Safety and diversity

When I lived in Indianapolis I felt safe. I lived in a part of town that had little or no crime. I was never the victim of a crime and I was never under threat. Indianapolis has bad neighborhoods; the church I attend is in one of them. I just stayed out of there at night and all was well.

I moved to Zionsville, an Indianapolis suburb, a couple years ago. I feel ultra safe here.

Around Zionsville

I think now that I merely didn’t feel unsafe when I lived in Indianapolis. I recently started working in Downtown Indianapolis, a place I used to visit frequently when I lived in the city. As I walk those streets now I realize I’m always lightly vigilant, always generally aware of my surroundings.

Because my guard is completely down in Zionsville, I can see now that I was always this watchful when I lived in Indianapolis.

Parked by the blue door

I think I feel safe enough to be this relaxed and trusting because in Zionsville, everyone looks and behaves like me, or like someone obviously in a higher station in life than me. In Indianapolis, I encountered people of many backgrounds, people who didn’t look like me.

I don’t like to think of myself as prejudiced, but perhaps I am in this way. If nothing else, living in Zionsville has certainly taught me that it’s easy to feel safe in a homogeneous community.

Down a Zionsville sidewalk

Yet I miss the diversity of Indianapolis. When I moved there in 1994, my first wife and I chose a home in an area of mixed race so we and our children would have friends of many colors and backgrounds. It worked!

Yet when we went out on the town — infrequently, as our children kept us busy — we never felt a part of a community. We were just two people out among strangers. I used to think that was largely on me, as I’m a keep-to-myself introvert. But now I’m not so sure.

Around Zionsville

When my current wife and I go out in Zionsville, there’s a feeling that we’re among our people. We have random conversations with strangers. My wife always starts them (see above, re: keep-to-myself introvert), but I always participate in them. Heartily.

In Zionsville when I see someone who is not white or is not wearing clothes that suggest at least an upper-middle-class background, I immediately assume they’re not from here. And then I’m startled by my own prejudice.

This is just an experience report. I can’t draw any hard conclusions. But I wonder: does choosing diversity lead to a reduced feeling of safety, and does choosing homogeneity lead to an increased feeling of safety? Am I objectively safer in Zionsville than in even my nearly-no-crime neighborhood in Indianapolis? I’m not sure.

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22 responses to “Safety and diversity”

  1. J P Avatar

    Some interesting questions. A related one is this: why are some areas more crime-prone than others. I want to say that those who feel like outsiders have little stake in improving a place and feel less bad about victimizing those who live there.

    But then again, areas with the highest crime seem pretty homogeneous too with most criminals and victims being of the same race and class. As with everything, I guess it’s complicated.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Good point: in some circumstances, homogeneity breeds contempt. In others, a group that appears to be homogeneous to us really isn’t when you’re on the inside.

  2. zaluskipa Avatar

    Nicely written. I was born and raised in Chicago. Luckily my husband was in the military, therefore we moved a few times. That gave me an eye-opening opportunity to view other people and areas. I believe what you’re saying is not predigest. We are good people that take pride in our community. We are not criminals and don’t want to live around a declining area. There is so much to say about growing up Mid-West.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The prejudice comes when I look at someone on the street in my town and judge them based on their appearance whether they “belong” there or not.

      It is truly great to live somewhere with such community pride and involvement.

  3. Kurt Ingham Avatar

    Trenchant observations

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I had to look up “trenchant,” thank you for giving me a word for the day!

  4. -N- Avatar

    I think it is a natural instinct myself. Like unto like. However, that does not mean it is always the best thing to do.

    I read somewhere that studies show that small children – nonverbal in our own language – know and see the differences between themselves and other children, and react accordingly – looking for the ones most like themselves.

    Civilization is what allows us to embrace those different from ourselves, and we need to consciously work at peaceful relationships, caring and sincere, between ourselves and others.

    My own family is diverse, but I also know that I need to remind myself of civilizing qualities when annoyed or whatever. I have lived in many places, been a minority, been a majority, been just another faceless person, but I still find I react in some “prejudicial” ways on a gut level – that is human nature. How we respond is an indicator of our civilized nature methinks.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Great thoughts. A friend and fellow blogger writes from time to time about kin bias, how we tend to naturally align to people who, upon inspection, might be kin. So white European middle/upper-middle class people are more kinlike to me than others. You make solid points about how civilization allows diverse people to coexist. It’s remarkable how much ongoing energy civilization takes to maintain.

      1. Kurt Ingham Avatar
        Kurt Ingham

        Similar class provokes a stronger response (in me) than race..the cues are a little less obvious

  5. Heide Avatar

    Great musings, Jim. I think most of us are wired to be social creatures and to seek connections with other humans — so it makes sense that we would also be drawn to those with whom we might share the most in common. But hats off to you for being so self-aware, and for examining your reactions. Now you have me thinking, too …

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Birds of a feather and all. But being in Zionsville often feels like being in a very charming bubble of unreality. Seriously, this is the 1% life here. What I had in Indianapolis was much more normal.

  6. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    My office is an area that would be called a bit sketchy. I often like to go out and walk at lunch and I do most every day. I always feel uneasy and am very observant to my surroundings. A short drive away (maybe 5-7 minutes), there is a brand new upscale retail center. Even though I should probably be just as observant there, I feel more comfortable and really don’t think about my safety.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I get it. My last job was behind an upscale retail center and it, too, was a place where I felt 100% safe.

  7. analogphotobug Avatar

    Hey I had to look up Trenchant too! Thank you for articulating your thoughts and feelings. The fact that you’ve thought about this AND more importantly wrote about it means that You’re a Good Guy. Because of my profession and who I married, I am often the only Black person in my environment…..And to your point, depending on the Class of White people that I’m around, it can be very uncomfortable.

    A couple of years ago, one of the VP’s at my company engaged me in a discussion of diversity and how to recruit people of color to our business. When I told him that I would not recommend it as a place to work he was shocked. But after our series of conversations, I started to see a sprinkling of more people of color in our technical services.

    It’s all about having the conversation……

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I work in software development; I’m a manager of software developers. Where I work now, we actually have a couple black software developers. As far as I can remember (and memories can grow dim in a 30-year career), I have not worked with a black software developer before. Black people are famously underrepresented in software development.

      I cannot imagine what it must be like to be them. I am not aware that they are treated anything other than just like any other software developer. But to so obviously look different from everyone else — they must feel it every day.

      The only frame of reference I have for this is that I’m now in my 50s and this is a young person’s game. I feel different from everyone on my team, the median age of which is about 26. But still, with one exception (a native of India) we’re all white people.

  8. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    I grew up in Chicago,and then Milwaukee; and as an adult, lived all over the place (Minneapolis, DC, Northern Cali, Back in Chicago, etc.).

    Came down to Indianapolis/Indiana for a job, and was there for 4 years, with Zionsville being the last 2 I was there. I have to say, sociologically did NOT like Indiana at all. Not people I grew up with, not even the diverse people I lived with in places like Chicago. The upper Midwest has that “Nelson Algren/Studs Terkel” Germanic working class: even tho they are blue collar, they have a history of self-education (autodidacts?). Indianapolis has a majority of working class that are what the locals refer to as “hill-jacks” from Kentuc and Tenn. Read the NYT book review listed book, “Hillbilly Elegy” for an accurate representation of what you’re getting involved with when you move to the bottom 2/3rd’s in Indiana. Bleak, and they permeate most of the sociology of Indianapolis. These are the people that made Indiana the state with the largest Ku Klux Klan population in history, far more than any southern state.

    The 2 years I lived in Zionsville, it was wonderful. For probably the first time in my 63 year old life, I never even had to think about crime, and could walk the streets at night without a care in the world. It was easy to talk with people on the street, altho I will say I had little in common with the population, other than the educated “euros” who were in Zionsville and working for Eli Lilly, Purdue Pharma, and Dow Chemical. We all sort of commiserated about the Indiana “psyche”, but were safeguarded by living in our little village of Z-ville. Unless I win the lottery, I’ll probably never live in a place like that again!

    BUT, and as Pee-Wee says, it’s a big “BUT”, the “Stepford Wife” aspect of Zionsville was pretty daunting. I met people who had moved from out of state and their kids were bullied at the high-school (including having evil notes written and dumped into their lockers, telling them to go back from where they came from), so much so, that they left and went back to where they were from! I was told about parents calling meetings with the principal and being told “Hey, there are other options for your kid, we’re doing fine here with out top rated school. ” They didn’t deny the bullying, they just weren’t going to do anything about it, because your kid didn’t “fit in”. Sorry, but no need for me to go back to living in the lily-white 50’s!

    I think of Zionsville every so often, some what fondly, but I am glad I’m not in Indiana any more, even tho my life is a little tougher to live!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I am descended from hillbillies, from West Virginia. So I get hillbillies. Although I’ve lived my entire life in Indiana, it hurts a little bit when people like my family are put down for their way of life. It’s not a way I share. But when I go to West Virginia to visit, they share a joy of life that I have always found elusive. I envy them.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        I think the book “Hillbilly Elegy” is a “must read” for you. Unfortunately, the author makes lot of rationalizations about his family that moved to Ohio to get ahead, while also trying to explain why he likes them, but then goes on to cover the horrible in-family fighting, feuds, drunkenness, misrepresentation of their work skills and focus, and their virtually pathological refusal to self educate, and in fact, to look down on those who are educated; well, it just can’t be explained away. These are people that are not 21st Century “ready”. A lot of people that read the book, and are from the area, sort of looked at it as a positive shot at explaining the sociology, but I remained unconvinced. It’s at the Zionsville library, tho…

  9. Peggy Avatar

    I have had to make major adjustments after moving from Japan to England. Though I am still more open than my friends and family. Japan was much, much safer in terms of personal safety and safety of property. I am still getting use to not leaving things in my car on show. It is sad really. But on the other side I find I chat with a lot more people out an about. Yorkshire people love a good natter.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve heard of how safe Japan is, to the point of if you leave your wallet on a park bench it will still be there two days later. I studied Japanese society at length in college (30 years ago) and came away fascinated – but also feeling like it would be a stressful society given all of the expectations.

  10. da Avatar

    Interesting- as an Asian who grew up in Los Angeles, and now live in the San Francisco Bay area, I’ve known nothing but diversity since immigrating to California at a young age; diversity is so familiar and comfortable. Whenever I venture out of the left coast bubbles, I do as I would in ghettos, varrios, and rural hinterlands- in the pockets where crime tends to correlate highly with poverty- I tend to keep my guard up. I become more situationally aware, especially with those who give the look. WIth some angry folks getting all riled up these days, it’s like, who knows what’s gonna be on that pale horse galloping out of the vast cornfield.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My Midwestern experience is definitely more homogeneous than what you experience on the left coast. And good point about crime correlating to poverty. This post was more about feelings than facts, an exploration of my own responses to things.

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