While waiting for a train connection outside of Philadelphia’s spacious airport, I was approached by a woman who inquired about my destination. I told her that I was traveling to University City and looked towards the large map that towered over me. She learned that this was my first time visiting the city and gave me a quick rundown of her favorite destinations. Before we parted, she mentioned a phrase that I’ve heard ad nauseum since living in a big city: “These are some of the ‘good’ neighborhoods (as she pointed at Chestnut Hill and Center City) and these are the ‘bad’ neighborhoods (as she moved her hand further down the map).” I thanked her for her information and walked towards my incoming train. As my train left the shadow of the airport, I reflected on that conversation and realized that woman was completely wrong.
A grain of truth that I have acquired in these past few months is that people often don’t realize the mass of their words when they are spoken. Since “bad” is the opposite of “good,” when one refers to a neighborhood as being “bad,” one is contributing to an already negative schema that pigeonholes individuals who lives in lower income neighborhoods as less important and less human than their higher income counterparts. Interestingly enough, many who condemn “bad” neighborhoods, have never stepped foot in one and cannot name an acquaintance from one. This paradigm has to be shifted and it begins with the language that people use on a daily basis.
According to mass society, I both and live and work in a “bad” neighborhood in Boston. And for a neighborhood to be “bad” it must have “bad” people.
The people in these neighborhoods, according to our friends over at Merriam-Webster, must be, “Vulgar, obscene, unpleasant and disturbing.” Society believes that affluence, suburbia and whiteness is synonymous with “good,” or “Worthy of respect and desirable,” while poor, urban and blackness is synonymous with “bad.”
Living and interacting with people in my neighborhood for a few months does not make me an expert on the plight of those who have lived in “bad” neighborhoods for an entire lifetime. My experiences do, however, reinforce my belief that society needs to refocus their attention to the root of the matter and realize that money does not make one “good” and poverty does not make one “bad.”
During an African-American studies course I took in college, we delved into the “war on drugs” and learned that although drug usage was consistent amongst all races, drug arrests were disproportionately higher in minority neighborhoods. Although crime was absolutely occurring in these neighborhoods, the crime rates were misleading due to the fact that police focused their attention on making arrests in these neighborhoods, making these places seem worse than they actually were.
Furthermore, the genesis of other crime that occurs is rooted from numerous sociological reasons that contribute to these individuals feeling left out in a world that views them as “Vulgar, obscene, unpleasant and disturbing.”
Neighborhoods are not simply “good” or “bad.” There may be differences in the standard of living between higher income neighborhoods and lower income neighborhoods, but it does not mean that one place has inherently better people than the other. After living and working in a lower income neighborhood for the past few months, I’ve met fascinating people that have stories and life experiences that are truly inspiring. I’ve learned lessons that I wouldn’t be able to learn in the dwellings of suburbia.
Are these people poverty stricken? Sure.
Are they perfect? They are perfectly normal and flawed human beings.
Are they bad? Absolutely not.
Our zip codes should not determine our value in this world. Bad neighborhoods don’t exist — bad language does.