Long Island has been known for its bagels, distinct accent and suburban family atmosphere. Young married interracial couple Dana and Reggie Miller, who have been together for seven years and married for four, called the city their home for a long time. But, a new job on Long Island, a child and the need for space called for something new. So, the young family decided to make Long Island their home, but now they may be reconsidering due to something else Long Island has also been known for, racism.
“In 2018, we had our daughter,” said Dana. “It became clear that the commute was eating into valuable family time and, like many New Yorkers, as much as we loved it there, we couldn’t afford on our salaries to move into the space needed for our growing family.”
It took Reggie and Dana over a year to find the right town on Long Island to settle down in and grow their family. They took school districts and Reggie’s commute to the city for work into account during their search, but most importantly, they wanted to be able to walk down the street and see people who looked like them.
“We would literally drive to a town and sit there for an afternoon at a park or restaurant and see how comfortable we felt,” said Reggie. “We didn’t want our daughter and future kids to be the only representation of ‘other.’ Ultimately, we kept coming back to Huntington.”
Specifically, they ended up in Huntington Station which is 62.8% white, 37.8% Hispanic, 9.4% Black and 3.1% Asian.
“We appreciated that it’s a good cross-section of home size, small businesses and people,” said Reggie. “We were pleasantly surprised when we moved to see so many different people walking around and enjoying life. We felt it was a safe place for our children to grow up.”
Their white-picket fence dream was realized and they enjoyed all that Huntington Station had to offer, but then rumors they heard beforehand about the racism that happens on Long Island became a reality. Back when the coronavirus pandemic first started, they felt isolated all while caring for their daughter and newborn son who was born premature, and is now four months old.
“It was really scary,” said Dana. “All the exciting rituals of having a new baby aren’t allowed. Family couldn’t come from out of state to meet him and no one was able to ‘drop by.'”
One of the ways they escaped isolation and connected with the outside world was through daily family walks in the neighborhood.
“One day, we were about three blocks from home, our daughter was on her tricycle and our son was in his baby carrier,” described Dana. “As we turned the corner a car was approaching the stop sign. As the guy in the car passed by he yelled ‘f***ing n****r’ at Reggie, laughed and then sped away.”
The incident left them in shock and afraid that they may run into the same person or someone even bolder.
“Up until this point, the walks were a bright spot in the day, however on this day that changed,” said Dana. “It took us a minute to wrap our heads around it. We always have one eye out looking for the car. Our daughter didn’t hear it happen, but if it happens again will she hear it that time? What happens when the kids are a little older and want to ride their bikes down the street alone?”
The questions kept swirling in their minds about what could possibly happen next. In addition to the overt racism, they’ve also experienced microaggressions.
“When we initially put our offer on our house, we had a formal bank approval for a loan considerably higher than our house value not just a pre-approval,” said Reggie. “The seller’s realtor called our mortgage broker directly, this is highly unusual, and asked if we were really approved for a loan and had the money to buy the house. Our mortgage broker pointed out how racist that was because as first-time homebuyers, we didn’t know what was normal or not.”
The couple also described another incident in a parking lot in which a woman walked up to Reggie and asked him to help her with something assuming he worked at the nearby store.
Initially when they were taking their time looking into each town on the island, Dana said their white friends thought they were “overthinking” things and tried to assure them racism was no longer a thing in the suburbs. After this incident and several microaggressions later, that hasn’t completely been the case.
“Now we aren’t sure about staying here long term,” said Dana. “We’re paying the premium taxes and housing costs of Long Island, but not reaping all of the benefits of ‘safety.'”
As a interracial couple, with Reggie being Black and Dana being white, they have also faced racism in New Jersey, where Dana is originally from, where a soda was thrown at them. They also described encounters at the airport in which security assumes they are not together, separates them and “interrogates” Reggie.
“It is sad to learn in 2020 we are still dealing with willful ignorance and prejudices,” said Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci. “It is frustrating to know that no matter how much education and societal progress there has been, there will still be hearts and minds we cannot reach. We are optimistic in our belief that these lone voices are very few and far outnumbered by the vast majority of Huntington residents who respect one another, and whose love for their community is colorblind.”
To combat racism, Huntington’s Anti-Bias Task Force recently launched the “Hate Has No Place in Huntington” campaign in which volunteers have handed out and posted signs that say “Hate Has No Business in Huntington” at businesses to show a uniformed message that hate is not welcomed in the town. The task force is also working on conducting a summit with workshops containing take-away action plans and resources to promote racial understanding, solidarity, equity and harmony the town.
Reggie is not as optimistic about the initiatives and questions how other initiatives can be taken to effect change.
“If they start and stop with giving out a few posters/signs/flags etc. and having a single conversation about bias, not racism, they should save their time and money,” said Reggie. “Are those signs encouraging people to support MWBE and naming such establishments around town? Is the Town upping its support of such businesses?”
Dana and Reggie both agree that in order to prevent incidents that have happened to them from happening to their children, and future generations, MWBE businesses need to be supported. They also insist that we need to have a deeper conversation about race and the contributions made by people of color on Long Island that you can’t find in textbooks.
“In light of the Town’s decision to demolish the home of Peter Grippen and replace it with a parking lot, is the school district highlighting his significance in and to Huntington,” asked Reggie. “Do they go out to Coltrane’s house? If we aren’t acknowledging, celebrating and elevating them, these signs are just exercises in easing the conscious’ of white people so they can say they did something without doing anything.”