The next time you go out to The Street, just say you’re from Boulder, Colorado when you meet someone new for some instant entertainment (just choose someone intoxicated enough to not remember your name). Most likely, the top three most common replies to your introduction will be:
“I bet you smoke tons of weed.”
“I think I skied there once.”
“Are you guys just a bunch of
hippies or something?”
Granted, if you try this game with someone relatively sober the responses are generally more artfully phrased, but the essence is the same. Tabulate your replies and see if your findings match mine: pot, snow, postmodern hippies. On one level, these qualities are actually fairly indicative of my city. We did legalize marijuana. Most people ski – not in the city of Boulder itself, but nearby (sometimes while smoking a certain recently-legalized substance, incidentally). And it does follow that most of us are fairly liberal, tree-hugging, open-minded individuals who spend obscene amounts of time hiking and climbing things.
My childhood and adolescence was definitely filled with plenty of winter sports and outdoor activities, and my social and political views have been greatly influenced by the pervasive liberal sentiment. However, this reputation, although in many ways accurate, in no way fully characterizes the Boulder I grew up in. I love my hometown, but I can never view it as perfect.
One major issue is that us open-minded Boulderites actually have few people to be truly open-minded to. Boulder is a very Caucasian city, and quite a wealthy one at that. What I noticed growing up in Boulder is that the city manages to self-segregate: many of the low-income groups actually move to suburbs and towns near Boulder, and those who do live within the city are still separate.
This de facto segregation is especially noticeable in schools – I grew up with almost only white friends, and everyday I would walk into a classrooms filled with 34 other students of my own race. On the debate team, we would sell cookie dough to raise funds for the fees so that anyone could join, but parents simply bought the dough themselves because almost all the families could afford to do so. And what I find most concerning is that for years I didn’t even acknowledge that there was something wrong with only coming across others from my own racial and socioeconomic background.
After leaving home for two years I realized it is the worst kind of hypocrisy for the broad-minded to live in a society that excludes those not in their progressive elite. In order to really earn the label of ‘open-minded,’ Boulder would need to foster a multi-cultural community and take measures to allow those from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds to participate in the Boulder community.
Boulder is also known to be the home to many do-gooders and ‘save-the-world’ types. Many Boulderites are indeed involved and engaged in the community – one new activist initiative, ‘venture philanthropy,’ is a movement where nonprofits open businesses relating to the nonprofit’s mission (for instance, about a year ago the Boulder homeless shelter opened a gourmet cupcake business called Street Fare to generate additional revenue). At the same time, I know many people in Boulder who view buying countless products from fair trade stores as activism. Community work that is so far removed from the group in need can in fact exacerbate our stereotypes, and the act of purchasing a fair trade item for the sake of one’s own self-image is a method of socially profiting from economically disadvantaged groups. When really solving a problem, taking the path of least resistance is not the answer.
The essence of Boulder’s issues is that there exists a disconnect between thought and action. An attitude that supports diversity and activism cannot replace a multicultural, engaged city. Weed, ski bums, and an unusually high number of dreadlocks per capita are some of the qualities that make Boulder unique and interesting, but we’ll only really achieve the ideal of Boulder once we put into practice the values that we preach.