Growing Up On Long Island: Racism 101

The author and one of the people she loves most in this world

I’ve often said Long Island was one of the most segregated places in the nation. For all the talk about the northeast being filled with “liberals” I didn’t see a lot of it. I had people who modeled a behavior and a way of life that was righteous, and then there were other people.

I know it existed for so long. I could go into so many stories.

Sonia (above) came to visit us each summer through the Fresh Air Fund. At the time, they not only had camps that some children went to, but some came and visited people’s homes as well. When Sonia first came to visit, Elmont was a white town with mostly Jewish and Italian residents. I was a minority because I was Protestant. My parents welcomed her with open arms. I was an adopted only child and craved the companionship of a “sister” and Sonia fit the bill. We had so much fun over the years. It was one of the things I looked forward to each summer.

In later years, my parents told me how George and Eleanor, an older couple that lived next door to us, didn’t like us having Sonia there. They actually said to my parents “you’re just showing them something they can’t have.” I guess the joke was on George and Eleanor except they moved out before Elmont became integrated.

I was about 9, I think, when the first “minority” family moved in. They were a hard working couple with 3 kids – a boy and 2 girls. The youngest girl was just a year older than me and we became fast friends. Again, I didn’t care what a person looked like – I just wanted a friend. Most of the kids in my neighborhood went to the Catholic school and I often felt lonely. Suzanne and I played together a lot. I remember staying at her house and she stayed at mine. Both of her parents worked and were strict since their kids came home to an empty house. Usually she couldn’t come over in the afternoon after school until her mother or father got home. We’d go over there at night and all sit together and talk and hang out. I just loved it.

Their house abutted the school yard. One night someone set the bushes in back of their house on fire.

Elmont was in the news in the late 70’s for the racial steering and blockbusting that went on. It was rather successful since homes turned over at a ridiculous rate. Things changed in how the residents of the community were treated. That is the subtlety of racism. They don’t overtly stop policing an area, but when the police are called they drag their feet to show up or don’t enforce the law when the caller is African-American. I’ll share more stories another time.

By the time I went to high school, we had a good percentage of African-American students. You’d think that would mean we saw each other and we learned from each other. When I trip down memory lane on various Facebook groups for my town, I see that wasn’t the case and it makes me sad. If anyone had a chance to learn and grow and be different when it came to race relations, it was those of us who attended school together back then. Yet I still see the same overt and coded racism being spouted by people I knew back then.

When I was older and we shopped for a home, we were initially looking further out on Long Island. We were looking at Levittown because at that time it was more affordable than most other places. Two things turned me off of Levittown. One was a home we were looking at where the nearby (white) kids about 12 years old came walking right through the home we were looking at when the real estate was showing it to us. They were neighbors and just walked in through an empty house like they owned the place. The other was when I spoke with someone I knew who lived there and she said “and you know, Levittown will never change. My neighbors won’t let it.” What does that even mean? Do you think advertising that you and your neighbors would do something (likely violent or destructive) to a minority who dared buy a home by you is a selling point?

We didn’t buy there. We stayed closer to Elmont.

I just saw a conversation on someone else’s page about all of the African-Americans who have been killed by police and this one Karen had to put in her .02 that “white people are getting killed too.” When she was called on that she responded with “I don’t see color” followed by “I have black friends.” THAT RIGHT THERE IS RACISM.

I don’t know how we fix this. We can’t even get the same people to figure out what a piece of shit our President is, never mind actually acknowledging the systemic racism and working on it.

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