So, You’re the Only Black Family in the Neighborhood—Here’s How To Thrive

Research shows that American communities are only becoming more segregated. Here's how to navigate living in a neighborhood where you may be the "only one."

A father and daughter move into a new home.

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Although we’d like to think of American society as a multi-racial melting pot, the fact is that many recent reports show that racial segregation is getting worse. Some attribute it to racial discrimination, others say financial disparities. But the reality is that it is still possible to move into a neighborhood where your family is the only one that looks like yours. Many families make the leap out of their comfort zones because there are better opportunities elsewhere: better schools, better jobs, and better cost of living. 

Even when it’s a welcome shift, moving to a new home is always an involved process. But, it can be harder when thinking about how you and your kids will adapt to a neighborhood where you don't easily blend in. Alicia Haley, MSW shares her best advice on navigating a new move to a neighborhood where you and your family are a racial minority.

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Research Your Community

Neighborhoods are fluid places and they change quickly. So, it’s important to research the most up-to-date demographics before making a big move. It’s pretty easy to look for the percentage of renters compared to owners in your zip code, but finding racial info might be harder to locate. You can usually find it by looking at public schools, which may share ethnic group and first language stats on enrolled students and teachers.

“When moving into a new area it’s important to establish a [sense] of community with others. You can do this by befriending families who identify with the same cultural/ racial background as your family. This will foster a sense of belonging for your family and it will assist with finding allyship,” says California-based Haley. She says to look for religious and community centers that might help foster friendships. Also, consider neighboring cities that might be more representative. Even regular day trips to places where you can buy your favorite foods, get texture-appropriate hair products, and enjoy comforting spaces could help ease culture shock.


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Join In

Introduce yourself to the neighbors, even before moving in. These days, no one is bringing a casserole to your doorstep, the onus is on you. Join neighborhood social media groups and pages to learn more about what your neighbors care about. And find ways to contribute by offering tips and joining activities that you’ve never tried before. Be genuine and show an interest—you might be surprised by how much your neighbors support you in return.

If you look around and realize that you’re always the only person of your background at these events, find a way to bring it up with allies. And ask if it’s ok to invite friends to the next outing. Bringing your friends and family to meet your new friends is often a good way to increase the diversity in spaces where it isn’t occurring naturally. 

“The lack of inclusivity is a systemic problem within the community. The responsibility of establishing inclusivity is not the responsibility of minorities. However, pointing out that an environment or community lacks inclusivity usually happens when minorities speak out," says Haley. Whenever appropriate, she says to advocate for cultural competency training and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) workshops at schools and community groups. If you’re civic-minded, attend city council meetings and let local leaders know that cultural awareness matters.

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Help Kids Adjust

“As a parent, it's always difficult to see your child struggle with fitting in. The level of difficulty becomes extreme if the reason why they are not fitting in is due to their race,” recognizes Haley. Parents should be extremely attentive to what happens at school. For parents, this means you’ll have to make time in your busy schedule to attend PTA meetings or school sporting events, and even drop by the school unannounced. 

“At school, if their race is the reason for the lack of peer acceptance the issue may be a systemic problem,” Haley warns. In those cases, parents should push school officials for cultural awareness activities, like celebrating Black History, Asian American, and Hispanic Heritage months. Offer to work with willing teachers to design age-appropriate examples of role models and leaders from all backgrounds, including yours.

Haley says that at home, parents can affirm their children’s racial identity by talking about racism and the subtle ways that it might show up in their lives. For kids younger than tweens, it might look more like social isolation rather than outright bullying. Ignoring race altogether is just as hurtful as over-emphasizing it. So, communicate with your child, teachers, and community leaders to make sure that you’re all on the same page about what “fitting in” should look like.

Haley says to watch for signs of depression in children, like a lack of appetite, disengagement in activities they usually find enjoyable, self-hair, hostility, temper tantrums, and anger. If you notice any of these signs, seek counseling for your child. Also, consider alternative outlets for sports, after-school programs, and weekend activities, where a healthy racial identity can form outside of school. 

And, of course, if the situation is untenable, change schools.

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Prepare Yourself for Bias

While we all dread the prospect of racism, some of the harm is worsened by beating ourselves up over not knowing how to react. It’s important to know how you want to behave in the face of hate. The same is true for kids.

“Educate your family about self-advocacy when encountering microaggressions and stereotypes in the community. In situations when stereotypes or microaggressions occur, encourage your family to take that opportunity to educate others by shedding light on the stereotype itself and that it’s hurtful,” Haley says. “It’s ok to assume the person using the stereotype or microaggression does not have bad intentions and is ignorant about microaggression and stereotypes and their negative impact,” she suggests. If your child is old enough, practice a few verbal scripts with them, so they are confident in what they should say and do when confronted with different forms of racism. 

Haley reminds us that safety is the priority. Parents can help kids understand that it’s ok to stay quiet and to focus on getting away from danger in situations of violence, especially when the aggressor is an adult or authority figure

Teach them to always tell you and other trusted adults when things like this happen to them or their peers. 

Also, teach your kids how you want them to stand up for others when they witness racism but aren’t on the receiving end. Being an ally is important, and that may look different depending on the situation. Talk openly with your tweens and teens about the best ways to respond safely.

As a parent, you should know the resources available to you should you, your child, or others you love friend faces bullying, harassment, or racial discrimination. If the situation is severe, document incidents and seek legal counsel, Haley advises.

“Preparing our children for racism" by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a good place to start learning how to navigate these issues. Also, look for local anti-racism advocacy groups and social justice organizations that can be useful in the face of persistent occurrences in your region.

The hope is that you’ll never need to use these resources. But if you do—you and your children—will be well-prepared to be the change agents your community needs.

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