My youngest nephew has just graduated from Cal Poly this past weekend. It was lovely to see the family; we haven’t gotten together since Dad passed (Sept. 2016). Everyone is the same; the few minor differences, such as Charlotte is now a year old, Jan and Lenny’s son Chris is getting married and having an In-n-Out food truck at his wedding, Jeff and Trish’s son Toby has recently graduated from the Maritime Academy here in the city, Elizabeth & Andrew’s son Ian is now old enough to Facetime his favorite people, and Austin’s first job out of college is not in his major of Ag-Business, but in real estate, are the things that mark the passage of time. Don reminds me more of Dad; Charlotte looks like Mom’s side of the family as Austin did when he was young; Jill I swear never changes, and will be beautiful and capable ’til the end of days. Her children take after her.
Beautiful and capable people are required to make the world go. They are the ones that provide the “normal” in our society. My brother, his wife, and their family are the people for whom the service industries exist. They are the ones for whom fashion is created, movies and television shows are made, restaurants are started, housekeeping and gardening and remodeling businesses stay busy, and investment firms remain solvent. They’re not the 1%, but they are the 20%. They have to be beautiful – or at least, attractive – in order for the world to know, at first glance, that they’re also capable because it’s funny about our world: we equate attractiveness with being good at things. And “being attractive” means, in part, that the people around us look like us, reflecting back to us in their clothes, and words, and mannerisms, what matters to us.
San Luis Obispo is a comparatively small town (about the size of Menlo Park as I remember it) that is predominantly white. The people of color that I saw were concentrated mostly on the campus, or on my hotel’s groundskeeping and housekeeping staff; the nail salon I went to was owned and operated by a Vietnamese man. The wait people at the upscale restaurants we ate at; the front desk people at Le Petit Soleil and The Apple Farm; the Uber and Lyft and taxi drivers; the counter folk at 7-11, were all white. This is not to say that there weren’t other people of color around in the many restaurants and stores that I didn’t go into; these are just the examples I saw, a small sample taken in about a 5 square mile radius of the campus.
At least once a day I found myself thinking “where are all the black people? Why is this town so WHITE?” It felt creepy watching the cooky-cutter people go about their business. It’s a world I can pass in, but it’s not where I’m comfortable.
If that means that I’m on my way to becoming a race traitor, then so be it.