AMERICAN WASTELAND: WHY THE SUBURBS TURNED ME INTO A CYNIC

A Wasted Youth.
A citizen of the Commonwealth of Suburbia.

For the past eventful 20 years of my life, I have lived in the boondocks of Somerset, New Jersey. Well, Princeton. My address is about 15 miles closer to Mercer County, yet, I was forced to attend Franklin Township’s public institutions because my parents paid taxes within its county lines. What a fucking trip, no pun intended. See, Franklin is a pretty diverse town. And when I say diverse, I mean crowded with lumpy personalities and depressing events. I remember it started when I got to middle school, when a person from the high school would pass away, every year, without fail. Until my senior year. I don’t know who broke the curse, but I hope the cycle is permanently broken. Other than that sad detail, it’s not really known for anything spectacular, other than it being ranked the 5th best place to live in the United States, according to CNN Money. Anyway, I couldn’t do after school activities if I didn’t have access to a ride home (which was always close to none. All my friends lived in Franklin Twp., I was on the Franklin Park end of Somerset) or take the after school bus at 5pm – so sports, drama theater, all that. I couldn’t do any of those things until I got my license the summer going into my senior year. I did, however, join clubs that my best friend at the time (aka She Who Shall Not Be Named) was a part of. I was an overly political, tree-hugging, world peace crusading mongrel in high school. My major goal in life was to become an international lawyer who worked for some agency under the umbrella of the United Nations that persecuted criminals who committed crimes against humanity. Yeah, real fluffy stuff – except I’d have to learn about 6 different language fluently before I graduated in 4 years. And that shit just wasn’t happening. Anyway, living in the Commonwealth of Suburbia was a pretty normal thing for me until I went off to college in 2009. I always thought that middle-class living was everyone else’s living. I lacked basic knowledge of applied cultural relativity in my adolescence, and that was something I had to learn outside of a lecture hall. I got grounded real quick in the spring semester of my freshman year when I passed judgment on a would-be hoodrat and got a metaphorical cap in my ass afterwards. I’ll never forget how dense I use to be. Lost a lot of friends to my cube-shapped personality. I blame it on the Burbs.

But for the most part, I was raised to believe Suburbia was the Land of Milk and Honey that all minorities broke their backs for – with all inclusive blood, sweat and tears – in their laborious pursuits to earn their right to the American Dream. But when middle-class living couldn’t shield me completely from the woes and tragic realities of being a woman, non-white and queer, I began to re-think what Suburbia really meant me to. It was a utopia that existed outside the landscapes of America’s Wretched of the Earth – the City. Public transportation, public housing, abject poverty, discrimination, and home of the Great Divergence, Urbania is the place where people went to work and rot indefinitely without private scapes of survival associated with the Countryside. But America has changed dramatically since the reign of Reagan & Co. People my age are actually fleeing from the Burbs and vying for a place in the Kingdom of Urbania. We – as in those participating in the Second Great Migration into the lands of the Yuppies – understand who and what Suburbia was made for. And it sure wasn’t for two and a half children.

Vintage W.A.S.P.'s in front of their beautiful home.
Vintage W.A.S.P.’s in front of their beautiful home.

There’s a reason why it is super expensive to live in Suburbia. For one, after World War II, veterans and those who participated in the dance to protecting the Four Freedoms of this beautiful country from the Earth’s most vicious tyrants were granted a stake in the booming American economy steamrolling into the 50’s. The mortgage loan is a relatively new concept, whereas owning land and a home pre-1940 meant that: 1) your family came from that European, oakwood bottled Louis VIII, Old Money, 2) your family’s background is rooted in the Confederacy and your daddy’s daddy owned my daddy’s daddy, or 3) your family worked really really hard and saved saved saved all their money and invested in the right place at the right time. But we all know that the latter scenario is far from representative as Nicki Minaj’s alter-ego Roman is a native Briton. But my point being, these early homeowners were white. No, they were W.A.S.P.’s. And that meant if you weren’t down with their pale Jesus, you had no place at the winner’s circle. So, way back when the grass was truly greener on the other side, American war veterans actually got decent benefits from the government, particularly allowances to buy homes, send their children/themselves to private learning institutions, and build assets for their families and prospective legacies. Unfortunately, the families of color that were able to catch a break with Eisenhower’s administration were simply run out of the all-white neighbors by residential lynch mobs (or what we would now consider your friendly Neighborhood Watch) with threats, payouts, or actual damaged property.

Friendly Welcoming sign for new neighbors. [1672]
Friendly Welcoming sign for new neighbors. [est. 1672]

Shit, even Catholics were stuffed into the same box as non-whites. That included Eastern European immigrants. And Jews (yes, even Jews. Ironic right? Gotta love this country for consistency). So, while the world began to settle back into their regular routines after their second global war, America was just starting theirs on the home fronts of Suburbia.

The very essence of home ownership in Suburbia is pretty disgusting. Number one, the concept of a mortgage – circa 2007 – is paradoxical in nature. How can one possibly believe that by taking out a loan to pay for a home from a bank that gives out tons of other loans to other prospective homeowners that may or may not have the adequate credit score to even qualify to take out the loan and then expect to pay the entire amount back and then some (aka interest) when most of these loans are packaged in a delinquent manner?  Predatory lending has become a great past time in the American mortgage industry, especially for those non-W.A.S.P.’s. Anyway, the truth in the matter is Suburbia is really just a nice misnomer for the White Man’s Jungle.

W.A.S.P.’s love making themselves seem more important than others. Without Jim Crow, COINTELPRO, and Ronny de Regulation to maintain their positions of privilege and power, W.A.S.P.’s had to reload their Matrixes and build a new system that was tamper proof and could only be decoded by other Suburbians. So the war began. They made trenches out of country clubs, constructed neighborhoods that made living impossible for the average laborer, and most importantly, designed media to associate comfortable living with being white. And ain’t that a bitch. You know it’s true. Go ahead. Think back to a time in the post-Cosby Show era where black people on television were seen not compromising their blackness to live comfortably. Don’t even think about Joan on Girlfriends. She’s a gem. But, I’ll wait.

This savage and primitive sensibility that W.A.S.P.’s hold dear to their cold, blue-blooded hearts is exactly what Suburbia is made of. I knew the moment I learned of the history of homeownership, Johnson’s Great Society, war on drugs, and Reganomics is when I just couldn’t bring myself to look at my childhood the same way ever again. Yes, I do appreciate all the opportunities and experiences afforded to me by the location I lived in throughout my burgeoning youth. However, I simply cannot accept the idea that my experience was exceptional compared to the many other Americans that look like me. There is no denying that there are countless benefits in raising your family in Suburbia, but I refuse to embrace it as such when I am left to beg to question why these benefits only exist within these private homelands.

Someone had to come up with the idea to design our nation this way, and what a brilliant mind that architect was. Imagine, if they built a world where two plus two always did equal four?

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