NIMBY….it is a concept that rears it’s ugly head too often in the American social culture.
While many will agree, in theory, certain things need to be accomplished for the betterment of society as a whole; too often those same people will complain and argue profusely IF that public good or social program will actually be in their own community.
I raise this subject today, because this morning, when I opened my morning newspaper, The Buffalo News, the headline which greeted me was “NOT in My Backyard”. The story went on to detail a report conducted by the University of Buffalo about suburban economic segregation and discrimination that is going on in the region where I live, and I suspect goes on in other areas as well.
According to the report many Erie county suburbs are “rife with discrimination and segregation”. The number of stereotypes about the poor, minorities and the disabled of many suburban residents and their leaders creates an exclusionary atmosphere which makes providing affordable housing projects and objectives difficult to enact and thus makes it difficult, if not outright impossible for many of modest means to improve their living situations and gain access to safer communities and schools.
It doesn’t take much to make the leap that if there are such barriers in housing they extend to other areas as well, such as employment opportunities, which in our region, as well as many others in the nation, ALSO moved to the suburbs.
While there are small enclaves in the region that buck this trend, those are not the norm and are unusual. Finding these few enclaves and gaining access to them is also difficult, as they are small and not very transitory, thus people in those areas don’t tend to move often and thus available housing in those areas is limited.
It is rather covert form of discrimination and unless someone lives in the area and understands how things work they may not realize this truth to be reality. Things are often said behind closed doors or when not in mixed company that tell the TRUE story of what is behind much of these policies and actions of the people in the communities involved. Unless one has access to those closed door or behind the scenes discussions, one would not realize the extent of the ingrained social racism that is evident to those who DO have such access.
There is a local ‘joke’ in some circles, that if one lives in one tony suburb in WNY ( where our pro football team’s stadium resides) one should not be driving or living in that town IF one is of color WITHOUT a Bills jersey on…sadly, there is too much truth to that statement. Very few African Americans or other minorities live in that town other than professional football players. It is well known in the region, that if one is a minority, they probably shouldn’t be driving through that town unless it’s game day, especially at night or risk being pulled over for ‘driving while black’.
Recently, I was talking with a new professor at my school, who is NOT from the area. She recently moved here and has never lived in the region before. She is obviously not ‘lily white’. When she moved to the region she chose to live near the school she is teaching at, due to weather and driving concerns. That would be a logical step for her to take, however, when some local people asked her WHY she chose to live in that town…she didn’t understand the question or why it would be a problem. She actually told the story herself and was the one who mentioned that she herself didn’t understand, at FIRST, what they were trying, nicely to tell her. As she is a cultural anthropologist, it took her a minute, after asking some pertinent questions, to figure out what was REALLY meant. She, who is well educated and understands cultural biases and social issues very well, didn’t realize that the area she moved into is not known for it’s acceptance of those of different ethnic backgrounds, imagine how it would be for someone without such training!
The concepts that lead to such social and cultural exclusions, are ingrained in many within our American culture and the election of a Black man into the White house has done nothing to alleviate these problems, in some ways it’s actually brought these issues back to the forefront and has shed more light on the subtleties of discrimination and how it creates different classees of people, both socially and economically.
These social and economic class issues are at the heart of many of our national problems and probably are a contributing factor that keeps the likes of the Koch brothers and Sarah Palin able to continue their divisive tactics that simply keep us from uniting as a people and seeing one another as human beings first, Americans second and whatever else one maybe should be a far third or fourth on the list.
WE are all human beings, regardless of sex, social class, state and town of residence, economic status, educational or ethnic background or religious affiliation. As residents of this nation we are ALL Americans…again regardless of the above subcategories. The subcategories should not matter as much as the TWO primary categories. When we allow people to divide us along these subcategory lines and create barriers based on these lines we do a disservice to ourselves, our nation and our progeny.
I urge everyone to take stock of their own divisions and make an effort to try and recognize them and address them for the betterment of us all.
The concept of NIMBY in most cases, is just not justified and actually hurts the whole for the benefit of a few.