December 4, 2006

Swimming on the White Side of Life

This past weekend was eventful and fun:
  • I had tea with an older Dutch woman and heard about her experience of WWII as a 10-15 year old.
  • We experienced (yet another round of redwoods) Big Basin with the in-laws.
  • We took them to visit the Monterey Aquarium. After seeing a documentary about the aquarium's kelp forest, I was excited to see it. As with much in life, the reality was a bit underwhelming. If you click on the link, they feature a great white shark. In real life, it's only 3 feet long. All four of us agreed that the Baltimore Aquarium was better organized and had more variety--and that was before they installed an Australian exhibit.
  • We left Muttola for the day with J and O, our friends who hosted us when we first arrived in CA. O has a dog fantasy and was grateful to have a dog for the day. That's the best kind of sitter to have, one who is thankful for the opportunity!
Mostly I wanted to post as a way to vent after coming from swim team. I think I mentioned I was considering joining the Menlo Masters at the neighborhood pool. Last week I swam two practices. I paid my membership fee yesterday and returned to swim today. In my usual contrary fashion, once it's paid for, it feels like an obligation I don't want to do. I feel great after swimming though so I'm trying to push through that. The thing that's weird is that the swim team members are a reflection of the neighborhood, and I'm feeling prejudiced.

I've mentioned growing up in an inner-city 'hood in Cincinnati. We also had a neighborhood pool down the street. In elementary school I was on that team. We had kids from 5-18. Colors from darkest sable to ghostly white. And lots of fun: Marco Polo and Sharks and Minnows during rest breaks; lots of kidding around and joking; snack breaks courtesy of your tax dollars.

Now I'm in the wealthiest neighborhood I've ever lived in. Sure I'm in the affordable rent district, but if that is surrounded by walled communities, the people at the pool are more likely to be from behind the walls. They sit around the locker room complaining about the cost of private school education for their kids. Here they are with probably amazing public schools, but God forbid! Also, I'm in far worse shape than I thought and keep having to demote myself to slower and slower lanes. Sure I'm pushing myself, but I'm competitive enough to want to move UP not down. Bottom line--I'm feeling grubby, poor, and insecure. Being around rich white folks makes me more uncomfortable than any other social situation.

One other small thing: the guy who checks us in looks like he has native blood, and the lifeguard is African-American. When I'm friendly and chatty with them, they react like I'm trying to go slumming. They see me in the rich white swim club and make an assumption. Ditto the four homeless guys in town. Obviously there's isn't a non-obnoxious way to wave a "I'm not like them" flag, so I just feel caught in a suit that doesn't fit.

I'm sure once I start to get to know people, I'll love them for who they are. That's why it's called a 'pre judge ice': it's the assumptions I make before I know the individuals in the pack. I guess it's hard to imagine the conversational bridges--though the threat of skin cancer seems like a universal topic for all us palefaces.


OTR sister said...

I feel more insecure with rich white people than among any other group.

And in my grubby insecurity I protect myself with pride and judgement.

It's hard.

OTRgirl said...

The weird/sad truth is, I don't consider anyone I know to be part of 'rich white people', it's just strangers. Some of my friends in high school did cotillions and debutante balls, DC friends were high falutin', and many of my college friends were wealthy. I wish I could just skip the stranger danger part...

Rachel said...

Ouch. I know the look.

We are in a similar situation in our neighborhood. We rent in a neighborhood where almost everyone else owns, and the houses go for $700K and up, so we don't exactly fit in. The level of privilege/ elitism in the Bay Area was kind of astounding to me, and I never felt comfortable among those people. There's definitely an element of nouveau-flaunting-the-wealth.