The Danger of Trips to Exclusive Places

I want you to imagine a circumstance where you can do the following: Pay just over $100 to apply for membership at a local swimming hole, wait for approval of the membership for upwards of three years, and then, once accepted, you start paying just a little under $300 a year to use said swimming hole. This swimming hole is, literally, a small beach on a small lake surrounded by million-dollar houses. It has no snack bar, no pretty docks, no tiki huts, no swim-up bar… it is a no frills establishment.

I’m learning that exclusive spaces are the hallmark of the New England suburbs. I visited one on Monday and I just can’t get it out of my mind.

At the invitation of one of the other preschool moms, I drove my two boys to a part of town I’ve never seen before, turned down an unmarked driveway, and found myself on top of a hill looking down at a perfectly clear and beautiful lake. The water was fresh, the sand was clean, the view was spectacular and the feeling of being away from it all was so relaxing. I let my hair down, watched my children (the only color walking, as usual) enjoy themselves immensely, and for a couple minutes I forgot the stresses of being a mother of two toddlers.

But the critical thinker in me was running wild, contemplating a damn big question: If this could be financially possible (and Lord knows, it ain’t at the moment), is this how I want to raise my boys?

Is “exclusive” what we value as a family? Did I cherish the moment because I was a part of an exclusive club for a day or because my boys were free to be boys in a beautiful place for a beautiful moment in time?

Giving my sons access to the world an echelon above what my husband and I experienced when we were young is exactly what I’ve been working hard for. I want my boys to understand that they are worthy to traverse such a world should they so choose to. What I am still not prepared for, however, is how I am going to reconcile the value systems between what we’ve got going on at home (“That good home trainin’”—ya’ll know what I’m talking about) and what they are going to experience out there. The children who my sons go to school with right now with will always have that lake, will always be a part of that community. My sons will only be mere visitors… at least, until the invitations stop. Not because they are poor, but because they are part of a family that is comfortable but not rich. Even if I wanted to keep up with those Jonses, I can’t: That lake only offers membership to citizens of that town… and our lovely home is in the next town over.

So what happens when the invitations stop coming? When my boys transition from “the cute little boys in the preschool” to “those black boys that my kids know”? I know that day will come eventually, and these liberal white-folks can shake their heads all they want, but I know them better than they know themselves. What happens when my boys realize that I can’t provide them access to that kind of luxury, and though we may have some resources, they are, indeed, limited in nature?

Whereas I am proud of our accomplishments and our choices, I cannot help but feel frustrated about seeing that our best efforts still present limitations in the face of the privilege all around us. It also presents the scariest question of all for me: If we continue to strive to introduce our boys to more and more of the privileged world around us, at what point will they break away from the values that got us here to begin with? At what point does giving access and presenting opportunity turn into snobbery and exclusivity? At what point do I stop grooming great men to do great things and instead start creating over-privileged monsters?

This, I’m afraid, is the nightmare that I never anticipated. Am I thinking too hard?

KC WiseK.C. Wise is a married Millennial Mom raising two bi-racial (B/W) boys in suburban Massachusetts. You can find out her thoughts about mothering, homemaking, writing, renovating a 100 year-old farmhouse and other musings at her blog:blackbunchedmassmom.wordpress.com.

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7 responses to “The Danger of Trips to Exclusive Places

  1. Yes. Yes you are. Of course, I love love love it. Even if you were the Jones’s, there’d still be families that are Jones-ier. After the first year at the fancy school, my then five year old asked why we don’t have a Ski House. Because, obviously, one only skis where one owns real estate. We’ve had umpteen conversations with our kids about how we’re comfortable, but not likely to ever be Ski House wealthy. Should I pull my kids out of the fancy school where the assumption is that everyone owns property for winter sports and my little half breeds count as diversity? Nope.

    It’s true, though, that the invitations to Liberal White Folk Chalets have slowed. But that’s because we always turn them down. I fucking hate skiing.

    Once again, I wish you lived on my street. xoxo

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    • Thank you, Britt. Just thank you. And I appreciate how much you get this, (and I TOTALLY know that you get this) and that’s why it means so much more. I think that the emotion that I’m feeling here, above and beyond the “you totally don’t belong here” vibe is the feeling of disgust, frankly. I think I hate the exclusivity. I think that I find it abhorrent on a raw level. And that makes me question the path that I so actively put us on.

      I’m trying to better discipline myself: It’s easy to look at the opulence and have a reaction to it. I feel like I’ve been doing that all year, like, “whoa, these people are so rich!” I’ve gotta stop doing that. It is obnoxious, for one, and it also just doesn’t do anything to help our circumstance. Then again, it’s hard to sit back, keep it in perspective and just be freaking grateful when you see what else is out there. Especially when I think of it in the context of the boys: They are competing with kids who have… THAT!?!? Blarg. It’s frustrating.

      But you are right. I’m not going to pull the boys from this school or keep them away from these things. Lord knows, they are WORTHY of being part of this, even if I can’t provide them with every single amazing element of it. I have to take a deep breath and keep it all in.

      You don’t live on my street, but you live close enough that we should have coffee one day. This state is so freaking small! We really ought to make that happen!

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  2. I don’t have kids, so here’s my 50 cents in all this thing… If you can afford it, Enjoy It! Another thing, Is You that you have the ability to raise them to be great men, not the jackasses that judge constantly.

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    • You are right about this! At the core, you are so right. Sometimes, especially in the face of this kind of ridiculousness, simplicity is the key. These boys can turn into great men with the resources that I am able to provide for them. I don’t need a fancy lake. I need love, and a steady eye to the horizon. It really shouldn’t be that hard! 🙂

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  3. Frankly, this is a fairly simple problem in my personal values. Basically, I live frugally and vacation luxuriously. Sound like you are trying to be new money? The Black Upper Class has been doing this for sometime. You save your money. You have your business in the Hood. Then you take as many nieces and nephews as you can afford to stay in a summer house on Martha’s Vineyard and learn that there are rich Black People. Nowadays you can even take them on the other side of the album to see how the even richer folks of other ethnicities congregate. What I advise against is doing what the rappers do and engage in conspicuous consumption for branding purposes. That’s what sociologists like E. Franklin Frazier, author of the highly recommended classic “Black Bourgeoisie” that I read for Cornel West’s class, criticize the Black Upper/Middle Class for. As soon as they get capital, they essentially give it back to elites in the form of conspicuous consumption. And who had big problems during the housing bubble? The Black Upper/Middle Class residents of Prince George’s County who have income but lack wealth according to many available sociological studies.
    Everybody focuses on the Black poor as the problem, but I believe the real problem stems from a Black Middle/Upper Middle Class that does not know how to spend its wealth. I cannot charge $100 per hour tutoring in DC and PG and expect to meet my goals. Within one year, I expect I could easily make 100K tutoring at that rate before taxes in Fairfax and Montgomery if I wanted to make The Achievemeng Gap worse.

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    • Oh Jason. Did you know that I’m from Silver Spring? I’m a very proud MoCo girl. I read this (and the first post on your blog, which I’m now going to follow) and I totally get where you are coming from. Interesting observations and I’m excited about reading more.

      I understand where you are coming from, but I disagree with your conclusion. Maybe because I’m a middle class girl who chased the upper-crust education (Blair to Harvard. Go fig. And no, I’m NOT a magnet graduate.) and I’ve met quite a few of those Martha’s Vineyard folk while teaching at a charter school in Roxbury. The “true” Martha’s Vineyard folk, the ones who have been there for generations (or have families who have served those families for generations) have forgotten about both the middle-class and the poorer Black folk. They created insular communities and have created gateways and gatekeepers that go way beyond the “brown paper bag” stereotypes. And, especially here in Massachusetts, where the stratification of wealth is bad enough, the sheer unabashed segregation of racial communities is utterly unchecked and not talked about. The MV Negro moves in and out of communities like mine without care, looking at my White neighbors as if they are nothing. That’s fine by me. Unfortunately, he passes right by me, too, and says not a word. I’m not part of his world. My struggles me nothing to him. His acknowledgement of my presence would mean the world to me. A kind word, a handshake, an invitation to church? Solidarity in places like where I live is all that it takes. But no. He’ll always walk on by.

      And you know what else? Those people sit on the boards of charter schools like the one I worked for in Roxbury. They never see the kids, don’t know their struggles, won’t even sit in the classrooms of the highly educated Black teachers who work with those kids. It’s a damn mess. I’d take a negro from PG over a negro from MV any day of the week. Any day. Because the man from PG will sit in the barbershop in the city and talk about the ‘Skins. The dude from MV won’t even look another Black in the eye without verification that they are on the same level. It’s gross, Jason. It’s real gross.

      But I’m looking forward to reading your blog, and I’m excited about your comments here. And good luck with the tutoring. There are plenty of Black kids in Fairfax and Montgomery. So you don’t need to make The Achievement Gap “worse” by tutoring out there. Believe me. Some of us leave those communities to go off and do amazing things. I promise.

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