Reflections and Musings

Colorblind Commute

And now for something completely different. Well, not completely different entirely, just not fully thought out.

Yesterday, as I forged through my Feedly  queue, I came across an eye-catching link that couldn’t wait for the Weekly Wrap-up (yeah, I know it’s tomorrow).

Richard Beck (Experimental Theology) shared an intriguing and disturbing interactive map depticting Racial Segregation in America. This is just another in a long line of Beck’s posts that unsettle and de-center, I mean that in the best way possible. He writes with a candor and transparency that I aspire to in my own work; so check out his blog. But, back to the map.

race in america

Created by Dustin Cable at UVA’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, Demographics and Workforce

Looking at the national map is fine, but click the link and zoom in on your city; that’s when things get a little uncomfortable, at least for me.

I live in the ‘burbs of the fine city of Wichita, KS (technically city limits, but the ‘burbs no less). In high school (not in Wichita) I’d jokingly label a couple area schools “white-flight,” always knowing I was a little better for going to the city’s main high school. Now I’m that guy, but I digress.

While living in Durham, NC I kind of continued this non-elitist elitism. Durham isn’t exactly viewed in the highest regard by the neighboring triangle cities or area. Jill and I lived near downtown in a diverse neighborhood. I sensed some growing pains as long-time residents worried about gentrification as downtown tobacco warehouses are turned into lofts and restaurants and houses in the neighborhood were being renovated, demanding higher rents.

But this neighborhood, was the most neighborly place I’ve ever lived. Charles, the unofficial mayor, would check in on everyone to see if they needed the grass cut or car washed. People were quick to say hello and quick to post alerts about gunshots on the listserv, which may or may not have been (on one occasion most certainly were)  fireworks set off by a good friend who will remain nameless to protect her or his identity. I’m not trying to romanticize the place, but it was a good place; and it was the most diverse setting I’ve ever lived in.

Fast forward a few months and now I live in one of the least diverse settings ever. Wichita, KS is not the south. 2010 US Census numbers breakdown like this: White–71.9%, Black or African American–11.5%, Hispanic or Latino–15.3%. Given these numbers, I can almost let myself off the hook. I don’t see people from a different racial profile (I don’t want to brush aside the issue of socio-economic status, but this map doesn’t cover that; so I’ll save that for later) because the city is pretty pale.

Then I zoomed in:Commute and Race

The red line on the map is my daily commute to and from the Friends University. The circled areas are a largely black community and a largely latino community, both of which I pass by on the highway twice a day, but neither of which I ever spend time in.

The map stuck with me yesterday and I guess it became a helpful tool in the practice of examen, the Christian practice of reflecting on events of the day and either moments of action or inaction. I’m not looking for an answer to  fix some problem, I don’t even know the question yet. But, this map makes clear that it’s all too easy for me and others in similar situations to speed past the hard questions regarding race (education and what kind of funding the schools in those circled areas receive immediately comes to mind). I can’t think life in Wichita is serene and everyone treats everyone the same (read: is colorblind) just because my commute is colorblind.

I’m grateful for the opening of my eyes to new horizons, theologically and otherwise, by the likes of Willie Jennings and J. Kameron Carter and the illuminating work of the Weldon Cooper Center.

I guess, in the end, this post is one part confession and one part commitment to continue practicing examen. I don’t know what’s next, but I’ll “live in the tension” (to borrow a Duke Div catchphrase) for now.


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