Monday, May 10, 2010

Am I gentrified?

Gentrification, a term typically used for the takeover of depressed neighborhoods by those who “see the potential” was injected into panel discussion I attended recently about community based media.

Community Based Media or Citizen Journalism as it is sometimes called is typically that which is produced from within the community, and from the community’s perspective. I’m a big fan of the trend. I think Community Based Media contributes to richer dialogue that helps better our practice of democracy. This, despite the fact that in some cases citizen dialogue adds to phenomena such as the Tea Party and militant militia groups. Overall I believe dialogue is a good thing, and the more voices added to it the better.

But this idea of the gentrification of media really bothered me. One of the panel members openly attacked anyone who was not of the 'Hood, for lack of a better term. In fact even those who live in depressed neighborhoods but were educated he felt was fair game, because obviously those persons were “privileged” enough to go to college.

Although I knew these comments were based in fear and anger more than in fact, I had to ask myself, “Am I gentrified?”

So I went down the check list: Catholic high school, check; college education, check; property owner, check; idealistic notions about social justice that may or may not apply to my specific living situation, check.

It wasn’t looking good, but despite this, I continued down the list and added some qualifiers: first generation working class family that started out working in the fields, check; GI Bill earned after 9 years of military service which paid for college and made home purchase possible, check; ten plus years working in community based organizations and projects, check; a deep commitment to honor the history and legacy of communities, check; nonprofit career that will keep me eternally overworked and underpaid, check.

So yes. In many, many ways, I am privileged. I have a house, a car, a job, and a rarified instance where my work is the same entity as my job. And I won’t deny that I can be an intellectual snob. I can’t help it. I like smart things, smart people and stimulating conversations. But I know enough to know that a) I don’t know much, b) that there is a big difference between having an education and being smart, and c) I know my own conscience and intentions, and they are not to capitalize on the potential of a property or an idea. I’d rather capitalize on the potential of people and their tenacity to survive despite all odds. In fact I want to celebrate it. Thus, my opinion is that there's a big difference between looking for someone to blame for a problem, and looking for ways to solve it.

I think there’s a difference between exploiting a situation for personal gain, and genuinely wanting to improve a situation for all those involved. Like all things, Community Based Media has players on both sides, with conflicting intentions. But we mustn’t paint with such broad strokes, as the panelist I saw last weekend did. Education, although often skewed to the mindset of the rich, does not leave us all with that notion. Many of us see the injustice and want to do everything we can to change it.

Us and them mentality won't yield cohesion...only discord.

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