Why everyone should live in a “poor” neighbourhood

They say money is the greatest equalizer. I think that’s barely even half right. Unfortunately, being rich really doesn’t insulate marginalized communities from discrimination. Really, even poverty isn’t a total equalizer, but it’s about as close as you’re going to get.

That’s why I think everyone should, even if you can afford a “nicer” place, spend some time living in a neighbourhood that people cringe about.

  1. Diversity

This one seems especially important right now. “Rich” neighbourhoods tend to still be predominantly white/Christian/Colonialist/etc. The easiest path to hate is ignorance, and when you live in an isolated, homogeneous community, it becomes really easy to stop seeing other people’s struggles, victories, tears, laughter, because they’re not in your face. You still can, it’s just harder.

Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving. Diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations.

-Professor Katherine W. Phillips, Scientific American

It’s a lot harder to believe that, for example, Muslims are all evil terrorists when your neighbours, new immigrants from Afghanistan, are super friendly people whose kids adore your dog. They almost never blow up my house. (that was a joke)

I look forward to a day that the wealthy neighbourhoods are just as mixed. You can NOT get a decent biriyani in the rich parts of town.

  1. Context

This is really key, because it’s so difficult to be in someone else’s shoes, see the world from their eyes. Much of the rhetoric about people at or below the poverty line focuses on spending habits. Every child of a person on social assistance with an iPhone is a condemnation of the entire program. It’s pretty obvious. If you can’t afford something, just don’t buy it!

It’s much easier to understand that kid’s iPhone when you see him, day in and day out, watching the kids across the road get shuttled around from hockey, to ballet, to water polo or whatever it is rich people send their kids to these days, and understand why they would want something, anything, that makes them feel like those kids, who did nothing except luck out in the genetic lottery when it comes to money (and yes, those kids’ truth will likely not align, and they have their own, totally legitimate issues, but those are invisible to the kid down the road).

If you want to be an active part of our society, you gotta buy something or move along, because if you can’t afford more stuff, then you don’t matter.

-Me. It’s amazing how hard it is to find a reputable quote on this.

That plus the inherent issue with judging an entire class of people based on limited, biased observations of a very small sample group.

That’s the thing though. We are human. We falter. We, on occasion, fuck up really badly. We judge people without really taking the time to understand them, buy something we can’t afford, bail on a friend, yell at someone to make ourselves feel better, eat too much candy (I hear that’s possible), work too much, work too little, spend time on the wrong thing, give up too easily, or refuse to give up for way too long.

Sometimes, we all suck a little. Being surrounded by people who society often writes off as constant fuck ups is a fantastic reminder that they actually suck no more or less than anyone else. And that’s awesome, because that means the world sucks a bit less than it did before you knew that.

So cheers to sucking a bit less. Together.


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