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Being different is different in Cranberry

One of comedian Slappy White’s best jokes poked fun at Civil Rights-era integration.

“After I moved in to my new place in the suburbs, I went out looking for a place to get a haircut,” White would say. “I found an all-white barber shop, plunked down in the chair for a nap and told the barber: ‘Give me the Afro look.’ When I woke up, I had a spear in my hand and a bone through my nose.”

Sheila Harris hasn’t experienced that sort of cultural chasm after having moved to Cranberry in Butler County, but there have been problems.

“We’re Baptists, and I haven’t been able to find a church to go to, and there’s nowhere to get a haircut,” said Harris, an African-American mother of two.

Arriving here from Bartlett, a suburb of Memphis, Tenn., she found the hot Pittsburgh suburb to be a more racially segregated community than places the family had lived in throughout the South.

“We moved here because my husband got a promotion, and everybody he worked with said Cranberry is the place that’s up and coming,” she said. “Little did we know that in this community, there’s no multi-culturalism anywhere.”

Statistics from the 2000 Census back her up: Less than 1 percent of the community’s population is black.

On the other hand, there has been a noticeable trend toward more integration in such eastern suburbs as Penn Hills and Monroeville. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to the Harrises, who have heard about a black Baptist church in East Liberty, 30 miles from their home.

They finally found a barber shop capable of working with ethnic hair after having searched the Internet. The barber is in the racially mixed suburb of Coraopolis, in Allegheny County.

That the Harrises found more diverse and ethnically friendly communities in the South reveals how much Western Pennsylvanians use the suburbs as places to run from diversity rather than embrace it.

Harris said that despite the inconveniences, her neighbors have been mostly friendly. Her husband, Keith Harris, a U.S. Postal Service transportation manager, has been welcomed as a volunteer for their son’s midget-league football team. Still, the Harrises have found living in Cranberry to be an occasionally alienating experience.

“The neighbors have been nice, but there’s few people to relate to living here,” she said. “We may have to go to Pittsburgh to join the Boy Scouts because we’re not sure if we’d be welcomed here.”


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