After moving from NorCal and spending four years of college in Los Angeles, I knew I had to leave. LA was not my city. I didn’t see eye to eye (to put it gently) with the blatant commercialism, the car culture, the beach-bourgeois glamour, the sunlight beating down on all those boxy cement buildings.
My experience in LA largely determined my move to Madison, Wisconsin for grad school. Along with the decision, went my rejection of a financially lucrative offer to live in New York City, where I found more distasteful things and people whose severe superiority complex, it seemed, stemmed from some geographical and cultural proximity to Europe. For reals? Give me a break!
At least we’re free on the west coast.
Madison, in my mind, was in the middle of nowhere. It was completely foreign and unknown. It didn’t fetishize Europe. Nobody I knew lived anywhere near it. I was ready for drastic change and some fresh air.
But living here for the past year has made me appreciate California (even, especially LA) in a way I never have or could have. So here I document for my friends and allies, both in Madison and away from it, my complaints about this city/state:
1. Liberals – The white liberals in Madison take every chance to announce how progressive they are and to express their love for people of color and “other cultures.” It is a status symbol (“we’re better than the rest of the state”) and a self-righteous feel-good confirmation. Well, of course it’s easy to be tolerant/etc. when just about everyone around you resembles you, superficially and/or culturally. It’s easy to like everyone (or think that you do) when you’ve never had to – on any substantial, day-to-day basis – interact with people (lots of people) who look different or think differently from you.
2. More liberals – Each time I voice the above complaint to people I respect who happen to be white, they immediately point to the prevalent population of international students in Madison, especially on campus and concentrated in one of the university housing areas (where the above white people also happen to live). Just yesterday, I was told, verbatim, “We’re actually the minority!” I was too appalled to remind them: you are in no position to self-declare “minority” when all of these brown kids, these international students, “foreigners,” actually confirm and reinforce your de facto position as “Americans,” wherein “American” is white. Their presence in this context poses no challenge to your received American status. These people are seen as temporary guests to your country, not a part of its common everyday.
3. Racial demographics – The fact that my chief complaints about Madison have to do with race. Before I came here, I thought very little about race, in so far as my own day-to-day living. I never walk around in California, thinking “I’m Asian,” even if people think that (“she’s Asian”) when they see me on the street. But guess what, sometimes I do that here! This place makes me self-conscious about how other people “race” me. And I find this “new consciousness” a grave inconvenience. A total drag. This stems of course from the city/state’s white-dominated population demographics and my various racist encounters (don’t worry, I’m keeping a log).
There are many other aspects in which I find Madison lacking, but they suddenly seem too inconsequential to name after the ones listed, so I will stop here. Perhaps there will be a more humorous, banal follow-up re: the specific inconveniences of a Californian in Madison. Til then,