In 2007 our family, then a family of four, moved from a suburb of Washington, D.C., to Wilmington, NC. We knew little about the city except that it was by the ocean and we wanted our kids to grow up by the beach. We chose a country club community with the word Plantation as part of its name.
Everyone who lived in this community was white. In all honesty, this was something that I gave absolutely no thought to before moving there. Quickly after moving in, however, I began to crave diversity. I hated going to the grocery store and not seeing one person of color. Ever.
Two weeks after we moved into our new home, my husband came home after a jog around the neighborhood. He was pale and obviously bothered by something that had happened. He told me about speaking to one of our new neighbors. The man was welcoming him and our family to the neighborhood. They realized they had something in common; they had both moved from Washington, D.C.
Then the man said to my husband, “You will love it here. It is less crowded and… you know… there are not as many minorities.”
Welcome to North Carolina?
Fast forward to 2010. Our faith in God was growing, and we believed He was calling us to adoption. Our daughter was born in March of 2011. She happens to be African-American.
Her birth changed everything. If you would have asked me before she was born, I would have told you that I was up to speed on race relations. I would have told you that I was an advocate for the demolition of racist systems. I had a master’s degree in Social Work, after all. I was trained in this stuff. And while those statements do have some truth, the reality is that I had no idea what black people really face in America until she was born and until I was looking at the world through her eyes.
In the first year after my daughter’s birth, I asked my dear friend, who is also black, this question. “Tell me the truth, please, when you visit me and pass by the neighborhood sign and see the word ‘Plantation,’ do you think anything about it? Do visions of old Southern plantations and what happened on them cross your mind?”
“Of course it does,” she said gracefully.
The truth is that, as a privileged white woman, I will never fully know because I will never fully experience the journey of being black in America. I can never hold the weight of that history – the weight of lives lost, systems created to strip my dignity and erase my identity, bloody struggles for freedom. Yet still, my eyes and heart were beginning to awaken.
Her answer was enough for my husband and I to seriously consider moving our family. Not only were we seeing the importance of our children growing up in a more diverse neighborhood and section of our city, but we would not allow our daughter to grow up in a “plantation,” no matter how different this one was from the plantations of the past. Not to mention many country clubs in the South were founded specifically by white upper class because public pools had become open to black people. Hear me – I am not saying country clubs are bad. I am simply saying that we knew living in a “plantation,” country club community was no longer the right choice for our family.
We made the choice to move to a more diverse section of our city. There are only white people on our street, but a short walk in either direction brings us to a sea of beautiful color. I appreciate the diversity and love being able to walk to the park with my children, knowing there will be more than just white children playing.
Sadly, when you look at a demographic map of our city based on race, the majority of African Americans live in a concentrated section (map below). There is an invisible yet real wall of separation between them and the rest of our city. This Southern city still has schools that are 90%+ black. Educational resources are disproportionate, as well as other community resources. As much as I love my city, there are many ways that it is broken. I have a feeling that ours is not an outlier but more the norm of Southern cities. Collectively, we still have a lot of work to do in our communities.
Even in our new neighborhood, I have witnessed what I would call “Old South” attitudes regarding race. For example, a neighbor sent an alert via our neighborhood email list stating, “I saw suspicious black boys with hoodies walking through the neighborhood on my evening run. I was going to call the police but I didn’t have my phone with me.” It is mind-boggling to know that we are in 2016 and black boys are deemed guilty in one’s mind simply because they are “walking while black.” I can name many more examples. But instead of trusting me on this issue, I challenge my white brothers and sisters to ask your African-American friend, colleague or neighbor what their experiences have been. I can guarantee that if they feel safe enough to share their experience with you, you will be moved (maybe even outraged) by what you hear.
I have given you a glimpse into our experience because I want you to know that prejudice and racism are not simply blights of our past — they are realities of our present. I believe we are a generation who has taken racial progress for granted. Just because we have our first black president and just because we do not say the “n” word does not mean we can stop fighting for equity of opportunity for all people. We can not stop fighting against racist attitudes no matter how subtly (or overtly) they manifest themselves. This fight begins at home as we talk to our own families and our children about these issues.
We must also understand that racism is not isolated to a crazy, small group of white supremacists. We have to face the painful truth that prejudice attitudes still plague our communities and show up in our school systems, judicial systems and community systems. Prejudice people create and preserve racist systems. We must even be willing to search our own hearts to see what prejudice attitudes arise. You might be surprised by what you find as you take an honest inventory.
Ultimately, however, we can free ourselves of personal prejudice, but we can not absolve ourselves from the responsibility of changing racist systems. This is my prayer specifically for those who claim Christ. As far as I can see from the Bible, God’s Word does not absolve us from fighting oppression in all of its ugly, modern-day forms. Let us not take for granted that the fight for justice in this generation has already been won. Perhaps, indeed, this important and holy work is new upon the shoulders of God’s people in every generation.
Demographic Map of Wilmington, NC Source: Cooper Center, Demographics Research Group, University of Virginia
Gina Fimbel, MSW, is a wife and mother of four living in Wilmington, NC. She is currently enrolled at Dallas Theological Seminary and active in service at Port City Community Church. She and her husband are presently in process to adopt from Haiti.