By George Cook
Where we live matters, and it can often reflect who we are and who we aspire to be. Many of us have fond memories of the town in which we grew up, no matter where that was, with our friends and family often residing in these places as well. As students, we say about how lovely it is to go ‘home’ for the material and emotional comforts it provides us.
No one can afford to live in the areas they really want to. We can’t all go to the branch of Foxtons in Chelsea and Kensington and purchase the house of our dreams, as much as we’d really like to. Some have a very limited choice in where they can live and this results in different areas being labelled in different ways, some positive and some rather negative.
Many of the houses now being constructed portray a certain image and standard of living, a way that you should live. Sparkling white kitchens and modern furnishings in a spotless neighbourhood with nice gardens and trees decorating the surrounding streets. However, what has occurred simultaneously is the stigmatisation of the places that do not conform to this same standard of living.
This is not a new development, we have always seemed to think we are better than those less fortunate than ourselves- I find it hard to believe no one has watched the Jeremy Kyle show without laughing or mocking those who appear on it. And whilst no one wants to sound like Katie Hopkins, some will have judged people on the area they live in.
Places in countries around the world are being judged and stigmatised based on some kind of ‘unappealing’ characteristic or a certain portrayal that people have been exposed to that has unfortunately become dominant in the public imagination, whether that is representative or not. It happens here in the UK as numerous council estates are marginalised, and the rest of the public appear to revel in their misfortune, gorging on tv poverty with programmes such as Benefits Street. We conform to this discrimination and marginalisation without having the faintest idea of what it is like to live in that place, without knowing the people who live there or without having visited it ourselves.
I live in a place that has faced some of this marginalisation, often been known as a s***hole by surrounding areas. Whilst it is not the most picturesque place one could imagine, it is somewhere I enjoy living. Yet in spite of my background, I have also been guilty of stigmatising a place I know nothing about before I even really knew anything about it.
Last week, I visited New York on a field trip and on the final day went to the Bronx. Much has been documented about the supposed ‘crime and danger’ in the area, and I was unsure what I would witness when I arrived. However, this representation could not be anything further from the truth. The people welcomed us like we were residents ourselves, telling us about their experiences in the area and asking about our own. They spoke of the issues facing the area like gentrification and the rising property prices forcing some residents out. I went to a local community centre that was using arts and culture to educate the local youth enabling them to become future leaders and gain further qualifications. The residents of the Bronx were using their knowledge and creativity to improve their own lives that are often ignored by politicians and other New Yorkers.
My experience in the Bronx made me realise that we should not be so quick to judge different places from the way they look or the way certain people talk about them. Stigmatising places we have not visited is rather cruel and if anyone is ever in New York, the Bronx is definitely a place you should visit.