The Nation's Pulse

Diversity City

Where reside the masters of passive virtue.

By 1.12.12

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"I could never live out there," says my neo-bohemian friend, his words conveying a profound sense of horror. "It's too white."

"What have you got against white people?" I ask. My friend -- to quote Fitzgerald -- is also of a nebulous hue.

"What I mean is," he sputters, "is there's no diversity out there."

I tell him there is no diversity in my neighborhood either and I live right smack in the middle of St. Louis. Nearly every one is poor and black. My wife and I are about the only middle class white folks.

It's getting harder and harder to find good diversity these days.

I have heard such sentiments expressed more than once by the flip, college-educated crowd. They issue such statements in an attempt to flaunt their moral superiority, the way a star athlete would publicize his batting average. Masters of passive virtue, they hope to score points for their politically correct beliefs without expending any real effort. Why not? It's a heck of a lot easier than getting up Saturday morning to volunteer at a soup kitchen.

By "out there" he means beyond the metropolitan area. The dull, crime-free suburbs and rural areas. I suspect there are other reasons he would never live "out there." No trendy Himalayan restaurants. No outsider art galleries and mid-century modern furniture shops. No meeting exciting new people with dubious sexual orientation. No exhilarating feeling that comes from knowing you could be violently murdered at any moment. All the things that make life worth living for some people.

Let's face it, I want to say. You despise average, middle Americans. I don't say it, though. I have to work with this guy. But I know his kind all too well. Many people who live in cities have "escaped" small towns or the suburbs. They flee to the cities because they cannot abide average, small-town Americans. They hate their hobbies (bowhunting), they hate their music (Dierks Bentley), they hate their imposing vehicles (Ford Raptor pickups). For all their pretense at inclusivity, city folks are remarkably exclusive.

They reside on select streets or in neighborhoods where there is little if any diversity, and where multiculturalism is but a slogan and a vague ideal. They frequent what may as well be "whites only" tea houses, used book stores, and art gallery openings in edgy urban neighborhoods where the lack of diversity stands out like a missing thumb. They dine in expensive ethnic restaurants where the patrons are mirror images of one another. They pack their kids off to private schools that 75 percent of city residents cannot afford. That apparently doesn't count. What counts is that the city itself -- in its totality -- has lots of diversity.

ONE ACQUAINTANCE, a young Asian woman ("We are the one acceptable minority," she avers), has had enough of the hypocrisy of her fellow neo-bohemians. No more will she patronize any place in which the clientele, audience, or guest list is less than 10 percent "of color." Should she find herself in such loathsome, monochrome surroundings, she immediately turns round and makes for the exit. What's more, she carries in her purse little cards that chide the restaurateur, gallery owner, etc., for his lack of diversity. These she places on a table or at the counter on her way out. Just what the owner is supposed to do (Pull in random minorities off the street? Offer free refills to Hispanics?) remains an open question.

It seems to me that she is targeting the wrong people. The owner of an inner-city coffeehouse has little control over who comes in to sponge off his free Wi-Fi. If poor minorities avoid espresso bars it is probably because they think it absurd to spend $5 for a cup of decaf and $3 for a banana. The same goes for the Bedouin cuisine at the local Jordanian restaurant. It is simply a luxury they cannot afford.

Such people can only see people as members of groups, never as unique individuals. They are forever counting and adding up percentages. It could be that "out there" there are some very interesting and kind spirited people. My city friends will never know, because they refuse to go "out there." Anyway until the percentages improve.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.