“The Problem of Place in America” and “My Neighborhood”: The Breakdown ofCommunity
“The Problem of Place in America” and “My Neighborhood”: The Breakdown of
WR 121 Paper #2
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.