Jewish World Review July 19, 2002 / 10 Menachem-Av, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | If I'd heard or read the word "community" at all, as a kid, it was probably in the context of something like "community service," or "helping your community," or "community center." The word was used, at least in my frame of reference, as a kind of less-friendly sounding synonym for "neighborhood." It was a word usually heard only in the school classroom and maybe occasionally on television. My friends or parents never used the word in normal, everyday conversation. Mom never said, "It's such a pretty evening, let's go out and take a nice walk around the community."
Today I hear the word all over the place. Not only is "community" heard much more often than it once was, it has taken on a somewhat different meaning. The most common usage of "community" now is as a designation for certain groups of people. But not just any group of people, mind you, only certain, select groups. "gay community," "Black community," "Hispanic community" and "Islamic community" are four we hear most often these days.
But have you ever heard anyone refer to the "heterosexual community?" Or the "White community?" Or the "Presbyterian community?" Never. Why not? Don't these people deserve to live in communities, too? Is it only people attached to powerful civil rights groups who get to have communities? And if that's true, then why aren't females referred to as the "woman community?"
And what about folks who happen to be overweight? Why isn't there a "Large community?" (Or if you want to be subtle, a "Full Figured community.") There is, of course, the "entertainment community" and the "arts community" but absolutely no "plumbing community' or "supermarket checker community." How sad.
Years ago when a group of people, say Blacks, for instance, lived together in an area, it was called a Black neighborhood. Or a Jewish neighborhood, or a Mexican neighborhood, or whatever. But the word "community" as it is used today, is not at all the same as "neighborhood." When you say "Black neighborhood" you think homes and churches and schools and stores. When you say "Black community" you think Jesse Jackson. Say, maybe that's the whole idea.
It should be noted that there is no more Black community. The Black community has moved to the African-American community. There never was a Negro or Colored community to my knowledge. I've listened to a lot of old people and I've never heard of anyone speak of the "Negro community" --- nor have I ever read references in old books and magazines to the "Colored community." Back then, I guess people were just people and neighborhoods were the communities. We've come a long way -- now people are communities.
Since community no longer really means a geographical area, it refers to "a people," it seems rather redundant to use the term at all. Why not simply say, "Hispanics staged a march on city hall today..." instead of saying, "The Hispanic community staged a march on city hall today..." The answer is, by adding the word "community" one gives the impression that ALL HISPANICS were involved in the march.
"The gay community held a rally..." sounds like every gay person in town was there. Compare that to, "gays held a rally..." which sounds like a few people got together. By sticking "community" on the end, the group in question suddenly appears better organized, larger, and to be speaking with one voice. It's another way of spinning reality.
I wish society would just cut the bull and talk straight again. Go ahead and keep community sings and Community Chest and community spirit, but let's stop calling people communities. And while we're at it, let's bring back the good old fashioned neighborhood. It sounds friendlier.
Thought For The Day: Would you rather have your child watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, or Mister Rogers' Community?
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.