I am a member of the large number of Americans who are white, middle class, and suburban (or who may live in a subdivision of a town or city). I enjoy my neighborhood and my neighbors. But there is a trap within suburban America. There is a tendency among suburbanites to be insular and surround themselves with other white, middle class, suburbanites. Sociologists call this social reproduction.
The ‘burbs can be a trap because they are not representative of our larger community – but yet fool us in thinking they are. The fact is that much of our society is not white, middle class, and suburban. If I am to strive to be moral, I need to live to help my society and my neighbors, especially those who may not be as fortunate as I am. I need to be part of a larger community.
A larger community is diverse. Different races, religions, and social classes make life richer and more interesting. It is also the reality of our democratic society. I need to make sure I’m part of that reality – rather than habitually trying to escape that. This is a key component, in my mind, for fulfilling my responsibility toward democratic citizenship.
So, how can one contribute to a larger community while living in suburbia? There are many answers to that loaded question, here’s mine:
Support your local public school.
This support can come in many forms, including approving tax referendums. But I will go one step further – if you have school-aged children, send them to the public school. The public school is our institutional commitment to the democratic community – and the singular best way to support your larger community.
Give of your time. This may come in the form of public service or simply lending a hand to people in the larger community – not just those who are like you.
Be generous with your money. Support others and institutions that serve the larger community, not just those that support your interests.
If you develop these three habits, you’re helping to develop a better community for you, me, and all of us.