Social Question

Akua's avatar

Is it my imagination or are these people racist?

Asked by Akua (4730points) March 17th, 2012

Here’s the scenario, I moved to this very small rural village last month. My husband and I are the only black people here and since moving here only one person has spoken to us. Okay, not a problem, we assumed that maybe they were distrustful of outsiders, so we shook it off. Last night my husbands sister came to see the new house and loved the peaceful quiet area. She was on the deck when immediately the next door neighbor ran over and talked with her for over an hour. I didn’t get home from work until much later. Then this morning while I was hanging clothes on the line the same woman ignored me. Didn’t say a word. I go back in the house. Sister-in-law goes out to take a walk and again the next door neighbors are chatting her up! WTF!?!?!? Oh maybe I should have mentioned that my sister-in-law looks white. My husbands mother is half white and his dad is black so some of their kids came out brown (like hubby) and some came out almost white (like his sister). I knwo I shouldn’t care but I have to admit my feelings were hurt when she told me how these people chat her up every time she walks out of our house but in a month they have said nothing to us. The neighbor also confided in sis-in-law that she caught another neighbor was looking in our window because he was concerned when he heard that black people moved in. Funny enough though the guy caught peeping in our window is black too (so technically we are the 2nd black family here). Okay after this long story I guess my question is what are they afraid of? Should I make a bigger effort to put them at ease or just ignore them? Is it too naive of me to think that in this day and age people would judge me based on who I am and not my race? Feedback people, I feel so bad right now. PLEASE!

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32 Answers

Michael_Huntington's avatar

Honestly, that does sound like racism to me. I wouldn’t waste my time on these people.

janbb's avatar

Oh – I am so sorry that you are experiencing this. As you say, in this day and age! It does sound like racism. I would suggest you try to do whatever makes you feel most comfortable in a painful situation – either reach out or ignore them – and hope it improves with time.

chyna's avatar

It does sound racist to me. I wouldn’t try to be too friendly. I would wave or say hello when you see them and hopefully they will see that you are a very nice person.

MilkyWay's avatar

“The neighbor also confided in sis-in-law that she caught another neighbor was looking in our window because he was concerned when he heard that black people moved in. Funny enough though the guy caught peeping in our window is black too (so technically we are the 2nd black family here).” I read your story and thought it was racism, but the above statement made me think. Maybe as you said they are just distrustful to outsiders, not very welcoming, which is quite typical in small rural towns like the one you just moved into. It could be either.

flutherother's avatar

I wouldn’t be too quick to judge your neighbour. I’d give her the benefit of the doubt. The fact that she spoke with your sister in law shows that there is hope. If she was a real dyed in the wool racist I don’t think she would have spoken with any of you. I would be polite and civil but I would keep my distance until I see how things pan out.

CWOTUS's avatar

Well, yeah, I suppose on its face it seems sort of passively racist. I mean, it’s not like they’re calling in the Klan and burning crosses on your lawn. Certainly you’d like people to be nicer and friendlier to you, or at least not fearful and mistrusting simply because of skin pigmentation.

So… be the change you want to see in the world. I know it sounds corny. But kill them with kindness. Someone has to be the bigger person here; no reason it can’t be you.

Good luck, and congratulations (I hope!) on your new house.

PS: I thought you said that your husband any you were the first black people there?

Akua's avatar

@CWOTUS We have never seen any other black person here so I guess we assumed that in a village this tiny, we were the only ones. Every now and then we’d see people that looked like us driving through town but they lived in the larger towns a few miles away. We still have not seen the neighbor she claims was looking in our window.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Akua I grew up in a similar redneck town with no black families. Give them some time, I think it’s more they’re not used to anything different. They need to realize skin color means nothing. Be friendly and nice and I bet they come around. I’m sorry you had to make more of an effort.

Akua's avatar

@flutherother yes that thought ran thru my mind too. Apparently (from the talk she had with sisiter in law) the whole village knows about us. They know what we do for a living, when we go to work, everything. If she didn’t like us then why even bother talking to to any of us? Who did she think this “white” lady was she was talking to? @CWOTUS and @Adirondackwannabe make good suggestions though. Maybe they aren’t exposed to different people and just need time to trust. Maybe they think we are the kind of black people they see on TV and on the news but still, I feel a little angry having to prove I’m decent based on the fact that I look like someone who may have done something evil or committed crimes. If I were caucasion I guess it would just be expected that I was a good person? White people don’t do bad things? I’m not judging them based on MY experiences with caucasions. I have to think on this some more.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Where members of different racial origins get involved in activities that are important everybody and the activity is intentionally structured so the individuals of different racial backgrounds need to work together, then the distrust and faulty assumptions and beliefs tend to decrease significantly.

flutherother's avatar

It isn’t easy to settle in to a rural community where everybody knows everybody else. It isn’t like a big city where you can be anonymous. The gossip can be fierce and the most minor things get noticed. All newcomers are treated with suspicion especially those who come from the city. It just takes time.

marinelife's avatar

I am so sorry that this has happened to you.

If it was me, I would bake something (a cake, cookies) and take it over to her house. I would say “I’m so sorry that I haven’t had time with the move and settling in to meet you formally. My husband and I just love the neighborhood.”

That way, there’s a chance that if she is a decent person she will turn around.

CWOTUS's avatar

I’m on the other side of this coin, in a way.

When I moved into my current home in 2002 this was a mostly-black neighborhood. I bought the house from an older black couple, as a matter of fact. But after a separation and division of assets, I had no cash to get the house that I really wanted, which also would have been a different neighborhood. So I settled for this house and made the best of things. The neighborhood is pretty nice, and it doesn’t (and never did) bother me to have black neighbors. I think some of the neighbors were a little leery of me because I wasn’t like them, though. They might have wondered why a single white guy was moving in, especially because I might have seemed more well-heeled than I was.

My neighbor across the street is a town cop, and I know that he’s called in tickets on me (and quickly) for minor infractions: my son’s unregistered car was ticketed within a week of the tags coming off, which is quick for most neighborhoods, and I’ve been cited (though not fined) for not having my sidewalk cleared within 24 hours of a snow storm. I see some sidewalks even now (well, not ‘now’ now, with this mild winter) that go unshoveled for days at a time. My next door neighbor and I hardly said ten words to each other for the first five years that I was here.

It got better. The cop has settled down now that he sees I’m a decent neighbor, and Jim and I from next door are pretty friendly now, though still not exactly ‘close’. I can live with that.

I hope it gets better for you, too… and that it doesn’t take too long. The big thing, I think, was not to take things too much to heart. People have their suspicions sometimes, and the only way to allay them is to live well and be good. Hell, when I moved here I suggested that my real estate agent work hard on my neighbor to get him to sell because his property wasn’t as attractive as it might be. I’m glad now that he has stayed.

Coloma's avatar

Yes, I’d give the neighbor the benefit of the doubt until you, yourself, have introduced your family and made a friendly gesture, before coming to any conclusions.You have to give people a chance before making up potential stories about them. I hope it’s not true and you end up on friendly terms with the neighborhood.

Hey, my neighbors are all donkeys, literally, and sheep and geese and horses and….
This is an mixed species neighborhood. lol

SpatzieLover's avatar

Racist? Possibly.

Ignorant? Most likely. Inexperience with difference seems to be the case here.

I’d be polite and patient.

lloydbird's avatar

Yeah, do ” ..make a bigger effort to put them at ease..”. They are probably wary of your difference. Show them how nice you are. It may take time.
Waryism not “Racism”.

If it continues after some reasonable time – it’s racist.

Trillian's avatar

@Akua, they may be racist. They also may be unsure how to approach you because you are different from them. Not out of any malice but honest ignorance. If you are the first black couple in their little area they may have all sorts of crazy stereotypes in their heads and are honestly afraid to speak or anything for fear of bringing themselves into potential cross-hairs.
I try to give people the benefit if the doubt, especially in a new situation, especially if they’re people I’m going to have to be interacting with. If you want to stay in this house and genuinely like the area, then you may wish to take careful thought before you do anything irrevocable. I mean, don’t be too quick to take offense, because once you begin being adversarial, it’s hard to overcome the bad feelings.
Best to begin as you mean to go on. You are an intelligent, articulate person. Let them know that. Give them time and as someone else said, be the bigger person. Say “Good morning” while you smile and wave.
In groups are a very real thing in all societies and the rules of entry are not always in black and white. ;-) (heh heh, little joke)
I wish you well in this.

wundayatta's avatar

Maybe your SIL is a very friendly person. Maybe it’s the vibe she gives off. Maybe you give off a different vibe. Do you hang out outside? Do you do stuff where you can run into neighbors? Do you go around the neighborhood introducing yourself?

Not that you should do any of these things. It seems like it could be racially based behavior. Maybe they don’t know any black folk. Maybe they think you speak another language. Maybe they think you have a very different culture. Who knows what they think? I don’t. But I don’t know where you live. You’re the ones who have a vested interest in finding out what your neighbors think.

I doubt if you’ll find out sitting around waiting for people to come to your door. So maybe you’ll need to do something else if you want to get to know your neighbors.

I guess this means you didn’t really research the neighborhood when you bought the house? Did you interview any neighbors before you bought? Did you try to do anything to find out what the feel of the neighborhood was, socially speaking? If you ever buy another house, I strongly recommend researching the neighborhood, and especially the block, before you buy. You want to know what you’re getting into.

A neighborhood is much more than the houses and the trees and streets. Mostly it is the people. For me, when I buy, I want to know what the community is like. I’m buying that even more than I am buying the house. Perhaps people don’t care. Maybe the house is the only important thing. I have a hard time imagining that, but I know the neighborhood is much more than the house for me. That’s why I spent a lot of time researching the neighborhood I live in before I moved in.

You sound a little unprepared for what you’re finding. That can’t be fun. Still, it’s never too late to try to make up lost ground and start doing your research now. You can get census data that will tell you the racial makeup of your neighborhood. You can walk around and see what happens. You can introduce yourself to the neighbors by maybe having a housewarming, or one on one.

Akua's avatar

@wundayatta before moving into this area I did a lot of research and I knew that the african american population was 1%, hispanic was about 5%, etc. This village was settled buy Polish Immigrants in the early 60’s and before that this village was popular for growing the very best onions in the region. A lot of the neighbors are 3rd generation Polish American and the houses and farms have been in their family for generations. The realtor who showed us this house is a resident Polish american and was extremely helpful in getting us this house AND into the neighborhood. He was so kind to us that we couldn’t thank him enough. The seller of this house is a Polish American woman who inherited this house from her family. She was eager to sell to us and even went down on the sale price for us. She is a member of the County Clerks Office and was a politician and her family is extremely infuential in this town. Most are fireman, Judges, cops, EMT’s, and teachers. This are not ignorant, podunk people and so I expected more. As a matter of fact the woman next door that keeps ignoring me and hubby is the seller’s (previous owner of the house) brother and sister-inlaw. I would not ever commit to such a purchase without doing my homework. @Trillian I like the area and my home and would never do anything to make the neighbors feel defensive. I do go out and walk around the neighborhood, I garden outside and spend time around the bird feeder. I have waved and spoken and my friendliness was returned with odd stares and hesitant smiles. I have considered that hubby and I look very ethnic to them. We have dreadlocks and we do look younger than we actually are but there is nothing I can do about that. They do know we speak english because it’s a small village and they know everything about us. And a smile and “Hello” is universal.

wundayatta's avatar

You did a lot of research, but somehow you missed what the people’s response to you would be. It is a complete surprise, it sounds like. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference to you if you had known. Would you have still bought the place if you knew in advance how the neighbors would be?

It sure sounds like racism to me. Does that help? Is it helpful to have a label for the behavior? Or to have other people confirm your label?

What are you going to do? Is this kind of cold (racist) behavior going to be a deal breaker for the neighborhood? Or do you plan to live there no matter what happens? If it is racism, do you want to still live there?

PurpleClouds's avatar

Why don’t you just initiate a conversation with the neighbor and not be so paranoid. Some people just give off a friendly aura, maybe you don’t. Or, your neighbors may all be stark racists who will never be a friend to you. (I hope that’s the wrong answer)

OpryLeigh's avatar

Although it sounds like there could be a bit of racism involved here I wouldn’t jump to conclusions just yet. Three years ago I moved into a neighbourhood where my appearance is similar to my neighbours and yet, the woman next door refuses to acknowledge my existence. Her husband and sons are fine, always say hello, but I am lucky if I get a grunt out of her. I have reason to believe she isn’t this standoffish with everyone so I can only take it as a personal problem she has with me for some reason.

I hope your neighbours become friendlier towards you but I agree with others that say you may have to make the first move.

Trillian's avatar

@Akua I apologize if I gave the impression that I was blaming you. And if you’re already doing these things then I misunderstood. I shouldn’t have assumed that you hadn’t been.
I guess the fact that you’re getting at least a hesitant smile is a start. Maybe it’s the dreds. They could totally be freaking some older people out. I had an adjustment period when I first saw them. I associated them with Bob Marley and Jamaicans at first, then white hippies, then the general population. In the movies, the bad guys had dreds.
I’m interested to know the rest of their demographics. Do they have a common age-range, income bracket and/or background? Any of those factors can sort of put people out of touch. And their associations may be dated, or simply incorrect.
Or they might actually be racists and think poorly of you no matter what you do. I hope this isn’t the case. There is plenty of that where I live, and though most of them are older, there are some who teach that crap to their kids and carry on the intolerance.
I guess just carry on the way you’ve been. I know it’s difficult to smile after saying hello or nodding politely to someone who acts as if you’re invisible. The good news is; you have us to bounce ideas around with. Again, I wish you a good outcome in this.

Akua's avatar

@PurpleClouds I don’t think I’m being paranoid since I asked an opinion based on what was said and not what I felt. This neighbor had no problem telling my S-I-L that she thought the black man mowing his lawn was the gardener and offered him money to do her own lawn. As far as my aura goes I can only describe it as friendly, eager to please and genuine (at least this is what people tell me).
@Trillian Thank you for saying what you said. You don’t know how much I appreciate it. I woke up this morning and me and hubby talked about it a bit and we decided to not take it personally. I have also decided to try harder to become part of this community. We are here to stay no matter what these people think or how they act. I have a right to be here and I’m a good person. I keep my yard clean, smile, work hard and say Good Morning when a neighbor passes. I also realized that most of the hesitation I receive is from the older people as the young people here seem to be very open minded and friendly. Sometime this week I will take a walk to my neighbors house with some cake and introduce myself and later this spring the village is having a walk-a-thon and I will register for that. Everyone will be there and it will give them a chance to see me up close and realize that I aim to stick around. If they never warm up to me, then it’s their loss but I’m not going to allow anyone to make me feel bad about myself and I’m most definately not leaving.

janbb's avatar

@Akua Good for you! It sound like a good attitude and I’m almost certain in time you will prevail.

Trillian's avatar

Yaayyy! I predict a success in all your endeavors!

Buttonstc's avatar

This is just my personal opinion and I could be totally off base, but I think its far more likely the dreads than just your skin color. And for older people, the combination of the two is just not something that they’ve ever had experience with. The only references they would have would be fro media portrayals, TV, movies, etc. and lets face it, there really aren’t any favorable portrayals of black folks with dreads which spring to mind. Most of the associations revolve around either drug use or militancy. Especially for the older folks, you might as well be from Mars. Its likely they’ve encountered other black folks in passing (cops, medical personnel, auto mechanics, etc) But how likely is it that they’ve EVER encountered one with dreads. My guess would be closer to zero than anything else :)

So you’re going go be the first example of sensible upright friendly black folks, who just happen to prefer dreads, that they’ve ever encountered. But if you just go on living your lives as usual and being welcoming and friendly then time is your best ally. As they get to know you better, they will come to realize that the dreadlocks are simply the type of hairstyle that you prefer. Nothing for, nothing less. Just a preference and thats all.

You are not drug dealers or the weirdos from MOVE (the militant organization in Philly with the guns, weird raw meat eating practices and hostility to outsiders—basically a cult) You are just a young couple with an atypical hairstyle. PERIOD. Thats all.

Eventually they will come to realize this when it becomes apparent that you have the same goals, aspirations, and desire for a peaceful friendly existence as they do.

If they were truly hardcore racists, neither the realtor nor the seller of the house would have been as accompanying as they were. Obviously they had the ability to look below the surface and others will follow their example.

I wish you the best.

Akua's avatar

Wow @Buttonstc. I have to agree with your very insightful observation. I kind of thought the dreads might be putting them off. As you said the Realtor and the seller were SO nice to us when we came to look at the house and sign the final papers. Your right though, very few people with dreads are portrayed positively in the media. Maybe they would have been less intimidated if I had showed up with a perm. But I do have an update: On Sunday morning when hubby was coming home from his night shift the neighbor (the black guy caught peeping in our window, lol) introduced himself to hubby and asked if he could come by later and chat. My husband said he seemed really nice and he got the impression that he was glad to see other people of color in the area. But I think your right, once time has passed and they see how we are, they will like us. What’s not to like!?! Thanks again.

Buttonstc's avatar

Perhaps your new black acquaintance can give you a better insight into the mindset of this community in general.

Another little note of interest: you describe yourselves as young so most likely aren’t that familiar with the whole series of events surrounding the MOVE cult in Phila. But if you do a little research, you’ll quickly see why it became a national news story and how much proliferation there was in the media of horrible portrayals of all these folks (who ALL wore dreadlocks) even tho there were significant error on the part of law enforcement as well as the (black) mayor of Philly. The actions he authorized ended up burning down an entire city block. Yes. Thats no exaggeration.

I lived in Philly at the time these events occurred and it was truly horrible. As well as the property damage, there was significant loss of life. And all of it revolved around dreadlocked militants following a cultish leader with weird ideas and guns.

I was fortunate enough to have previously lived in NY and taught at a school with faculty that was both multi racial and multinational so I was personally acquainted with folks who wore dreadlocks and who were definitely NOT kooky militants with guns nor druggies. They were educated professionals living responsible lives and that just happened to be how they wore their hair.

But if I had not had that previous exposure, I wonder how I would have reacted to people with dreadlocks. I hope I wouldn’t have prejudged them. But if i had spent all my life living in a small town in a rural area, who knows?

That story about MOVE was in the national headlines for quite a while (due primarily to Wilson Goode, the Mayor, almost burning down the city, but the aftermath went on for years and years due to the trials, the fact-finding commission and subsequent results. And each time it popped back up in the news, there was the same camera footage of the various MOVE members standing around waving guns etc etc. And all of them wearing dreads.

I would find it difficult to imagine any of the older townsfolk not having been exposed to those images over and over again for years and years.Obviously, the closer the proximity to Penna. the more exposure but it was news all over the country.

Unfortunately media images sometimes form lasting impressions. But this horrible incident was a long time ago and those living there closer in age to you don’t likely have those negative associations. Hopefully the elders in the community can learn from the younger.

Akua's avatar

@Buttonstc I have never heard of the MOVE cult until you mentioned it but reading what you wrote made me understand a lot. When I said we were “young” I just meant that we are younger than most of our neaighbors. I am 42 and hubby is 39. I’m sure that the people in this town have heard of the MOVE cult because of it’s close proximity to PA. I was buying a sofa last week and the guy in the store told me that he commutes from PA to this town for work. He said PA is only about 20 minutes from here depending on where you live. So if we are that close then I know they have heard of MOVE. I was speaking to a friend of mine who is a doctor and he is african american (and he lives about ½ hour from me in an affluent town) and when I told him what happened he said it does not surprise him. He says that him and his wife have been insulted many times by well-meaning caucasions. Thank you for the links, I’m definately going to study what you sent me. I had no idea that people would think I came all the way to their little rural town to make trouble. I came to get away from that. I just want peace and to be friendly with my neighbors. I’m glad you were exposed to positive people with dreadlocks and were able to form a healthy perspective. Many people don’t realize that there is a very REAL history and spiritual importance regarding dreadlocks and the people that wear them. This is not a hairstyle for everyone, for some it is a lifestyle. It began NOT in Jamaica with the Rastafarians, it began in Africa with a woman who was the leader of a group of men and women resistant to colonial slavery. They lived in the bush, eating and living off the land and grew their hair in long locks to identitify each other and didn’t fight until they were attacked and forced to defend their families. These people called themselves Nyahbinghi. They were not anti-white, they were anti-slavery. They just wanted to be free. Many years later the Rasta took the name Nyahbinghi and the dreads as rebellion against the oppressive government and applied it to their movement. True Ratsa are passive and do not display any aggression even when provoked, the animals they show on TV are NOT rasta’s, they are gangsters wearing dreads. It is the most natural way one can wear their hair and therefore we feel it makes us spiritually closer to the Almighty. We live clean righteous lives and anyone wearing dreads and living otherwise is a hypocrite just as the Christians who claimed to be righteous and then endorsed slavery using the bible as justification. I don’t blame all white people for slavery so I don’t like being judged according to the behavior of a few bad men with dreads. I’m sorry I didn’t mean to go on like this but I don’t like hearing about people with dreads doing things as you have described this MOVE cult did. Bad people make it bad for good people.

Brian1946's avatar

Perhaps it’s just my inner jock, but when I think of dreads, I think of one of the greatest heavyweights of ALL TAM (<—- my Ali impression) – Sir Lennox Lewis!

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