Thirteen years I have written this blog. I'm finally outing my town. It's Haddonfield, New Jersey, and it has been in the local and state (and probably national) news quite a bit lately.
If you're inclined, you can read all about it at philly.com. Just search "Haddonfield" and "racial slur."
If you're a busy person (like me), you can just rely on my summary of events.
Early in May, the Haddonfield lacrosse team had finished a game, and a multi-school track meet was about to begin on one of Haddonfield's facilities. A young woman of color was tying her shoe on the track, and a group of Haddonfield lacrosse players walked past her. Multiple students heard one of the players say, "Get out of my way, n******." He and his teammates were all wearing their helmets. They sauntered on.
The girl who was slurred -- and the other students who heard the remark -- reported it to their coaches. Those coaches reported it to the Haddonfield lacrosse coach. The lacrosse coach queried the students of color: Could they describe the kid who made the slur? Was he tall? Was he short? What number was he wearing? The kids couldn't say. So the lacrosse coach reported it to the school athletic director. Then the Haddonfield school administration tried to figure out who made the slur. One and all, the Haddonfield players said they did not do it. From then to now, more than four weeks, the entire team has said -- individually and collectively -- that they didn't say what the students accused them of saying.
The remainder of Haddonfield's lacrosse season was cancelled. This angered many of the parents, because the team was headed for a championship and presumably scholarship money was on the line.
The school system issued platitudes, something along the nature of, "We're just not that way. It's not what we teach here. Haddonfield is all about inclusivity." You know, the usual empty phrases.
I wasn't on that track when this incident occurred, but I have lived in Haddonfield for 31 years. I raised my daughters here. I know the schools and the citizens. And I believe the young woman and the other witnesses.
Haddonfield, one of South Jersey's most affluent communities, is just four-and-a-half miles due east of Camden. The population of Camden is overwhelmingly minority. The population of Haddonfield is overwhelmingly white. It is literally apartheid on everything but paper.
The only time Haddonfield kids meet Camden kids (or basically any kids of color) is at sporting or school club events. In these cases, there is no dialogue ... only competition. This is not a healthy state of affairs.
I'm going to be presumptuous and climb into the head of the boy who made the racial remark. I'm entitled to do this. I live in Haddonfield. I know him as a type, if not as an individual.
He's one scared puppy.
His parents are wealthy. Very wealthy. He has had enormous privilege. He's traveled the world, he's had the best education, and he's gotten everything his heart has ever desired. He's popular at school and a terrific athlete and student. Making that racial remark was just another way to show his buddies how cool he is.
But he's anything but cool just now.
Why is that? Well, my money goes on the proposition that he's already been accepted to a prestigious university, perhaps with an athletic scholarship. If he's an underclassman, he's got his eye on a top-notch school. Why? Because he's a legacy. His hard-working parents went to such schools and have ever since been busting their backs to maintain the posh lifestyle. These aren't to-the-manor-born wealthy people. These residents of Haddonfield are strivers.
So the kid and his parents have their eyes on the prize, and to admit to hurling a racial epithet would be to close the lid on any possibility of acceptance at a prestigious college. If this kid's buddies feel cheated out of a championship run on the athletic field, I can promise you they all identify with his quandary. It could be them. They won't snitch.
Haddonfield is all about striving to maintain that upper class lifestyle even if you haven't inherited wealth. The pressure is immense to be as financially successful as Mom and Dad. What other lifestyle is imaginable, when you've been in the lap of luxury since you were born?
Now let's take a look at the lacrosse player's parents. They work very, very hard. Or at least one of them does. And like so many hard-working rich people, they resent having to pay taxes to the other. You know what I mean. These parents don't carry tiki torches or wear swastikas, but they are what I would call RACIST TO THE CORE. They probably don't fling the "n" word around at the dinner table, but the same attitude that prevails in the hardest core white supremacists prevails in their household as well. These parents work hard. They resent other people who don't work as hard, who are eating up their tax dollars and the sweat of their brows. In upwardly mobile families, there's deep seated resentment about every dime that goes out the door that isn't funding their own child's future.
In other words, some citizens of Haddonfield are lower than trailer park trash. They've never tried to interact with minority groups, they in fact resent the existence of the "lower classes." They convey this to their children in subtle ways. What's not so subtle is the expectations placed on these privileged white kids. They are expected to maintain a lifestyle through the sweat of their brows, just like Mom and Pop.
My mother used to say, "The rich are just like you and me." Truth is, they aren't. With wealth comes the anxiety to produce more wealth. With wealth comes the anxiety that your kids won't be able to maintain the lifestyle. And if you're a kid, this wealth creates enormous pressure to be fabulously successful yourself.
What gets lost in this scenario is humanity.
Oh sure, Haddonfield is full of wealthy families who tithe to churches and who collect canned foods and who pack nutritious lunches for orphans in Haiti. Every church in Haddonfield has a youth group that performs good deeds within the community and elsewhere. (Don't get me started on youth group trips to Appalachia!)
But here's the bottom line: The town lacks humanity.
How do I know? Well, one way that Haddonfield could change its image would be for it to open its school doors to students from Camden. The classrooms and buildings aren't crowded. Camden public school kids would even come with funding from Camden. It's four miles away.
Another way that Haddonfield could change its image would be for it to construct affordable housing in numbers larger than the minimal state mandate (which is met by renting to white senior citizens). Just now the borough is about to embark on a brand-new development of 90 houses that were supposed to be for senior citizens. Instead the houses, carrying a $500,000 price tag minimum, will just be "suggested" for senior living. Anyone with a half million bucks can buy one of the houses. A developer is about to make big bank, and Haddonfield will remain lily white, when it has an opportunity to court a more diverse citizenry.
Trust me, good readers. I have often asked myself why I settled down here and am still here. I can rightly claim that the house purchase was done way too swiftly, without any prior knowledge of this region and this community and its ills. I have stayed because our house is packed with stuff, including memories. But when Mr. J and I leave -- and a few other residents on our side of the borough -- there won't even be a middle class presence in this town. It will all be upwardly mobile wealthy people who are anxious about their children's futures.
I have no friends in this town. There is nothing keeping me here but the difficulties of relocating while working full time (I begin interior painting the moment school ends this year).
Every day I drive to Camden and work with the teenagers there. They are kind, generous, respectful people who face incredible obstacles as they try to climb into the middle class. And then I come home to a community that hates these kids and has the temerity to pretend it doesn't. I am ashamed of myself for winking and smirking about "Snobville" when I should have been packing my bags. What can I say about myself, if I live in Haddonfield, New Jersey?
Anne takes yet another blow to the brow. Shame on Haddonfield. Shame on me.