Class differences in the Heights
We seem to embrace racial integration, ethnic integration and religious integration with much more effort than class integration. When families move to the Heights who are apparently middle class or above, we welcome them into our circles and invite them to join community groups, serve on committees, enjoy recreational activities and so on. But I haven’t observed the same type of hospitality and warmth offered to people coming from lower-class areas who might be trying to escape the dysfunction of poverty and provide a better environment for their families. There is no welcome wagon or integration process for them.
One might ponder whether we tend to be more comfortable with people who look alike but think different, or think alike but look different? Based on the behaviors that I have seen I would say the diversity we tend to value more is the latter. We like the idea of an “eclectic looking” community as long as we all share the same basic values, educational attainments and economic status. We tend to harshly judge, discount or even ignore those who don’t, and I think there is a tacit resentment of their presence in the neighborhood.
One of the many concepts that I found useful as a participant in the CSU Masters in Diversity Program was how difficult it is for people on either end of a spectrum to move beyond their comfort zones to engage with someone different, and how vitally important it is to be able to do so to promote inclusion. In the program we learned how to comfortably embrace that awkwardness.
We boast about how much we value diversity in public spaces throughout the community but I rarely see those values broadly demonstrated. The community at large would fare better if we could find a way to embrace all of our citizens instead of only tolerating many of them. I would like to see more formal and informal opportunities to integrate a variety of people regardless of their backgrounds. Those who experience a connection with their neighborhoods develop a sense of pride and affinity and are more likely to make constructive contributions than those who feel disregarded and overlooked. We certainly have the diversity, now we need to work on the inclusion. Social isolation is unhealthy for people and ultimately will adversely affect the entire community.
Normella Walker has lived in both Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights, and considers both places home.