The Breakdown Of Community, Ray Oldenburg, Ishmael Reed Essay, Research Paper
The Breakdown of Community
In Ray Oldenburg’s “The Problem of Place in America” and Ishmael Reed’s “My
Neighborhood” the authors express thier dissatisfaction with the community. Oldenburg
focuses on the lack of a “third place” and the effects of consumerism on the suburbs, while
Reed recalls his experience with prejudice communities. Their aim is to identify problems
in our society that they find to be a problem. Although neither of these authors offer
solutions, the fact that these problems are addressed is enough.
Some basic similarities between these two authors is they are both attempting to
identify problems in our society today. There are many that are ailing our society at this
time, yet I agree with them in their deductions. It seems that they have addressed two of
the main ills today, prejudice and consumerism. These keep our communities from
becoming unified. Fear is one of the prevalent themes in both essays. In Oldenburg’s
essay the suburbanite fears the unknown, his neighbors. People feel threatened by the size
of the communities and they do not know anyone. These is due partly to consumerism,
which keeps people indoors. Reed was feared because of the color of his skin. Dogs
would bark at him as he walked by, cops would enter his own home to harass him, people
would yell racial slurs, and he was even watched closely to make sure that he did not
abduct a child off the street. These fears are a result of the media and our society telling
us to fear certain types of people. Television often portrays the black man as a dope
dealing slander who hangs out on corners with a forty of “Old E.” Soon people begin to
believe all that they hear and begin to discriminate against others.
One glaring difference in the two authors essays is that they both address the same
problem yet they touch on differing aspects. Oldenburg talks about the deterioration of
the suburbs. One reason is that there is no third place. This is where we come to grips
with our lives, relax, and reflect. This could be a community center, a secluded spot in the
woods, or a coffee shop at the corner. The problem is that these places simply do not
exist in the suburbs. One must get in their car, use gas, and drive to a place of meeting.
This means planning out the whole rendezvous point in advance and making sure that the
person you want to meet can be there. Consumerism also keeps the community from
talking with one another. The television, video games, and stereo equipment make us
want to stay inside, thus ignoring our surroundings. Soon we have thousands of houses
with no people that really know eachother because they are busy attending to a screen.
Ishmael Reed talks about the various communities he lived in, and how each one
varied in its level of prejudice. Part of his problems were due to the fact that his skin was
black. People were often cold to him and he was treated badly because he is a black man.
However, he finds the ideal neighborhood in Oakland. His neighbors all look out for one
another and care about what happens in their area. Also, the people often meet at thier
houses to have dinner and talk. He says that it was the ideal community where the people
act human. Now, while Reed is recalling a past experience of his, Oldenburg is simply
stating facts and observations. Neither of these are direct warnings yet they attempt to
make us aware of common problems in today’s society.