Have you guys seen this quiz? My journalist friend Cathleen Falsani Possley linked to it, and I’m intrigued. It’s a study about how my demographic, white America, ” is coming apart at the seams.” I hadn’t realized our seams were fraying, but the questions in the quiz were thought provoking. They dig into socio-economic differences, which interests me because for me growing up, economic disparity was a much bigger factor in learning how to navigate socially than issues of race.
I grew up in Kennebunkport, Maine. My dad was a teacher and then later a lobsterman. My mom was a homemaker. I’d say we were solidly middle class, but our town was all over the map. My school picture each year included children of doctors and lawyers…and children who lived in the cinderblock shell of a basement, with no house on top. Every summer we had an influx of tourists, which meant that starting from about the age of 14, we could all get jobs that paid really well, letting us earn crazy amounts of cash (at least for teenagers who aren’t doing something illegal). I didn’t understand much of this then and we rarely talked about it. But looking back, it’s astonishing to me that we coexisted with as little friction as we did in a town of only about 3,000 people.
Strangely, my life is much less diverse living here in Cambridge. My friendships look racially diverse on the surface, but my friends and I have so much in common across every other indicator (education, professional opportunity, etc.) that we’re not really diverse at all. Which is why I’m always a little frustrated by those articles that invite you to pat yourself on the back if you know someone whose skin looks different than yours, suggesting that you’re a champion of barrier-crossing human connection. My experience has always been that when you have a few key things in common in terms of what you’re pursuing in life, it’s pretty easy to find things to talk about.
All to say, it’s a cool quiz.
I scored a 46. I don’t live in much of a bubble, primarily because growing up in Maine gives me a fair amount of non-bubble cred (that and being an Evangelical Christian. If you know me, you’ll get non-bubble points, too!) Answering the questions made me realize how much bubble proximity I’ve had since leaving Maine. I went to a private liberal arts college, then law school in an upscale Philly suburb. Not on purpose – that’s just how things worked out. If you look at my list of addresses since then (Rittenhouse Square; Northwest DC; a brief stint in Litchfield CT; Belmont & Cambridge, MA) you’d think I’ve lived quite an elite life. I haven’t. It’s been nice, but not remarkable. I’m still solidly middle class. But it’s interesting to consider how I’ve always been near the bubble, which definitely broadens your horizons about what is possible to reach for. Not just financially/materially, but in terms of building a career and making a difference in the world. I’ve always lived in places where people expect to do something with their lives, and that rubs off on a person.
Sometimes it’s exhausting, and it can make you feel horrible about yourself if you don’t learn to stay in your own lane and not compare yourself to others. But having a steady stream of people to be inspired by? That’s a blessing.
If you have a minute, take the quiz. I don’t think it has much to do with being white, except that that’s the hypothesis they were trying to prove. I think it suggests interesting things about how where you come from and where you land influence you in ways you might not think about, especially in a time when most of us move around so often.