This is a hard post to write, but it's a good one to write because it's about actually learning something, even if the thing I learned is kind of embarrassing in the sense of revealing what I would call a racialist flaw in my thinking. Here's the deal. I live on a block with (I think) 17 houses, arrayed across the street from each other in parallel lines. They're not all the same style, which I like. Some are bigger than others, some are stucco, some brick; one is frame, one has vinyl siding. My block doesn't look anything like the one in the photo, but I like the atmosphere and the era of the photo, so that's why I put it there.
I have lived on this block for over twenty years; a few have lived here longer than I have. It's a moderately friendly block. People live on my block who I consider to be good friends and excellent neighbors. We have a block party once a year in the summer, and most (but not all) people attend. Years ago, someone started the tradition of having a block map--that is, a list of names and phone numbers arrayed in a schematic way to represent the configuration of our block. My husband and I keep our block map on the refrigerator, and we consult it often.
Most of the people on my block are white; two families are African American. Neither of the African-American families comes to block parties. For one of these families, we don't even have a phone number on the block map, as the last time the map was updated (I updated it about a month ago), I tried the phone number on the outgoing map, found it disconnected, and slipped a note (actually my husband slipped the note) through the mail slot letting them know we were updating the map and would like to add their phone number if they'd like to share it. Apparently, they didn't want to.
Here's where my racialist thinking came in. I started to feel that the non-participation of these two families had something to do with their being black. I acknowledged that it could have something to do with discomfort about being in a minority; I was willing to be understanding in my racialist thinking. Still, I was linking what I determined to be a pattern with race.
I am glad that I shared this thought with others, even though I ended up feeling a little foolish in retrospect. I was at my book group meeting, where we were discussing, of all things, my novel. Which is how the subject of race came up. In response to my comment about the African-American neighbors and their non-participation, my husband pointed out that there was another house on the block that had always been occupied by white people, and still, in 20+ years, we hadn't known who owned the house or lived in it (well, there was a short time when a renter lived there with her son, and she came to the block parties, and we knew her name and phone number). And then, two book group members (a couple; white) from another blocks said, "We never go to block parties." And another said, "We don't either."
So I could see how an attitude might develop, how possibly unrelated facts (they're both black; neither comes to the block party) could come to feel linked, and from there . . . who knows?