Searching for Diversity in Scottsdale

Oct 21, 2020

In my early thirties, I lived in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, a predominately black community that was just beginning to be gentrified by the rise of the hipster’s era.   I did not qualify as a hipster as I register rather low on the hip meter and couldn’t bring myself to pay the high prices of ironic shirts found at Buffalo Exchange.

The five years I lived there formed many of the values, beliefs, and opinions that make me who I am today.  I was a minority in a sea of many colors. This wasn’t my first experience of being a minority.  I was raised in the predominately Hispanic city of Albuquerque, New Mexico.  In middle school, I earned the nickname, Cool Weda for Cool White Girl.   I wore the title proudly yet a constant reminder that I was one of the privileged white girls.

It’s 2015 and I have landed in beautiful San Marino, California.  This picturesque town is famous for the filming of Father of the Bride with its scrawling vines, white rose bushes, tree-lined streets, and picket fences.

With the high price tags on homes, the public schools are well funded, and donations from parents pour in like wine at a mommies’ book club. Our schools are some of the best in the nation, a far cry from the overcrowded schools in neighboring cities.  It is apparent to anybody paying attention that there is a geographical line of what socioeconomic class is offered a good education and which one will have to fight for it.

It’s late spring and a magnificent thunderstorm quenches our California drought.  I hurry from my car to the preschool gate to pick up Greysen from his half-day preschool.  Baby Ryann is happily hanging on my side as I run with Grey’s toddler-sized Lightning McQueen umbrella shielding us from the rain. 

As usual, I am late.  I hustle into the classroom, crossing my fingers that there is at least one other child sitting on the circle rug.  I swing open the door abruptly (in classic Kramer fashion) and foolishly attempt to slow my breathing, as not to make it evident that I have been running.  I awkwardly close the dripping umbrella while still hanging on tight to little Ryann.  This is done with about as much grace as Trump’s attempt to cram his umbrella through the door of Airforce One.

Grey is sitting on the rug alone but happily looking at a tractor book.   Yet again, I am the last mom.  It’s only five minutes after twelve! How in the Hell could the other moms have already come and gone? I mean, what kind of sadist person picks their toddler up early from half-day preschool? This is yet another reminder that I just don’t have my shit together enough for this picture-perfect town. 

“Mrs. Najafi, I’m glad we have a moment alone.   I want to chat with you,” his teacher says in her soft sweet voice.  A knot hits my stomach. I’m sure this is the time she will tell me they will begin implementing the $2 per minute late fee to teach me a lesson.  Little do they know, I don’t learn my lessons that easily. 

“Mrs. Najafi, we aren’t sure why, but Grey is uncomfortable with Jasmine.  When sitting next to her at storytime, he scoots to a different spot on the rug.  There have been no arguments between them but he seems nervous around her.”  

Grateful I won’t be charged an extra $10 a day I respond cheerfully, “hmm, I’ll ask him about it”.  

That night I sit down to talk to Greysen while he plays with his legos.  Like a child who has been waiting to spill a secret, he blurts out, “Her hair is crazy, and I’m scared it is going to get into my mouth!”

Jasmine is Black, with long, dark, frizzy hair.  It’s usually pulled back into two braids that fall just past her shoulders. At the end of the braids, her hair explodes out from the purple ties as if trying to escape from captivity, while little strands of squiggly baby hairs jump out from the tightly pulled braids on the top of her head.

Her hair isn’t the only thing that concerns Grey.  He wonders why her tongue is bubblegum pink in contrast to the chocolate skin surrounding her face. He asks me why the palms of her hands are almost the same as his, but then the rest of her is so dark.

Sadly, she is the only black girl Greysen has ever met and it appears that, given the opportunity, he would prefer to play with kids who look like him.  This quaint little town of ours is one of white privilege. Our society has “accidentally” made it incredibly challenging for minorities to live here, and thus he has had virtually no exposure to black people. Jasmine and her big sister found their way into the community by means of their new white foster parents.

I realize then that I have failed as a parent. Not only have I never exposed my son to People of Color through books, movies, and dinner conversations, but it is clear that I too don’t have any close black friends who have spent time with us in our home.  This realization humbles me as it is time for some self-inventory on my priorities in life and child-rearing.

The next day I reach out to the foster mom and arrange a play date with Jasmine and her sister.  She is a tall and attractive woman in her late 30’s, reminding me of Gina Davis with her big smile and wavy brown hair.  After an hour and roughly seven snacks, the kids get along wonderfully as Jasmin awkwardly clumps around in my high heel shoes and a brightly colored kitchen towel around her neck like a shawl.

Becoming a mom overnight has its challenges.  Having been a foster parent myself, I sympathize.  We had opened our foster file to any ethnicity but I remember feeling a need to prepare myself to welcome a little black girl into our family.  I spent hours on youtube learning how to brush her hair, when and when not to wash it and how to style it.  The foster parent classes seemed to prepare me to care for her heart but not her hair.   Our first placement was a newborn Hispanic girl.  A year later, we were lucky enough to help with two preteen Hispanic girls.  My skills of braiding have still never been put to the test and likely won’t anytime soon as I decide to give Ryann a pixie cut to avoid ever having to braid hair.

After our play date, I decide it is up to me to bring diversity into my children’s lives. I join a church that prides itself on being multi-ethnic.  Greysen quickly catches the eye of a little Black girl in his Sunday school class and she chases him around, trying to kiss him. He welcomes the chase with a grin from cheek to cheek. 

On January 11th, 2017, we move to Scottsdale, Arizona (yet another privileged white community). The high school parking lot is scattered with daddies old BMWs, Lexus, and a fair sprinkling of Trump stickers.  My fears of Greysen becoming an entitled rich white kid, makes my skin crawl. The vision gives me a visceral response.  We have worked hard to be where we are today but I would be a fool to not see that the color of my skin and the opportunities given to us by our parents didn’t pave the way for our financial success. The risk of my kids being entitled rich white kids is a real one given our surroundings. 

My mind is filled with worry and regret for our move.  I begin my search for like-minded people to build our tribe and quickly find a Spanish immersion school.  Our assigned neighborhood school is newly built with beautiful murals and not a black child to be found while Pueblo Elementary is old with bland putty-colored paint, rock landscaping, and barely a tree for shade from the brutal heat.

But I quickly learn that the magic isn’t in the expensive and artfully crafted murals. It’s in the classrooms where kids of all colors are working side by side.  It’s found in the playground where Black, White, Latino, and Asian kids play, fight and work through life together.  The vision fills my heart with joy and gratitude for those who have consciously chosen to enrich their children’s lives with cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity.

The Spanish is a bonus, but it’s the rainbow of colors that I’ve been in search of.  This is it. This is where my children will learn about life.  This will be the foundation for which we will make Scottsdale our home.

 

Your friend,

 Shea

 

 

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