Wednesday, June 1, 2011

$2/day - Some thoughts on perception

I haven't had much time to think today, but I want to echo quickly JD thoughts from a few days ago by writing about perception, especially in light of my two week stay in Detroit.

The common perception about Detroit is that it is living in the past, that it is the past. The population of the city has declined over the past decade (again), and many of those with money have left the city limits for the suburbs. Indeed, pictures of ruin porn in Detroit, like the one below, are ubiquitous, and Detroit has been portrayed as a poor and broken place.
This photo is by James Griffioen, a native Michigander and current resident of Detroit.
It is true that many of the residents of Detroit are less financially well-off than people in the suburbs or in the city, and many do live below the "poverty line." The city is broken in a sense, and people lack faith in local government. Yet there is a "bizarre charisma" to the place. In my interactions with many Detroiters, especially those in Delray and Boynton, two of the most polluted areas in all of Michigan, and Delray being one of the most impoverished, it has been affirmed to me that the poverty of money should not belie the intelligence, thoughtfulness, and energy of the people living there, or anywhere else "poor" for that matter. Just like JD mentioned, many times, the reality on the ground is not what is shown on TV or PSAs. These are not people that are necessarily "drawn" to crime, these are not people that just don't want to go to school. Many however have not been given the opportunities to change their situation. These people are fully aware of their plight, us telling them what their condition is empowers them in no way. There is a deep understanding among those living in poverty about the issues facing them, and why it is they are impoverished. As I mentioned yesterday, these are cycles that are perpetuated by the behaviour of those more well-off; we've done a fantastic job at disenfranchising them, of making them feel powerless.

Of course dealing with issues of poverty and injustice is complicated, yet my experiences have reinforced to me that one cannot truly make a judgement on a place or a people by listening to others' thoughts on the place. It is important that each one of us take the time to see and experience ourselves.

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