10:01pm

Wed September 14, 2011
Race

Feeling Like A Tourist: Being Black In New England

Originally published on Thu September 15, 2011 11:02 am

I am a New Englander, born and bred, with the accent to prove it. Originally from Massachusetts, I now live in northern New Hampshire, in an area popular with vacationers. However, as a black woman in an overwhelmingly white state, there are times when I feel like a tourist.

Many residents here have never known a person of color. Some want to; others do not. Problem is, when I leave my own small town, it's impossible to know which type I will encounter.

For example, I am an avid reader who supports independent bookstores when traveling. Bookshop employees are characteristically welcoming. Maybe voracious reading and open-mindedness go hand in hand.

But if I grab coffee and a snack nearby, I have often found myself ignored, or worse. Once, in a doughnut shop, a man flicked a lit cigarette at me when I was visibly pregnant and alone. Another customer witnessed it and froze. Full of righteous indignation, I jumped in my pickup and searched for a police officer, but couldn't find one.

Since then, I've used drive-thru windows when I travel. I've trained myself to be cautious and calculating.

I think racism is like a chronic condition that can be treated, but not cured. It flares up unexpectedly. After a while, though, it manages you — which is why it's so damaging.

Sometimes I think if I lived down South, life might be easier. I've visited places there where racial lines are delineated — where blacks live in certain parts of town, and whites in others.

I know many people find this kind of modern segregation very troubling. But I can see how it might appeal to a black person. I could do all the things I do now — cart the kids around, go to a show, shop and entertain — with one difference: There would be so many brown faces that mine would blend in.

But in order to do that, I would have to leave all that is familiar, relinquish all that makes me who I am. All that would remain would be my accent.

I am not trying to be a Rosa, a Martin or a Barack. I am just trying to raise a family, pursue a little happiness, and live peacefully with my neighbors. And until we all have that, none of us can say that we are truly free.

Commentator Debra Nunnally Beaupre writes the TeacherMother blog.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, host: New England is getting ready to greet the tourists who come in search of fall color and boost local economies by billions of dollars every year. Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont says even much of his state, which was flooded by Hurricane Irene, will be ready for the visitors. The locals call them leaf peepers.

The governor says not all the highways will be fully paved, so it is good that tourists usually drive slowly when they're gazing at the autumn leaves. And, he says, all the rain from Irene should help the state's famous sugar maples.

Commentator Debra Nunnally Beaupre loves driving the region's picturesque back roads in the fall. But she says that, as an African-American woman, she doesn't always find it easy to travel in that area.

DEBRA NUNNALLY BEAUPRE: I am a New Englander, born and bred, with the accent to prove it. Originally from Massachusetts, I now live in northern New Hampshire, in an area popular with vacationers. However, as a black woman in an overwhelmingly white state, there are times when I feel like a tourist.

Many residents here have never known a person of color. Some want to, others do not. Problem is, when I leave my own small town, it's impossible to know which type I will encounter.

For example, I am an avid reader who supports independent bookstores when traveling. Bookshop employees are characteristically welcoming. Maybe voracious reading and open-mindedness go hand in hand. But if I grab coffee and a snack nearby, I have often found myself ignored or worse.

Once, in a donut shop, a man flicked a lit cigarette at me when I was visibly pregnant and alone. Another customer witnessed it and froze. Full of righteous indignation, I jumped in my pickup and searched for a police officer, but couldn't find one. Since then, I've used drive-through windows when I travel.

I've trained myself to be cautious and calculating. I think racism is like a chronic condition that can be treated, but not cured. It flares up unexpectedly. After a while, though, it manages you, which is why it's so damaging.

Sometimes I think if I lived down South, life might be easier. I've visited places there where racial lines are delineated, where blacks live in certain parts of town and whites in others. I know many people find this kind of modern segregation very troubling. But I can see how it might appeal to a black person.

I could do all the things I do now - cart the kids around, go to a show, shop, and entertain, with one difference: there would be so many brown faces, mine would blend in.

But in order to do that, I would have to leave all that is familiar, relinquish all that makes me, me. All that would remain would be my accent. I am not trying to be a Rosa, a Martin, or a Barack. I'm just trying to raise a family, pursue a little happiness and live peacefully with my neighbors. And until we all have that, none of us can say that we are truly free.

INSKEEP: Commentator Debra Nunnally Beaupre is a teacher and writer who lives in a village in northern New Hampshire. And you can comment on her essay on our opinion page at NPR.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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