Lately I've heard a lot of "those people" statements. Maybe the people who make them really don't understand what they're saying or how divisive two little words like "those people" can be.
I was in a meeting not too long ago that was made up of business leaders, non-profit workers, and community members alike. As I listened to the speakers, several times I heard "they will improve by..." or "our goal is for them to..." Though I understood the comments, I couldn't help but think that some of "those people" were sitting right in the room with us and I wondered how they felt. I truly believe the comments are meant with all good intentions, but good intentions don't always prevent the harm or hurt of words that sometimes betray our true feelings.
I wonder what would happen if we saw ourselves and referred to ourselves as "we" in our communities. Instead of talking about what we will do to improve "their" community, what if we talked about what we need to do to improve "our" community? What if we thought about and talked about people in ways that assume that we are all responsible for the demise and improvement of a neighborhood? Because the reality is, it is not just the parent's fault or just the community's fault that a child doesn't succeed. We all play and have played a part in the demise of a neighborhood--sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly.
The reality is, we do what's best for our own interests. We move our children out of failing schools...we vote to put/keep tax dollars in our own pockets...we commute so we don't have to live in poor neighborhoods...we work to keep homeless people hidden from view...we create businesses that help our own bottom line. It's what we're taught to do in our society.
We talk about how "those kids" (referring to urban neighborhoods) need to improve their skills...yet when people visit our education programs and are welcomed with a firm handshake, good eye contact, and an assertive, "Good afternoon! My name is ________. What's your name?" and then a, "How is your day today?" by an 8-year old, I get comments from people about how they wish their 18 year olds need to learn that skill.
Yes, there are many situations in *our* neighborhood that could be improved, but rather than thinking about how "they" need to change, it seems to me like we're all on a continuum...we all have things we could improve on. My learning should not be separated from your learning. If I look at it like that, then we can all be in the same boat and we can all work together to improve our neighborhoods and communities.