Is something wrong with the word Community?

Posted: April 19, 2011 in Thinking aloud

For a while I have had great concern about the word COMMUNITY and its use.  Too often it is mis-used like in my line of work– every party, awards show, business opening, dance or concert is deemed “community”, by us and for us I suppose.  In particular I disdain the usage when people ask for “a deal”  a “break” a “bly” or outright “freeness”.  We toss the word around as often as the other misused word-LOVE (for another post).  I have an anecdote I like to tell about the word community and its application: You ever walked into a new COMMUNITY centre/ ever notice how clean it is, basketball nets and lines all in place and all the seating is workable and usuable…Go back in a few months after the opening and you will see differently, all upside down, no more nets, no more usable seats.  I have learned the hard way that people do not really respect what they don’t pay for or respect items for which their ownership is not clearly defined…and this might be what’s wrong with the word COMMUNITY…we don’t own it!!  We are barely encouraged to live it! because North America majors in individualism and isolation and then seeks to simulate or mock the concept of community with “social” networks such as Facebook, Twitter and more.  We are not told we have a stake in COMMUNITY in fact we have allowed it to be snatched away and re-defined so often we would not even know how to engage with it.

Defining Community:

In the land of academe we come across two concepts of community Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (Ferdinand Toonies). Gemeinschaft harkens back  to what now may be called the `simpler` times, where through natural will or naturally occurring sentiments people have face-to-face contact, kinship and traditional bonds.  Gesellschaft emerges in more cosmopolitan environments (these days) where human relations manifest as impersonal, indirect, calculated and made to serve economical activities (assembly line or Fordism) and political means.  Colour me simple but I quite like Gemeinschaft!  But for fear of romanticizing either I highlight that they are categories and will very well be present in tandem with each other.  Why do I bring these up one may ask… It is the embedded hope that in defining COMMUNITY we may start to identify it or even better live it.

Where do we take the word community amidst all the changes our “society“ has experienced.  The simple reality is community is what we have allowed, when we sacrificed each other at the alter of modernity or industrialization to now the knowledge economy which seems to be keen on housing contact behind boxes like the television and the computer screen…when we embrace the `me me me` lifestyles  we then make COMMUNITY a quandary.

The Quandary:

Community is fragmented, ill-defined and quite frankly choking us.  We have managed to separate our right minds from the concepts of kinship and sentiments.  Community now becomes the realm of exploitation.  For in hoping to define us, marketers have bought our stereotypes as types and the Ads geared to community speak to a low income motif and a minority mindset.  Lots of people speak to community but quite frankly never lived it, don’t know what it looks like and have long moved away from it.

The quandary is also the mainstream engagement with community. Quick examples–community centres, community planning (razing of buildings which are unliked), community policing and the list goes on.  It is as if community becomes synonymous with negatives.  No wonder we have so many people tripping over themselves to assimilate to what is a normative concept of positive (most often than not a white norm).  In a world where the mainstream subtly vilifies that which is deemed “community” we cannot rise.

I only care about this word COMMUNITY and its use and lived experience because I believe its demise is closely tied to our own!

Mini rant:

Who works in COMMUNITY: always the person of colour (mostly black), holding it down in the trenches getting paid according to what community work is deemed to be worth–nothing or next to it.  In the Canadian setting it turns out COMMUNITY is also the only place where a person of colour will hold a job-title that reads commensurate with their education level.  Yes unlike our counterparts to the south there are few if any EDs, CEOs etc who happen to be black, systemic racism took care of that long ago. Come give me some Unity in my community, some Unity between my cheque book and my pay cheque, some Unity between my people and their worth.  Come Unity!


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