Sunday, May 12, 2013

New Hampshire: The Shire Looks at the World

Mad Dog once had a photo of a group of children of different races, arms around each other, smiling into the camera in his office.  This was some years ago, and things may have changed, but it struck Mad Dog that whenever an American adult looked at that picture, the American would smile back at it.  But when a German or Frenchman or Italian or often, a Brit would look at it, not so much. People from these places, when they looked at the picture at all, often did so with knitted brow, narrowed eyes, and did not look pleased, much less smile back.

Not exactly a controlled experiment. Just an impression. 

But it did strike Mad Dog as a sort of gut check, unvarnished study. In Mad Dog's warped mind, it seemed Americans had internalized the Star Trek ideal of a multiracial society working together in harmony on the same spaceship earth, whereas Europeans may not have, or at least some Europeans.

Like many studies, this one may have returned the results Mad Dog wanted to see, rather than the more complex truth of what is actually out there.

Mad Dog has just returned from two weekends "abroad," one in New Orleans, one in New York City.   These quick visits drove home a point he had not thought about for some time:  New Hampshire is a very white place.

In fact, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, in that order, are the three white-est states among all 50 states. Utah and Rhode Island, once among the most white are no longer, with only 80-85% whiteness, presumably, in the case of Utah, owing to Hispanics and in Rhode Island's case, more research needs to be done.

But as Mad Dog walked around the streets, through the parks of New York City, and felt the vitality, the energy, the sheer exuberance of the place, he realized a very strange thing--something he would never have expected he would have even given a thought: Mad Dog missed seeing colored folks, missed just saying hello to colored folks, missed their presence. 

He also realized that in every society he has ever lived, somebody occupied the bottom rungs of the socio-economic ladder.  When he was growing up below the Mason Dixon line, that place was mostly occupied by African Americans, but AA's are no longer in that position. In Washington, DC and in New York City you see plenty of affluent minority folks.

In New Hampshire, Whites occupy the bottom rungs. They tend to be people from large families, often broken homes, and they tend to be under educated. They are straight out of the pages of Grace Metalious and Peyton Place.

Mad Dog is not suggesting New Hampshire import colored folks. But, if this observation means anything for our state, perhaps it means if we are homogeneous in some ways, perhaps we ought to make a special effort to reach out to the rest of the world, and to be sure we hear other opinions, and we ought to make an effort to explore the world beyond our cozy little shire.

We already do this, of course, with the Music Hall, the nearby Ogunquit Playhouse, and by going to movies and by watching cable TV, those of us who can afford cable TV.

And it must be remembered, New Hampshire voted for a Black man (mixed race actually) twice. Mr. Obama took every town on the seacoast (save New Castle) in the first election and did almost as well in the second.  There were racial epithets, snide banners, nasty bumper stickers, but ordinary, white, New Hampshire tradesmen and housewives, who Mad Dog met while canvasing during the weeks running up to the election, made no mention at all of Mr. Obama's race, only his policies. Many, if not most of them, thought he had tried to do the right thing, and been thwarted by stubborn Republican resistance. 

But when Mad Dog talks to his co workers, he is struck by how little interest they have in the world beyond the shire.  He tried to get them to listen to National Public Radio, but, as one commented, "I tried, but it was always about news from some place in Africa or some country I'd never heard of and will never go to."

One of my co workers has never been on an airplane. Her husband has only been out the the states of New Hampshire and Vermont once, to fly to Wisconsin. (Another very white state.)   

These people show no sign of overt racism. They simply have no opinion of or experience with people of different races, people who come from different cultural backgrounds.  When they go to college, traveling to Keene or Plymouth, New Hampshire seems a long haul. Somethings they consider Maine or Rhode Island. 

One wonders when this will change, and when it does, how, and in what direction?


  1. Mad Dog,
    I agree it's unfortunate NH is so lacking in diversity and it is surprising that hasn't changed much in 40 years. When I was in high school one African American family moved into the city and everyone knew where they lived ( I'm not kidding). They were regarded not with a sense of animosity, but curiosity- like a family of unicorns had arrived.

    The fact that the state is like one giant loaf of Wonder Bread doesn't make it easy for non-white kids growing up here and you're right, not because of overt racism, but the feeling of being different and standing out when every other face you see is white. Some would argue that's part of what makes New Hampshire, New Hampshire-that sense of insulation from the rest of the world. Certainly that's not a feeling shared by all residents, however, lets just say not everyone in the state would be bemoaning the lack of outside influences and cultural and racial differences.There are a lot of great things about New Hampshire but the lack of diversity is a big negative...

  2. Maud,

    I am told when Pease was an active Air Force base there was more diversity at Portsmouth High School.
    Oh, well, we are Hobbits I suppose.

    Mad Dog