Diversity in the Burbs?

This post continues a discussion on the Peter Kilborn article on being Rootless in Alpharetta.

Here is a quote from the Kilborn article that jumped out at me:

“The good thing about it is that it is a very comfortable neighborhood to live in. These are very homogeneous types of groups. You play tennis with them, you have them over to dinner. You go to the same parties. But we’re never challenged to learn much about other economic groups. When you talk about tennis, guess what? Everybody you play against looks and acts and generally feels like you. It doesn’t give you much of a perspective. At work, diversity is one of the biggest things we work on.”

That’s Mr. Link speaking about his neighborhood, but it applies to life in Alpharetta in general. Diversity is a big part about life at work, especially if you’re a manager or in HR. Yet here in the burbs, it is practically non-existent. According to stats from the 2000 census quoted by Wikipedia, Alpharetta is 91% white and 5% African American. Forsyth County only has a 0.7% African American population. There are reasons for this difference in Forsyth, something I’ll write about at a later time. But nevertheless, the entire state of Georgia sits at 65% white and 30% African American.

It is pretty easy to verify these statistics by looking around. The congregation I worship with reflects these numbers, as does the pre-school my children attend. Homogeneous is an understatement! We all look alike and think alike. The workplace is a little different, but the vast majority of my fellow cubicle dwellers don’t live here like I do.

What is important to me, as Mr. Link mentions, is that my children grow up with some perspective. I don’t always want them to be surrounded by other white Anglo Saxons like us. I don’t want them to think everyone lives in a five bedroom home, vacations in Colorado and drives German cars.

But at the same time, I don’t think merely looking at white to black ratios is telling the whole story. My block of the neighborhood happens to be very diverse in terms of nationality. On one side of us is a Chinese family. There are Indians on the other side. Across the street is a Dutch family with children in age real close to our own. Catty corner from us is a family from Africa.

The technology jobs available here in the burbs attract a diverse nationality of people. There are small Indian communities all over the northern burbs, especially in Johns Creek. Duluth has a HUGE Korean community, complete with unique restaurants and Korean churches.

The lack of diversity in the burbs will correct itself over time. I’m encouraged to see places like St. James United Methodist Church on Webb Bridge Road. This is a predominantly African American congregation right near the heart of Alpharetta. They have a deep and rich history as a congregation dating back to 1867. They seem to be a vibrant and growing church, and they’ve certainly been around longer than nearly every other church in town (including my own).

So diversity in the burbs is here in some respects, and isn’t in a lot of respects. I think as a parent I’m going to have to be deliberate to expose my children to more. Just an unfortunate trade-off of living here.

3 Responses to “Diversity in the Burbs?”

  1. Diversity January 18, 2010 at 6:10 pm #

    Just going to restaurants in Atlanta, as opposed to the usual Alpharetta places, you’re suddenly reminded that there’s another world than the Republican white 40something couples with 2.3 kids,a dog, and their two gas guzzlers which usually included a Tahoe-with-Dawgs-magnets.

    Alpharetta is nice. It’s just good to get out from time to time to remind yourself that it’s not representative of the real world.

  2. Torri January 17, 2011 at 6:27 pm #

    I like your perspective, especially “I don’t think merely looking at white to black ratios is telling the whole story”. It can be pretty “vanilla” up here in the ‘burbs, depending on where you look.

    I don’t want my kids to grow up that way either. I want them to know that we live in a global world and people have great thoughts and innovations and experiences all over the world, and lucky for us…we’re connected to all of them.

    I have a solution…sadly, it only works if you have kids of a certain age.

    Years ago, when we were looking for a preschool, the kids of some friends of ours went to Montessori school. We had no idea what that was, so we decided to check it out. Fell in love with it straight away, for lots of reasons.

    But as it relates to this conversation, it’s the best way I know of to immerse kids in a multi-national community. Our daughter went from 2003-2007. Our son still attends.

    All Montessori schools go through kindergarten (most parents send their kids from ages 2-5 or 6), some go through elementary, some go through middle…but I don’t know of any in the state that go through high school.

    Each year at our school (Ivy League on Kelly Mill), we celebrate our cultures together at a Spring Fling, including food, music, and activities. I thought it was really cool that the school shared a list of the countries represented by either students, parents, or grandparents at our little Montessori school in 2009 – and we have less than 100 students. (I can’t find the list from last year)

    1.United States
    3.Great Britain
    9.South Africa

    The cool thing is that there are MORE Montessori schools being built in our county right now. Pretty cool way to foster celebrating diversity as a way of life.

    Again, good insight. We do need to be aware of who we surround ourselves with. A few generations ago, that would have meant something quite different. I’m glad we’re looking at from this perspective.

  3. Lee January 17, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

    Thanks for the comment, Torri. I’ve read a little about the Montessori curriculum and it looks interesting. Kudos to you for finding a way to expose your children to more than the burbs have to offer!

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