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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Race and Loathing in America

I posted 3 new news articles about problems in Camden. The articles are interesting, but it is the comments to which we need to give attention. Wow - blood in the water and the racists, neo- patriots, anti-tax/anti-government haters come out of the woodwork. The theme of the commentary is that Camden residents are to blame for all their own ills, the city's decline and inability to rejuvinate, the high taxes in NJ, and the fiscal woe of suburbanites. Maybe Camdenites cause cancer too.

Given the story on Dr. Gates at Harvard this week, we begin to see that not much has changed yet in the post-racial America. On the Courier Post site there is a steady cacophony of haters that repeat their mantras over and over and dominate the public sphere. I can't change their minds, but I do think that their residual impact is real and needs to be addressed. The constant "hater soundtrack" eats into the psyche of this city and people begin to nod, agree, and give up. The Judge's upbeat messages sound laughable against the soundtrack of the anti-Camden chorus.

Camden has deep, multiple, problems that are not easily overcome. The city may never turn around. But the city can be a great place for low and middle income people to live with dignity, safety, and with decent public services. People like to pontificate that you have to get the schools fixed, otherwise no company will come here. Or you have to get the crime down, or no employees will live here. Rutgers has the same mentality - we won't get more students unless the city is "fixed." I have a completely different viewpoint. You have to give people a reason to come and stay, and they will. This city does everything it can do to actively dissuade people from coming here, staying here, and liking this city. No amount of waterfront development will overcome a lethargic and rude bureaucracy. No amount of redevelopment funding will overcome a school district that won't communicate with its constituency. We like to think the problems of Camden are completely insurmountable unless we have zillions of dollars. It's just not the case.

I really don't care who is running the city - whether it is George Norcross, Dana Redd, Governor Corzine, Judge Davis, or the Chief of Police. What I do care about is that the city be run for the benefit of the residents and that the institutions have as much pride being in Camden as the many residents who are from Camden have. Go to a Camden High School football game or reunion and you will see the pride. Do people throw trash on the street? Yes. Does open air drug dealing exist? Yes. Does that mean there is no respect for the city? No. It means that people are behaving accordingly in a dysfunctional place. If there are no trash containers on the street and if they are not regularly emptied, why should I care if I throw trash on the ground? If there are no jobs and no plan to create jobs, why should I disregard the one activity where I know I can earn money? And don't start throwing morality at this. People who see that a Harvard professor can be arrested in his own home because he is black are not going to buy into a morality defense of a racist system.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Camden needs its own Obama...but someone who's not part of the Democratic machine! We need someone who can run as an independent but win over the town's pride. Street rallies. A visible movement against the corruption and bureaucracy of Camden politics. Someone who the media will perceive as revolutionary. Who outright denounces the way things have been done, but who outright pronounces the wealth of human capital Camden has. People need to be fired in our schools. People need to be hired in our schools. Waterfront development must happen. Community policing must happen. Camdenpride Festivals need to occur regularly with residents, bands, celebrities, people willing to invoke a sense of hope here. Maybe it's already been tried...what do you think? HOW DO WE CHANGE THE PERCEPTION OF THIS CITY? FROM THE INSIDE AND THE OUTSIDE?

TheRebel said...

I agree. All solutions begin with a strong leader that can motivate and inspire people.

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