Race is a constant in my life and lately I have been thinking about friendships across the color barrier. Where are all of the interracial friendships? No, I am not talking about "jungle fever" or getting a little "cream in your coffee". I am just talking about pure, honest relationships with people of varying ethnic backgrounds.
I live in New York - the Big Apple - a place that has been touted as "the" nation's melting pot. Sure you can find people of every color in the rainbow in New York. Sure you can possibly hear just about every language spoken on earth in New York, but do you ever see people mixing? Rarely. One of the things that sold me on New York when I moved here 7 years ago was its diversity. I had the honor of being raised by a parent that has African American, Latino, Asian and white friends. I was exposed to many cultures and have had the benefit of teaching others about mine.
So, imagine my dismay when I arrived in the world's best melting pot, New York! West Indians live in parts of Queens and in Flatbush and Crown Heights in Brooklyn. The Upper West side of Manhattan mis populated by uppwardly mobile whites and young families; the Upper East side by the very wealthy. Dominicans rule Washington Heights, while blacks with southern roots populate Harlem, sections of Queens and Brooklyn. I wasn't so naive as to think that New York was the hotbed of racial harmony, but I didn't think that neighborhoods would be as stratified by race, religion and ethnicity as they are.
I guess that growing up in western New York, albeit its many faults, sheltered me from such strict racial divisions. Although my neighborhood and school was predominantly black - whites, Asians and Latinos were clearly visible.
Recently, I attended a play/multimedia extravaganzaa that one of my co-worker's was featured in. The cast was multi-racial and this co-worker happens to be a white female breakdancer from New Mexico. The audience reflected the cast and I wound up feeling a sense of pride for having even attended this event. But then I began to feel troubled. I wondered to myself, "why is it that we only seem to see interracial casts and audiences at off-off-off-off Broadway events like these"? Why is it that when I go to the Met or to the Guggenheim, I am always one of the few Blacks. Or, when I go to the Schomburg I see very few whites?
Why can't I walk down 125th Street in Harlem with a white friend without receiving suspicious stares? Why can't I go into a tony boutique on 5th or Park Avenues with that same friend without receiving those same glances? Why is it that I rarely see people venturing outside their ethnic group? I know that there are plenty of sociological studies that suggest that people like to stick with what's familiar, but it's 2001 and I don't buy it. Teens of all races buy the same clothes, watch the same movies and listen to the same music. So why then, are they still eating with their "own" on either side of the lunchroom.
If you can answer any of these questions, or if you have any theories as to why this occurs, let me know. I'm still wondering, myself.