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Several months ago, as I exited Evanston’s main library wearing my Rutgers University T-shirt, I encountered a Caucasian couple seated on the wall across from the doors. The woman said hello and asked if I had graduated from Rutgers. I said I had. She said she had also and asked what year I graduated. I told her, and based on my reply, she calculated my approximate age. It was about the same as hers. Things in common!

As our conversation continued, I learned that the couple was visiting Evanston and considering retiring here. The woman talked about the diversity of Evanston and how she liked that. She had observed the variety of ethnic groups and interracial couples here. We touched on the subjects of real estate and taxes in Evanston, the presence of Northwestern University, the great Lake Michigan and the proximity of Chicago. Although most of the conversation was between the woman and me, the woman’s husband also participated. Both of them were quite pleasant. Our conversation ended when they realized what time it was and that they had to get to the airport for their flight home to Ohio. I gave them a copy of the RoundTable, calling it “the best newspaper in Evanston” (no bias, of course). We said our goodbyes and gave our names as we walked away from each other. What an unexpected treat this had been.

I couldn’t help but compare this couple to some “white folks” (see “Ways of White Folks,” 1934, by Langston Hughes) that live here in Evanston who boast about Evanston’s diversity but only associate with Caucasians. I was told that the phrase “drive-by diversity” has been coined to describe this phenomenon. Common sense (it does exist) should make folks know that humans vary (mentally, physically, spiritually, economically, socially, politically, educationally, etc.) within every group. Sadly, there’s a level of ignorance (bigotry?) that’s hard to fathom when someone asks a question such as: “What kind of shoes do black people wear?” Only a narrow mind would assume that black people all over our country and the world would wear the same shoes.

I’ll probably never know if the couple from Ohio interacts with different ethnic groups in Ohio; if Evanston’s diversity would have been mentioned if the couple had not been talking to me, an African American; or if the couple and I would have engaged in any conversation at all had I not been wearing my Rutgers T-shirt. I can say that the couple did not interact with me as though it was an alien encounter, and for this reason, I’d hesitate to accuse them of drive-by diversity.

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...