Where the White People Hang Out

It started with an argument between me and my wife. The argument wasn’t too strident, but it was enough for her to accuse me have having a “tone” in my voice. I didn’t have a tone!

The subject related to one I blogged about following Super Bowl Sunday: My sentimentality for Normal Heights, our old neighborhood. In particular, I miss the main street called Adams Avenue, which manages to be a small-town main street while also being a hip destination.

My comments became a source of controversy when I said I didn’t believe our new main street, El Cajon Blvd, had the same feel or vitality. It’s a long jumble of low-rent establishments whose useful businesses are too far away.

“El Cajon is vital,” said my wife, “it just doesn’t appeal to people like us.”

So who are we? I’m not sure just what my wife was getting at, but it occurred to me that we are white.

Southern California is the kind of place where race can seem to disappear. There is a lot of interracial intercourse (in every sense of the word) and there are so many mixed marriages that a lot of people are, well, just brown.

But we still think about race. And when I think about Normal Heights and nearby Kensington, I also think about Hillcrest, University Heights, North Park and South Park. Most people will agree these San Diego neighborhoods are quite fashionable and trendy. That means they are the kinds of places where white people like to hang out.

These places are not exclusively white, of course. But the preponderance of white people you find in their bars, restaurants and other gathering spots is remarkable in the racially mixed inner city.

White culture has been the subject of some serious and not-so-serious discussions in the press and on-line. The former is seen in this article, written in the New Yorker by Kalefa Sannah. The latter is seen in the website “Stuff White People Like,” created by Canadian comic Christian Lander.

According to Lander, white people like coffee, bike shops, Barack Obama, The New Yorker Magazine and recycling. OK… I know he’s talking about white people who are members of the liberal/secular crowd, but San Diego is coastal California, which is full of ’em.

And do they have bike shops in Normal Heights? At least two on Adams Avenue. Coffee shops? You betcha!

My new main street, El Cajon Boulevard, does have at least one trendy beachhead called the Living Room Cafe. I often have to explain to white acquaintances where I live, and when I tell them I’m not far from the Living Room, their eyes light up and they say, “Oh sure. I love that place!”

Modern Americans claim to love racial and cultural diversity. But in reality, the cultures don’t mix as well as we would like to believe. Humans are tribal. Our tribal identities don’t rely on race as much as they used to, but we will always find some way to define ourselves as different from (a.k.a. better than) others. Sadly, race is still a vehicle for that, even when we don’t quite realize it.

We urban dwellers are still a long way from being racially integrated. And next time you go out to a trendy, fashionable new bar or restaurant, take a look around. My guess is you’ll see a lot of white people.

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One Comment on “Where the White People Hang Out”

  1. Karen Says:

    Excuse ME, I did not say “people like us.” I said that we did not have much occasion to use the businesses in our vicinty of El Cajon Boulevard, which are largely of the check-cashing, cheap cell-phone and fast food variety (though I visit the donut shop at least once a month). But my point was that these businesses are obviously of value to many people in the neighborhood, because they seem to be thriving and busy. Tom misses Adams Avenue in Normal Heights, and so do I, because we had things like a grocery store, post office, library, and our church within walking distance. I’m sure everyone in our neighborhood, not just the white people, would be happy to have the same here.


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