America: The Country of Escape Artists

America: The Country of Escape Artists

This post was originally published in December, 2012, but with the latest round of anti-immigration sentiment in America, it’s still highly relevant today.

Communities across America are experiencing injustice and turmoil, and all we want to do is “get out.”

We have a serious problem here in America. We can’t face up to our own problems. While this statement could reflect our personal lives, political shortcomings, or any number of issues, today I’m referring to the loss of the American community.

The typical city scenario

Let me offer up a fictional story of a “typical” American city with historical evidence buried in thousands of cities across the country:

1. The introduction of an unfamiliar group to a middle or upper-class neighborhood

The “problem” starts when a new group of people begins to migrate into a previously settled neighborhood. Sometimes, this move is facilitated by necessity (as in the case of many African Americans who moved into urban centers as farming declined in the 1950’s and 1960’s in the US), immigration from another country (as in the case of Hispanics in Texas, Florida, and now throughout the United States), or government intervention (as in the case of the shameful case of our country’s handling of the American Indians during the 1800’s).

2. Disparity or differences become clear

The neighborhood’s current residents may accept it at first. A few of the especially intolerant ones will immediately move out to greener pastures  but generally speaking, it will take a while for the differences to be fully perceived. Slowly, the immigrating group will go from being one or two families, to a considerable part of the population. Often times, this new group has different values, traditions, or family norms than the existing group. As these two groups collide, tensions will rise, and conversations about the “problem” will become more public. The issues are exacerbated by obvious income disparity, religious differences, and over-hyped criminal activity by the new group.

3. The “flight” begins

As the original group sees their old neighbors move or die off only to be replaced by the new-comers, they get scared. With the rare exception of a desire for more land or space (which they probably don’t really need), fear is the only real explanation for leaving a previously adequate neighborhood for a new one. The moving out of the old group expands exponentially as old group members fear financial loss, educational deficiencies, or crime. The fears, of course, would never become reality if no one from the old group bought into them, but as soon as the tidal wave begins, it’s very hard to stop.

So why is this a problem?

As income levels between the poor and rich in America continue to diverge, we often hear debate between those who want more taxes on the rich in order to help the poor, and those who want fewer taxes on the rich in order to spurn job creation and investment. This debate is moot if a significant portion of Americans made a commitment to their community, but that’s just not the case. Now, you may scream Commie! at me around this point, but I am by no means advocating for forced government intervention into wealth redistribution. I think it’s safe to say that the Communist experiment has pretty much failed. Mandating kindness and mutual dependency is degrading to humanity. Our societies have managed to thrive when they’ve been able to work together towards a common goal. No great achievement was made by a single man or woman in isolation, and no two people are exactly the same in any way, yet our differences are the reasons we continue to expand and grow.

The solution lies in every individual, especially those with influence

Unfortunately, no one person can fight the tidal wave of the crumbling community and turn the tide alone. But, there is a way to fix this problem, and it doesn’t revolve around higher taxes or cutting government assistance. It just takes our most influential and recognized figures having the balls to take a stand and shift our perceptions.

For example, what would happen if Barack Obama moved the White House to Anacosta? What if Donald Trump built his next tower on the South Side of Chicago? What if Herman Cain moved to South Atlanta? What if David Koch put his philanthropy into practice and built a home in Brownsville?

The move of those highly influential, wealthy, and noteworthy figures could be the turning point in the perception of certain areas. Imagine our best community members moving into our “worst” communities. I know, it’s naive to think it will happen, but it’s a blog post. I can dream, right?

But, what are you doing to help?

I’ve talked about what our world’s top minds could do to change the perception of communities, but they’re not reading this blog. You are. Even if you’re just one individual, you do have a certain sphere of influence. How are you using it? Are you just looking for a way to get out of your “shitty” apartment, or are you looking for a way to make the place you live in better? Are you always looking at people around you in disgust, or are you looking at them for their potential? Do you talk about how you can make enough money to live like a king, or do you talk about how you want to help make a pauper into a tradesman?

My final challenge: Start making your community better. Don’t just look for a way out.

It isn’t easy. You’ll be taking the road less traveled. That said, the feeling you get from helping another person succeed is better than that of making yourself succeed. Life isn’t about accumulating the most stuff, it’s about experiences. In the end, we’ll all die and be forgotten, but the impact you have on others while you live will remain as long as humanity does.