09 July 2004


Rhéaume has already bløgged extensively about our Independence Day trip to NYC, so I won't rehash all his details, but instead add a few random thoughts from the trip.

This was my first time to New York where I didn't feel overwhelmed by the city. Part of it was the fact that we stayed totally away from the touristy parts of the city and part of it was hanging out with a bunch of New Yorkers whilst we were there. Hanging out in the East Village was different from being in the Midtown/Times Square area. It's hard to explain, but it made the whole trip more fun. For the first time I could see myself moving to New York (not that I'm going to do so anytime soon). Kudos to Lopez and Kimberly for being smashing hosts.

I had an interesting experience on the bus ride into the city. The route goes straight down 5th Avenue all the way from Harlem down to somewhere near 42nd St, where it cuts over to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. It was a very tangible illustration of how poorly racially integrated American society is. This isn't a criticism of New York mind you, it just provides a very glaring example: as we drove through Harlem everyone was black. It was a gorgeous Saturday so people were out walking around and hanging out. All the parks were full of families setting up picnics and kids running around hosing each other with water guns. And although I stared out the window for the whole time I saw zero white people. Then suddenly you cross some magic line somewhere near the beginning of Central Park and before the Guggenheim and everybody's white. The only black people I saw in this neighborhood were a guy sweeping the streets, several doormen and two waiters at an outdoor café.

What's my point with all this? Just that it made me sit up and think about how, despite making some strides in terms of racial equality, we've made almost none in terms of integration. People still live in self-selecting neighborhoods of people who look like they do. There are some benefits to having a cultural identity, and being part of a community is often a very positive influence. Problems arise when these communities start to define people above and beyond their individual personalities and when one group becomes antagonistic towards another solely because they aren't in the same tribe. This is very much a part of the story in Israel, and it persists today in the United States.

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