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A Look in the Mirror


Pauline Nevins April 20, 2022 - Auburn Journal

“Did anyone make racists comments to you when we lived there?” I was talking to my adult son on the phone after reading articles about racist incidents in the Elk Grove School District.

Our family lived in Elk Grove for more than 20 years. My first home there was on 10 dry acres with a weather-worn country barn large enough to stable our daughter’s horse, Raven, and the mare’s feed. I’d grown up in a small town in England with houses clustered together, most sharing a wall. I was proud I owned 10 acres and a barn. Felt like lady of the manor.

When our daughter graduated from riding her horse to tearing around in an orange Firebird, we moved to a house in a court with three times the square footage on half the acreage. The realtor, who managed the purchase of the house, lived nearby. Shortly after we moved in, she arrived at the front door carrying a potted plant – a housewarming gift. Before she turned to leave, she said, matter-of-factly, that she wondered what our next-door neighbor would say about us moving in. I didn’t respond – my usual reaction to remarks that bewilder me.

When the penny dropped a few minutes later, I realized she was referring to my skin color. This was 1980, before Elk Grove city’s incorporation, and subsequent population explosion, when I was one of the few in the area with brown skin. I chafed at the insinuation I was an undesirable addition to the neighborhood. After all. I was English.

The referenced next-door neighbor, a descendant of Oklahoma dustbowl migrants who proudly referred to himself as an “Okie,” kept any racists tendencies hidden. Our families became friends.

Our youngest son, to whom I posed the racism question, was born in Elk Grove and went to school there. He has darker skin than his siblings and looks more like me than his white father. He answered my question matter-of-factly.

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