The Wild Wild West: Living in Idaho…while Black

People often ask me what it’s like living in Idaho. Well, if you seek a land of wilderness, rodeos, and hunting then Idaho is the perfect place for you.

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Life…elevated

Up until now none of the above listed things have ever really been “my thing.” I grew up in the South (Florida was a slave state you know?) with large populations of just about every ethnicity you can think of, large downtowns, beaches, warm weather, and being “in nature” meant kayaking in the Everglades.

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My rifle

I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that Idaho has been the complete opposite of this. Instead of going to the beach, I now ride horses and I have learned to shoot guns. I’ve traded in my small car for a big SUV and I see an elk or a deer almost everyday. I used to hear of alligators trying to get into local canals, but now I hear about bears and moose getting into people’s houses. Living in Idaho has been a great experience, as the state the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived in and I do things I never imagined I’d do living in cities.

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Overlook in Mountain Home, ID

However, there’s always a negative to a positive.

Idaho is lagging. The state lags economically and socially and in my opinion much of this is because of education.

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A quiet mountain town

For those of you who don’t know much about Idaho and the rest of the Northwest, it may come as a surprise that this region of the United States once sided with the Confederate States of America. Oregon had a system of racial laws that forbade ANY black person from living in the state. Montana stood firmly with Jim Crow segregation, and Washington and Wyoming miscegenation laws kept whites and blacks from intermarrying (true for most states, of course). From what I have experienced many of the states in the Northwest have or are trying to move on from the past, but Idaho remains stuck in time. The state’s ties to the Civil War are seen in everywhere. Custer County, I say that again, CUSTER County’s motto is “We are what America used to be.” These ties extend further with names like Dixie, Idaho, the Confederate Gulch neighborhood in Boise, and Grayback Gulch not too far from there. It comes at no surprise that the Confederate flag flies proudly throughout much of Idaho and sometimes I feel as if I never left the southern United States.

I’ve also come to realize that I’m no longer a Jamaican-American person because people have no concept of the African Diaspora and only see a black person.

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Elk

Education, as I mentioned earlier, is sadly a huge problem in Idaho. I hate to talk politics, but because of the state’s extreme conservative leaning education is seen as some sort of “liberal conspiracy”- meaning people just don’t go. The thought process that I come across most often is “why would I go to college, put myself in debt and not be able to find a job?” or “my parents didn’t finish high school and they have jobs, why do I need to finish school?” or “I’ll just take over the family farm, what’s the point in schooling?” I saw a news headline not too long ago that stated ” most conservatives see college as hurting the United States” and I immediately thought about Idaho.

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Idaho is probably the most conservative state in the nation

The state, however, is trying to curtail this belief but is failing, as the number of high school graduates going on to college (including two year colleges) drops lower and lower every year (there has been a rise in students going on to vocational education; high-five for them). Educational attainment of the state’s population has created a gap in employment. Engineering and health care have grown rapidly throughout the state, yet there aren’t enough people from Idaho to fulfill these jobs because they aren’t qualified. Idaho isn’t the only state in the West suffering from this problem- Nevada and Utah are also are all lagging when it comes to education.

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What it’s like to be a black person in a 94% plus white state

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Annual State Rodeo

If you are a black person in Idaho you will get a lot of looks. I can’t speak for any other minority groups (the state’s Hispanic population mostly), but when I’m in a small town like Stanley (population 63) and I walk into a restaurant all eyes are on me. Most of the stares I get are not because of racism, but because most Idahoans have never seen a black person before and television doesn’t do us much justice. For most Idahoans seeing a black person is like seeing an alien and strangely I’ve found myself with the same level of surprise when I run into another black person in the state. Just a few days ago I was in a Starbucks and a black woman wearing a dashiki and sporting a huge afro walked in. I immediately found myself wide-eyed and grinning. I was so dumbfounded, yet danced on the inside because I hardly ever see anyone who looks like me. Unless you’ve lived in a place where you’re completely underrepresented, you probably don’t understand the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes over you when you see someone like you–just know that it’s awesome and we always have the same question in mind “how have I NEVER seen you before?!”

Here’s a video I came across that shows that exact feeling- thanks to Yardie Wignalls:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2e9tEYZpLeM

 

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Reinheimer Ranch

Hair

The hardest part about living in Idaho is honestly my hair! I’ve gotten my natural hair cut by stylists in Idaho and each time I was told I need to relax my hair. I’m sure you can imagine how I felt, but that’s when I decided I just needed to learn how to do my own hair. It’s funny because my hair is the longest its ever been since moving to Idaho. I guess it’s a good thing those stylists didn’t know what they were doing.

 

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Annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival

Relationships & Dating

My boyfriend is white and I don’t care how people feel about that. We are in love and that’s all that matters. We met before moving to Idaho, so I never once thought “well there are no black men here” but I’m sure you can imagine what the dating scene would be like if I were a single black woman. When I’m at at bar or nightclub with girlfriends in Boise I get attention every so often, it’s the “big city” so people are more open minded. Drive a few hours northeast to Ketchum or another small town and I don’t exist. Again, I think this has to do with intimidation more than racism- television paints black women out to be loud, mean, and overbearing. Still the most annoying thing about being in a relationship in Idaho is the looks from other white men. It’s almost like they look at my boyfriend and think “how’d you do that?” As if he has some sort of magic powers!

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Oktoberfest- Boise

Things to do for fun

I’ve become a shooting, hunting, fishing machine and I can’t stress enough the amazing recreational activities available to you in Idaho. I, for the first time in my life, visited a hot spring and soaked in the earth’s warm volcanic waters. I’ve picked up cross country skiing in the winter and I’m happy with myself for trying all these new things. If the outdoors aren’t your thing Idaho does offer great shopping, dining, Boise State football, and a growing arts and music scene.

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Boise Music Scene
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McCall, ID

Conclusion

Hopefully I haven’t completely turned anyone off from visiting Idaho or the Northwest. Despite a few bad apples, this area of the country is awesome and so unlike anywhere else I’ve ever lived.

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Stanley Hot Springs

It has all of the recreational opportunities you could ever dream of. Seattle and Portland are less than ten hours away if you need a big city feel, Boise has a rapidly growing Russian, Afghan, and Ethiopian population, Yellowstone is within driving distance, and Vegas is just a short plane ride away. Yes there are some drawbacks and I probably won’t be in Idaho forever, but I am excited to explore the rest of the Northwest and I am happy to call it my home for now.

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Fairfield. ID
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