Most people pull their values and the way they see life from the community in which they live. They can move or stay in their community, but they will have their community burned into their souls. A community is like a family and it is the one place where people can feel at home. According to Robert Frost, “Home is where when you have to go there they have to take you in” (Frost) It is where they really want to be accepted. The spinal cord is the hub of the nervous system of a human and when it is severed one’s life is drastically altered or even ended. A community plays the same role as a spinal cord for values and viewpoints for a person. When the community is severed from one of its citizens, it also drastically alters an individual’s life. Race is an element that can bring a group of people together so that they can create a community. I see myself as a tree with the people of my community as the roots that keep me securely grounded and provide my emotional nourishment. That has been my experience with race and my community.
Communities are neighborhoods of people that are close knit and have many things in common. They are small enough that the people who reside there are usually stereotyped in one way or another. Chinatown in New York has the stereotype of being the place where tourist go to get bargains and knock off goods, Harlem is considered a dangerous community where many African Americans and Hispanic people reside. Little Italy is known for the mafia. The Hamptons is a community where highly educated wealthy people reside and the citizens of that community are thought to have perfect lives. These are just a few examples of well known communities and their stereotypes. I have even had to deal with the stereotypes of my minority community.
People create communities because they need a sense of belonging. Many times they are created because of isolation such as a small rural community and other times it is because it is a suburban subdivision. However, even in a large city, people will separate themselves into many smaller communities that come together as the whole city. A community is really like an extended family. When I look at the photographs of the many generations of family members that my grandmother proudly displays, she never fails to point out the similarities between them and me. When I look at the members of my community, I also see similarities. Race is like blood that binds relatives. Race binds communities.
So why would people group together and form communities? One reason they do this is for self esteem. “Race can actually play a significant role in uniting communities that are struggling against poverty, racism, and inadequate services” (McDowell, 2004). Race has united my neighborhood because of a sense of identity. When people are around others who share many of the same characteristics, it creates a sense of belonging. There is power in numbers and therefore, a positive self esteem is created. It is only after an individual has a sense of self, that he/she can begin to accept others who are different. Once I learned about the characteristics and traditions of my race and culture, I could then look at others and understand that they also had characteristics and traditions. If I had been singled out as different without the knowledge of my race, I know that I would have felt as if my ways were wrong. I would have also bought into the stereotypes that others have about my race. I knew that I was not a lone individual, but a part of a group who was just like me. Therefore, I do not feel different no matter where I go.
The community also is important because of its role in meeting the social needs of people, especially the needs for collective involvement and social definition of self. In fact, the "self," a most important social quality of the person, is grounded in contacts and involvements in everyday life, mainly in the local society. The quest for the community, for these reasons, is a central theme in human history, past and present. (Wilkinson)
A community is also a place of pride. When a person is completely accepted and can identify with the members of a community, he/she will hold a special feeling for the community. When an individual feels connected, he/she will care about the image of his/her community. People will want it to look good physically as well as look good culturally to the rest of the city. They will feel the need to pull together and help each other in times of need and celebrate when times are good. I know that if I achieve in my academic career there is a whole community of people who are ready to rejoice with me. I will work as hard as I can to keep from letting my community down. I do this because they all had a hand in who I am, and if I fail, it means that they did not do their job well. That sense of pride that I feel I bring to my race and my community is enough to encourage me to always succeed in life.
Many individuals in recent years feel that they have no place in the world. The internet has caused people to see the world as their community and as a way of meeting others instead of actually going outside of their building and connecting with those in their own community. They have also allowed the televisions in their homes to replace the visiting with people of their own race. The women of my race would visit on the stoops and watch out for each other’s children. There was a sense of camaraderie that is vital to adults as well as children. “Racial identity is an organizing asset, a means of building a sense of power, and a critical part of multiracial work. Understanding one's own cultural strengths can be a point of departure for realizing that conditions of societal disparity are shared with others” (McDowell).
While there are positive points about racial communities, there are also negative points. One would be economic status of the citizens of a community and also the amount of tax dollars that are spent. Many communities that are not racially diverse, especially if they are minorities, lack the funds to enhance their neighborhoods. Many of the citizens do not own the property where they reside. Their landlords, who do not live in the neighborhood, do not feel that fixing the problems of their property is a priority. Therefore, the inhabitants loose their sense of pride and do not have the money to fix the problems themselves. Because of the lack of tax dollars, there is very little money to provide opportunities for the youth of the community. It then becomes a vicious cycle to constantly be poor. The youth also have very little resources to entertain themselves and that can lead to the involvement in criminal activity as a way to make money and to fill their time. They envision “black kids hanging out, blasting their car stereos, and presumably selling crack” (Mountain, 1995)
Even though the members of a community will share many characteristics, people still have to closely guard against stereotypes. Stereotypes can be dangerous and lead to negative situations. Many times law enforcement will buy into the negative stereotypes of a community just because it is predominately one race. In my community, law enforcement is often missing. It is that way because their salaries are not predominately paid by the people of minority communities and because they have been conditioned to the stereotypes. They envision “black kids hanging out, blasting their car stereos, and presumably selling crack” (Mountain, 1995). They fear for their own lives and they also believe that the community is that way because they want to live like that. There are gangs, guns, drive by shootings, and drugs in these communities, but it is mainly because law enforcement are only in the community when they are called to a crime scene. If there were there on a regular basis, these communities would not be a hotbed of crime.
Many minority communities have been taken over by gangs in recent years. Many times this is also because of the lack of law enforcement in the racial community. As the crime rate rises, youth feel that they can achieve a sense of protection from becoming a gang member. By the time they realize what they have done, it is more dangerous for them to quit the gang. There are those who leave a gang, but most have not way out of the community, therefore, if they try to leave the gang, they cannot escape the members of the gang.
Another problem with minority communities is that many people who get an education and are then equipped with knowledge and financial security, leave the minority community for the larger diverse neighborhood. When they leave the minority communities, they remove the positive role models that the younger people of the community desperately need. I was extremely fortunate that there were a few educated members of my community who decided to stay and be a constructive role model. They were always a source for encouragement and empowered the youth that there was a chance. If they could become successful, so could we. They were a tremendous resource of information on how to obtain scholarships and other resources that helped me and the other youth to obtain success in our lives. They were also a constant reminder that we could be proud of our community and the members it produced and it gave us hope that one day we would be among those names that others mentioned with pride.
The last problem is that those who leave their communities because they feel they have risen above it, not only rob the community that made them who they are, but they rob their children of the benefits of the minority community. I have known childhood friends whose parents left my community after they became successful, and they did not have the security that comes with a network of people who are like them. They have become isolated in a see of faces that are not like their own. They do not understand themselves, so it is even more difficult to understand others.
A community is much more that soil and buildings. It is people. A community gives roots and life to its members. I know that I would not be the person I am today without my community. While others may blame their communities for their failures, I proudly acknowledge my community and what it taught me about my race. I applaud my community for my success. Man cannot take the community out of the souls of the people. It is too deep to remove.
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