It’s harder to live in the ghetto than it is to live not in the ghetto.
Saying that outloud to myself, it seems absurdly obvious ( and a little grammatically awkward). I spend a lot of time thinking about why we chose to move into the inner city, what we were like back then, and what was going on when we were afforded opportunities to rethink our choices around the geographic location we call home. A recurring thought that emerges from the myriad of tangled thoughts is I always assumed more people that look like me would choose to live where we do, but it’s only recently that I’ve tried to quantify the why. Why aren’t there more non-poor white people living where I do? It’s not that there aren’t any, but I’m writing this at a coffee shop 8.1 miles away where thousands of non-poor white people live. I hate to make assumptions, but in order to live here, you have to be able to afford to live here and if you can afford to live here, you can afford to live where I do. So it’s not a question of access. If access isn’t the problem then what is.
This is so overly simplistic (I’m a bit ashamed it’s taken so long to say it) but it’s just harder to live in the inner city. Being a mathematician by training I like to make logical arguments. I so badly want to lay out an argument for why it’s harder. I could tell you all about the annoyances or what sustained collective neglect has done to my neighborhood, but not today. It’s not really worth typing that up because it’s an elementary truth, a truth that is verified over and over by the choices of anyone that can avoid living where I do. Instead I want to say, that yes based on 15 years of life experience, it is harder to live in 53206 than any of the other places I have lived. It’s harder to live near areas of concentrated poverty than it is to not. This would be, again, where I would start to make logical arguments to try and convince a reader that my way of thinking is right, but I’ll just restate my straightforward truth – life is harder in the hood than it is in a lot of other places.
Instead of telling you what you should do with that information, I’ll ask a couple of questions.
What should school look like for students whose life is more challenging than that of their suburban peers?
In places where daily life is more difficult than the average within the metro area as a whole, how would someday hope to be able to describe the typical home or apartment?
Should we dismantle or perpetuate neighborhoods where half the households earn less than $24,000 a year. Not how would we do it or which political party would likely steer resources in a particular direction, but is an area of concentrated poverty something the 1.5 million residents of metro Milwaukee want – do we like it?
What capacity do I have as an individual to make life easier for those that have it harder than I do and within that capacity where can I use my talents and gifts make a positive net change?
We can never allow ourselves to assume that simply because it is harder to live in one place verses another that it will always be that way. It doesn’t have to be. Simply acknowledging that daily life is in fact harder in some places than in others is a great first step in the right direction.