Editor's note: NAM EthnoBlog Blogmistress Laura Goode is freshly back from a summer vacation on Martha's Vineyard.  From a carnival's-eye view, she reflects on the arrival of the Obamas to the island, long an enclave of the black, privileged, and on vacation.  What, she wonders, are the downsides to that privilege?

I like an unconventional vacation. Good people-watching and cheap/free accommodations usually outrank pomp and circumstance for me when I’m choosing travel destinations; this is to say, I’m young and don’t really have the means to visit places where I don’t know people with available couches, tents, or air mattresses. Such are the circumstances under which I happily found myself on Martha’s Vineyard with my partner’s family last week.

When friends asked me where I was going on vacation, I realized “Pat and I are going to visit his family on Martha’s Vineyard,” though altogether true, came off a little disingenuous. Most Columbia graduates on family vacations on the Vineyard, some might imagine, are enjoying sailboats, guest houses, and private beaches. Not us. We were shacking up at the carnival.

My partner’s family comprises the fifth generation of Cushing Amusements, a traveling carnival that traverses the Eastern seaboard during the summer months. His dad, Larry, who we call “Big L,” along with Larry’s mother Marion, are, to indulge an irresistible pun, the ringleaders of the whole operation, overseeing numerous rides, food trucks, games, and more. It’s a family business: Pat and his three younger siblings all grew up working the fair, and I just learned from the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette that of the 35 or so regular employees Larry has, 15 are related to him.

(Resist your snark. None of them have tiny hands.)

The tone at the fair and on the island was gravid with anticipation last week as all around us, we heard the whispers: The Obamas are coming. The imminent arrival of America’s first real royal Black family seemed to reify what most islanders have known for decades, which is that the Vineyard has long been a haven for the Black elite, a place where that strata convenes and kicks back.

The prominence and influence of the Black island vacationer community—as well as the general diversity of Vineyard-goers—is a striking thing to witness, especially in its distinction from the rest of Cape Cod and Nantucket. In fact, we spent a few days before ferrying to the Vineyard with a friend on the Cape, where I was so astonished, after miles of sandy hair and sunburned Aryan apple-cheeks, to hear someone toast “L’Chaim” over a glass of whiskey that I utterly stuck my foot in my mouth trying to express my surprise.

As has been well-noted, Martha’s Vineyard is also marked in its magnetism to the greater liberal elite community. An August New York Times commentary on the Room for Debate blog, “Why Democrats Love Martha’s Vineyard,” remarkable if for no other reason than the fact that it included 3 Black commentators, affirmed that among “the island’s physical beauty and diverse communities there’s a rainbow coalition of Democrats with money, connections, influence and lots of good will.”

In the Times commentary, Alan Dershowitz and Charles J. Ogletree Jr., both Harvard Law School professors, expressed subtly different perspectives on the island. “Because of the presence of a large black community, a visiting president can avoid being labeled elitist, despite the fact that the black community is generally quite affluent,” Dershowitz argued. By contrast, Ogletree stated simply of the island, “It is unpretentious, and you are just as likely to find someone looking for gainful employment as you are to engage an African-American C.E.O. trying to navigate the tumultuous markets.”

They’re both right, though I couldn’t help feeling Dershowitz’s analysis took a more defensive tone than Ogletree’s. Most of the black families I observed on the Vineyard looked and sounded like a page taken directly from CNN’s “Black in America,” yet the tone of social interaction was consistently relaxed and un-highfalutin’. It’s a place where affluent Black vacationers can enjoy fried dough and Ferris wheels offered to them by a white family’s carnival, and no one seems to feel particularly uncomfortable about it.

The week left me wondering, in a colloquial way, about the particular pressures and expectations America places on this ever more well-represented elite Black community. Sitting in an Oak Bluffs (a particularly Black enclave) tavern enjoying burgers and beer with my boo, I found myself eavesdropping on a clutch of Black twentysomethings at the table next to us. There were four of them, all young and beautiful. Two wore Ivy League t-shirts, and we listened to one of the girls rattle off a guest list for tonight’s apparently hush-hush party (someone’s parents already hopped the ferry, perhaps?). Clear drinks were being insisted upon.

I was jealous of all the college-aged fun they seemed to be having until I noticed that only the young man and one of the three young women were eating. As the woman slowly took apart a salad on pita bread, I listened to one of the other girls ridicule her about her “eating disorder,” making backhanded comments and then tempering them with thin passive-aggressions like “You know I’m just kidding. I just went to an all-girls high school, and everyone had an eating disorder.” All this while she was hungrily watching her friend eat. I was halfway through a burger and fries, and already thinking about carnival snacks.

The whole overheard experience itched at my curiosity: along with the sailboats and guest houses, does an increasing concentration of wealth in Black America come with the rest of the elite baggage? A quick Google search, spurred by that lunch, reveals that young black women are now 50% more likely than white women to suffer from bulimia. If eating disorders aren’t the provenance of the young, white, and wealthy anymore, then the rising power of this class is exceeding our estimations.

So be it, I suppose, though it saddened me to see young Black women, so often the breath of fresh healthy air in a media iconography rife with white emaciation, measuring themselves against masochistic white standards of beauty. It’s a shame, but I suppose it’s the price of power—for women, as always.

Scoffing at the girls’ self-consciousness, we hopped back in the Tahoe, hoping its commercial plates hadn’t garnered us a ticket, and returned to West Tisbury to rejoin the fair crew, help with cleanup, and count cash. And, I thought, chewing on a hunk of fried dough, unpretentious—real, unimagined lack of pretense, the kind that might only remain in the cash-only operation—can be so nice.