Sun Cities residents believe racism still exists in the American society, but recent racial tensions and civil unrest haven’t spilled in their retirement communities.
“There isn’t enough racial diversity here to create any racial discord,” Darla Akins, Recreation Centers of Sun City board member, stated in an email.
According to statistics on worldpopulationreview.com, Sun City’s population is 94.93% white while blacks make up 2.92% of the residents. Other ethnic groups make up less than 1% each. In Sun City West the contrast is even sharper, with 97.78% white and all other ethnic groups making up less than 1% each.
Several other community leaders agree.
Ralph Johnson, Property Owners and Residents Association board president, believes Sun City West residents worked hard for the opportunity to live here and will continue to do so.
“The years of hard work have developed a mindset of maturity that provide us with the experience able to reasonably gather and discuss any and all matters related to our community,” he stated in an email.
Jim Sloan, Recreation Centers of Sun City West board president, believes there is balanced thinking within his community.
“I don’t think there would be incidents such as we see on the evening news occurring in Sun City West,” he stated in an email. “We are a very conservative community. Even as many of us are sympathetic to the demonstrators, there are also loud voices condemning. I believe that all of us would think the looting and rioting are destructive to our country and ill contrived.”
Jim Hunter, Sun City Home Owners Association board president, believes Sun City’s status as an unincorporated community provides some measure of protection.
“We don’t have a police department or city hall,” he stated in an email. “We are a community of (mostly) retired senior citizens who value our diversity and way of life.”
But, like some others, he has seen the opposite elsewhere.
Mr. Hunter returned last week from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where he was visiting his sons and their families. There were large groups of protesters there for multiple nights of peaceful protests. But it appeared the protesters did not, for the most part, come from residents of that community, according to Mr. Hunter.
However, multiple reports cited no violence and rumors of Antifa groups coming to the area were unfounded.
“On behalf of the men and women of the Coeur d’Alene Police Department, I would like to express our sincere appreciation for those who have participated in peacefully letting their voices be heard over the past few days,” Lee White, police spokesman, was quoted by KHQ TV. “The people of North Idaho continue to demonstrate through their respectful discourse and assembly that we are truly home to the best people and the best community in the United States of America. Over the past few days of respectful gatherings, there have been no reported violent acts that have plagued the rest of our country.”
Born and raised in upstate New York, Ms. Akins was immersed into predominately black communities. But since arriving to Arizona in 1985, she has been immersed into predominately white communities because of where she chose to live.
“During my first 10 years or so in Arizona, I encountered a couple of situations that I thought were racially motivated,” she stated. “However, I have always felt that I have had to work harder and do more to get the same recognition as some of my white counterparts.”
Ms. Akins believes that racism still exists.
“Until recently the behavior and verbal attacks weren’t as noticeable, but the mentality was still there,” she stated.
In the Sun Cities
The Sun Cities have been relatively free of racial issues.
“In the last 20 years or so I personally have not been a victim of any racially motivated incidents either outside of Sun City or in Sun City,” Ms. Akins stated. “However, one evening last year, while I was out with some friends doing karaoke in Sun City, one of my friends is Puerto Rican and she sang in Spanish since she is bilingual.”
When she finished singing someone made the comment, very loudly, “You need to go back to your own country, this is America.” Ms. Akins believes this behavior was racially motivated.
Mr. Johnson has experienced no incidents in his community he would consider racial motivated.
“My interaction with the residents of Sun City West gives me great comfort in feeling that 99.9% of residents have respect and genuine concern for each other,” he stated. “Fortunately, I have never encountered the 1/10 of 1% person who has feelings opposite of mine.”
Mr. Sloan believes the isolation “behind the walls” of Sun City West keeps racial tension to a bare minimum.
“What I have observed from seven years living in Sun City West is that we tend to think of our community as insulated from the outside world,” he stated. “This takes varying expressions, but has shown itself recently with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Many residents were of the opinion that it wouldn’t impact Sun City West, he added. There were demands to show evidence of the virus here. There was a push to reopen the community and “get back to normal.”
“That thinking is not reflective of the entire community, but it certainly is a large minority,” he stated. “The people we see on the evening news demonstrating against racial inequities don’t look like us and don’t have the same challenges Sun City West residents have. The marchers are ‘out there,’ not inside ‘the walls.’”
Mr. Hunter, as a former SCHOA compliance officer and now in his current position, has had plenty of exposure to many Sun City residents.
“I will say that in the nine years I’ve been in Sun City, I don’t believe I’ve personally seen or known of any acts that could be called racist,” he stated. “It may be that the diverse backgrounds of our residents contribute to a community that is more tolerant and more aware of how blessed we are, of how much life matters.”
During this COVID-19 pandemic with the associated isolation, Mr. Hunter said it was refreshing to see the good things and behavior that emerged.
“People helping people, driveway concerts, drive-by birthday wishes, so much more,” he stated. “The outside world could learn much from our community, I think.”
While there appear to be few racial incidents in the Sun Cities, there are things that can be done to try to keep it that way.
“Early communication in a forum made up of community leaders for discussion of the concerns an individual has encountered is important to mediate and solve the problem(s) in the earliest of stages,” Mr. Johnson stated.
Mr. Hunter believes self-reflection could go a long way to solving racial problems.
“It’s probably a good time for all of us to individually reflect about how we truly feel,” he stated. “The George Floyd murder should concern all of us, no matter how isolated we may be as a community. We should encourage change where needed, we should encourage diversity and understanding.”
He added that comments from SCHOA board members reflect a consensus that Sun City is probably the least racist community around, but residents can always be better.
“It is also the consensus that violence and property destruction do nothing to further dialogue or meaningful change,” he added.
While she is not concerned racial violence will spill over into Sun City, Ms. Akins is not sure there is anything residents can do to alleviate it if it does. She agreed that self-reflection is a key factor.
“You can change laws and policies, but until people stop blaming all black people for what a few black people do, stop blaming all cops for what a few cops do and stop believing that all white people are racist, racism will not go away,” she stated.