best. This wasn't a priority until we had a bad experience at our previous residence.

I'm sure you will do your best to instill good values and human kindness in your children regardless where you live. You would have never written this post if that was not on your heart. God Bless! Toy

Laura said...

Kudos to you for teaching your children about the value of diversity. Given the vast influx of tourists in the summer, you'd think there would problems with racism here, but I have witnessed very little. In all the years I've lived here, I have only seen one story in the news about racism. Unfortunately, it was something that happened in my town and was very ugly. Fortunately, the community rallied around the victim.

Paulla said...

Toy, I'm glad you live in a good place for you - that's what's important. But if you ever DO want to visit Maine, please let me know - I have a whole slew of friends who would make you and your family feel very welcome!

I do understand - as much as I could, I suppose - my best friend in the world died nearly two years ago. She was black and I am white and we were quite a pair. She used to tell me that no matter how much I tried to "get it", that I just didn't get it because I couldn't wear her skin. She was often uncomfortable doing certain things or going places - that wouldn't have occured to me to be a discomfort. So all that to say, I do understand on one level.

Laura, I hadn't thought about tourism bringing in racism - good point. Also, I'm glad to hear that your community, as a whole, didn't tolerate the racism.

Thanks for the thoughts, friends. That's actually a great thing about the internet - we can get to know people, and really, we often don't have a clue as to what they look like or what "color" they are.

Tom said...

Diversity is a liberal buzzword that means absolutely nothing. People need to be judged as individuals, not as a group. If there is a white person who is a dirtbag no-good welfare living moron, there is no difference between that white person and any other ethnicity in the same situation. It's about people and their contribution to society. If they can't contribute because of health, illness, etc. then I can understand; up to a point. For example, a 350 pound person regardless of race on welfare eating at a fast-food restaurant probably has more to do with their own plight than outside sources. Teaching kids that they are to "automatically" accept and understand all people regardless of race is unrealistic. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, for sure. But call it what it is. If someone is a jerk, they're a jerk. Color of skin or ethnic background isn't an issue. I just don't subscribe to the "everyone is equal" stance. Everyone is NOT equal. If we were, then I'd have Donald Trump's money and so would you. Judge people for who they are individually and what they do. Not automatically assume they're just peachy keen because of some ethnic misnomer.