For Whites in Prince George's, a Mirror on Race
Thursday, July 27, 2006
The swimming pool in Abby Hopper's Bowie development was already crowded when Hopper, her husband, their two toddler girls, her sister-in-law and her two young kids arrived in a cloud of plastic buckets, kickboards and Cinderella floaties. Just settling in was a huge production. Then, sitting in her lounger, Hopper finally looked around. There had to be 75 people at the pool.
They were the only whites.
Hopper, 35, felt that stab -- call it acute self-consciousness. She didn't know the people around her, and they didn't know her. What if Madeline made a splashy mess or Ellie took another child's floatie -- because that's what little kids do. What if the other moms thought her girls were some entitled-feeling white kids, with their entitled-feeling white mother looking on?
Okay, what would happen ?
Long pause. "Well, nothing physical," Hopper says slowly. Maybe just a bad scene.
The pang passed as fast as it came. Hopper recognized a mom from the neighborhood toddler play group she helped organize and saw the family from down the street in the baby pool. Everything was back to being all good; just a regular these-are-the-people-in-my-neighborhood kind of thing.
Two years ago, the Hoppers moved from a nearly all-white neighborhood in Baltimore to Prince George's County, where Abby Hopper had grown up around all kinds of people. She says she wants that for her kids. Her husband, Greg, also likes that they got a lot more house for the money.
Whites moving into black neighborhoods often follow the pattern of gentrification: The influx leads to higher property prices, displacement of residents who can't afford to stay and lingering resentment. But the paradigm has shifted in Prince George's, one of the few suburban counties nationally with wide swaths of black wealth.
Some white families are being drawn by the upscale amenities of subdivision life at relatively bargain prices. There's little tension about displacement, because they move into neighborhoods with people of similar economic statuses, and by and large, they say they are being welcomed.
Decisions about where to lay your head and raise your family have been among those most resistant to the integrational ideals of the civil rights movement. But residents say the educated, affluent demographics of Prince George's help make integration calculations, and the conversations around them, a little easier for everybody.
Inside the Hoppers' kitchen, which still looks model-home new, there's plenty of room for Ellie, 2, to walk around the dinner table passing out bread as Greg and Abby recall their Prince George's stories.