Walking into the RACE: Are We So Different? exhibit at History Colorado, I was already aware that race is not a scientific fact. Some things that impact us greatly disappear the closer we examine them. Race is one of those things. The exhibit explains why we look different based on geography. That reminded me of writer Maya Angelou, who visited Africa and found people who looked just like her—they had her hips, smiles and eyes.
I often get asked if I’m Nordic, but I’ve met a woman who was basically my twin and she was from Holland. Part of my family came from a region of Germany right by the Dutch border. I hope to go there one day looking for “my people.”
That was another aspect of the exhibit that struck me: I’ve always been uncomfortable that I come from a family of recent immigrants. We had the luck of being white and German, so we blended in within a generation and benefitted because our race is privileged. As Warren Buffett would say, I was lucky in the “ovarian lottery.” I’ve been able to have a good enough education to contemplate all of this, and had the advantage of being a middle-class American while many of my schoolmates, coworkers and neighbors have families that have been in this country for generations yet don’t get any benefits for their seniority on this land. This has made me interested in issues of social justice and human rights.
I was upset to learn that black GIs in World War II didn’t get the same benefits from the GI Bill as their white counterparts. This had a terrible economic impact on black families. Blacks couldn’t move into suburbs like Levittown. These veterans got less money and had fewer places to spend it due to limits on mortgages. Luckily, those barriers have been outlawed—but new ones arise.
If Mayfair Village, where I live, is a unique and surprisingly diverse housing development, then the reason is choosing not to do business in a typical way. I feel lucky to be able to see what my neighbors think about and care about, and, basically, we care about the same things no matter what race we appear to be.
By Pam Paulien, Mayfair Village community member