Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the category “diversity”

Swimming Toward Segregation?

I encountered something unusual at my neighborhood pool on Memorial Day: It was segregated.

That might not be unusual in America, where the norm in many places would be all-black or all-white pools, not by rule anymore, but by demographics nonetheless.

But where I live is different – at least it’s supposed to be, and has been. I live in “the Next America,” the name visionary developer James Rouse gave to his socially engineered and meticulously planned community between Baltimore and Washington called Columbia.

Born out of the idealism and civil rights movement of the 1960s, Columbia was designed as a place where the typical practice of home builders and sellers intentionally blocking African-Americans from buying in certain developments would not be tolerated. In its early days, interracial couples purposefully moved to Columbia, recognizing its acceptance of a union that was still taboo most everywhere else.

It was consciously planned and developed as a new type of suburban city that would foster racial harmony, social integration and cultural and economic diversity. Housing types were mixed in the same community, so lawyers and laborers would live side by side.

But if my Memorial Day experience is any indication, the best-laid plans are showing cracks in their foundation.

I had just completed a class in my graduate program called “Diversity Issues in Counseling,” so I have become more attuned to such issues. At 5:30 p.m. on a gorgeous, sunny holiday, it struck me after I swam my laps and relaxed on my chair — I was the only white at the pool, other than the lifeguards. I made a quick count: about 35 African-Americans and one Asian family.

The area within a mile of the pool is still quite diverse – there are certainly many white residents. Could this have been an aberration, a snapshot “census count” at the pool that would rarely be replicated? Certainly. Could it be that whites are less likely to go swimming than blacks on the whole? Probably not.

Or could this be a small, inconclusive and unscientific, yet observable sign that self-segregation is occurring, in a place that was established as the national antithesis to discrimination and segregation? With 23 pools in Columbia, could white families who live closest to my neighborhood pool be consciously choosing to go to another one? Maybe.

I cannot draw a reliable conclusion from this miniscule sample, only make an observation and posePIC_0223 the question. However, in this same community, I have observed the trend of certain schools gaining higher proportions of minority students, as white families move to other districts.

We know race relations are a sensitive topic in America, and that open communications is an essential element to improve understanding, tolerance and connections. I don’t mean to stir the pot; only to shine a light.

Baltimore Riots Hit Closer to Home

Another liquor store -- apparently not my tennis partner's -- that was looted during Baltimore riots, including stolen ATM.

Another liquor store — apparently not my tennis partner’s — that was looted during Baltimore riots, including stolen ATM.

The Baltimore riots just became more personal.

As disturbing as it was to see Baltimore looted and burned from my living room in my suburban community 20 miles away, it was still anonymous rioters wreaking havoc on anonymous victims. That has changed.

I got an e-mail from my tennis community that a Korean-American who I have played against in tennis leagues, played with on the same team, and partnered with in doubles, was injured (I don’t know how seriously) and lost his business, a liquor store, to rioters.

The e-mail said that my one-time doubles partner “was knocked out by a brick, kicked, punched, batted, and pick-pocketed,” and that his wallet and cell phone were stolen. It continued: “His store was overrun by violent protestors who broke into his business, looted everything and eventually burned the store down. The store has since been boarded up by the Fire Department.  Everything is lost. Everything is ruined.”

The Wall Street Journal referred to my tennis partner’s tragedy in its April 28 story: “Several other fires burned around the city, including at Fireside North, a liquor store in West Baltimore, where a resident said the owner had given all his cash to looters before pleading unsuccessfully with them not to burn his shop. The shaken owner declined to comment.” Though the WSJ didn’t name the owner, a Korean online news organization did.

Overall, this is a tremendously complex situation that has played out in communities across the country that involves many factors including racism, police abuse of force, intergenerational poverty, lack of economic opportunity, failing educational systems, deplorable housing, lack of political will to address entrenched, systemic problems, hopelessness and isolation.

But what happened to my tennis partner is not complicated. It’s criminal, pure and simple. And those who perpetrated the violence and destruction should be apprehended and brought to justice – just like the Baltimore police officers who were responsible for the treatment and death of Freddie Gray, if they are found through the legal process to be culpable.

In my current graduate school class, Diversity Issues in Counseling, I read, “Black Like Me,” a book by a white author who took dermatological drugs that darkened his skin so he could experience life as a black man in the U.S. South and write about his daily life, observations and experiences. John Howard Griffin’s courageous experiment took place in 1959, a time of overt, oppressive and nearly intractable racism. But even 55 years later, one of his poignant observations still rings true, as demonstrated in Baltimore:

“I pray that the Negro will not miss his chance to rise to greatness, to build from the strength gained through his past suffering, and, above all, to rise beyond vengeance. If some spark does set the keg afire, it will be a senseless tragedy of ignorant against ignorant, injustice answering injustice – a holocaust that will drag down the innocent and right-thinking masses of human beings. Then we will all pay for not having cried for justice long ago.”

Griffin was right. Economic and social justice have been too long denied by a society too willing to look the other way while those unfortunate enough to be born into depraved and oppressive inner city blight conditions suffer through no fault of their own.

But he also was dead-on about the need to “rise beyond vengeance,” and about the “senseless tragedy” of “injustice answering injustice,” dragging down innocent and well-intentioned people through base behavior that harms the brave actions of those who dare to “rise to greatness” and address injustices through civil methods exemplified by the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

My tennis partner was an innocent who was dragged down by vengeance. I am angry at the City of Baltimore for that. I have no doubt that more could have and should have been done to protect him, and others who suffered similar losses at the hands of criminals exploiting a volatile situation. I hope he is able to recover physically and economically. Whether he would ever be able to recover trust in a community he served, and that shattered it – both the city’s power structure and the criminals who attacked him and his livelihood – would seem less likely.

You can help my tennis partner recover through a Go Fund Me site: http://gofundme.com/BaltimoreRiot

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