Mid-Michigan mom Harmony Lloyd knows what it is to be the new mom in the neighborhood.
MICHIGAN — “Not bad people, poor people. Bad and poor are not the same thing.”
It was a conversation I had many times with my young kids as we would drive through a low-income neighborhood on the eastside of Detroit. One of them would point at a blighted street or a burnt-out house and say: “That’s where the bad people live.”
My kids and I would then continue to drive down Jefferson Avenue as we left Detroit and entered Grosse Pointe Park, the wealthy suburb where we lived in a small flat. We’d look at our neighbors’ big, beautiful houses and with excitement in my kids eyes they would exclaim with admiration, “Look at this house mom! I wonder who lives there!?” The unsaid assumption was that the bigger the house, the better the person living inside it.
But what my kids did not realize — primarily because they were all under ten years old — was that even though we lived in the “nice” neighborhood, the suburban neighborhood, we were the poor people, too. And as my kids grew older, we started having more in-depth conversations about how the size of the house or the look of a neighborhood did not measure whether people were good or bad; It simply demonstrated how much access to resources they had.
It is a conversation that apparently no one has ever had with President Donald Trump. Or at least not one he listened to.
We were the people in the neighborhood who — according to Trump — had “invaded” the suburbs. We were the bad people that needed to be kept out so suburbanites could feel safe in their homes.
Trump tried to appeal to suburban female voters in a recent tweet: “The ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me,” Trump wrote. “They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low-income housing would invade their neighborhood. Biden would reinstall it, in a bigger form, with Corey (sic) Booker in charge!”
There is so much wrong with this tweet.
There will undoubtedly be pieces that are published about it that rightly focus on the underlying racism and sexism evident in the term “suburban housewife.” But I would like to focus on the other part of the tweet: The part that suggests that low-income Americans are an invasion who do not belong in the suburbs throughout our country.
After living for several years in that flat in Grosse Pointe Park, my husband and I separated and my kids and I moved to Grand Blanc, a suburb of Flint about 50 miles north of Detroit. My financial situation became even more dire. I was a young mom, with three small boys, and I knew I was going to be doing much of the raising of them by myself. I understood that to keep them focused and give them the best chance at success, finding a good school system was crucial.
Because I understand the inequities that are so deep in the fabric of American life and often based on zip code, I moved to a small, two-bedroom, low-cost apartment complex in a suburb where I knew they would have access to all the services so many suburban communities enjoy and that so many cities lack.
I was extremely low-income, as were most people who lived in these apartments.
Even with a bachelor’s degree, most of my work experience had been waitressing, so I was starting at entry level in my field. I was earning just over $18,000 a year working at a non-profit and supporting a family of four.
I had many things to worry about, but what I did not have to stress about was my kids getting a great education, having access to sports and recreational activities, having class sizes that were reasonable, and the school supplies they needed even when I could not provide them.
My kids were able to play outside and be safe. I knew if I needed to call 911, the police, fire, or an ambulance would respond immediately. I knew the garbage in my neighborhood would be picked up weekly and the streetlights would come on at night. I knew the parks my kids played at would have working swing sets and functioning basketball courts. I also knew that, like my family, while most of the people who lived in our suburban apartment complex were also poor, they were not bad. In fact, they wanted the exact same thing for their kids as the “good people” who lived in the sprawling Colonials just up the street.
Inherent in Trump’s tweet is the idea that cities are bad and suburbs are good and poor people belong in the bad cities and good people belong in the nice suburbs.
He is right about one piece of this – our cities have suffered significantly due to policies that have created unequal school systems and a lack of money for basic services like police, fire, and garbage removal.
In the most extreme cases, a lack of disinvestment in our cities so egregious has occurred, that a parent cannot allow their child to drink tap water in fear it is poisoned with lead.
Trump seems to not care about any of these underlying issues, or to understand that people everywhere, regardless of income, want to be able to provide for the wellbeing of their kids and families. His tweet seems to suggest the solution is to keep poor people segregated into cities and try to forget about them and to create safe enclaves for rich people where they can be “protected” from the scary poor people who are coming to invade their communities.
But, my kids — who grew up poor — didn’t ruin the suburban community they grew up in. They made it better.
They brought diversity to a mostly white community. They used the quality education and the other resources they received to get good jobs, to pursue higher education, to get jobs working in inner-city schools, to pay taxes, and to begin to realize the American dream we’ve all been told is possible. They did that and I did that, because of the societal supports we were given as we climbed the socioeconomic ladder.
Our story is not an anomaly.
My best friend for almost 40 years grew up in an affordable housing community in the suburbs where her mom raised her and her two sisters while also going to school to become an RN. Those three girls are now Master’s Degree college graduates and have high-level professional careers.
My other best friend, who lived down the street from me in a small apartment, went to school while raising her daughter and eventually obtained her Master’s Degree in Education. She is now teaching on a military base overseas.
There are millions more of these stories across this country.
The United States is an amazing patchwork of families from different backgrounds, cultures, religions, races, and income levels.
My advice is this: Your kids will grow up to be better people, to be better suited for college and the workplace, and to be capable of empathy, if they are comfortable being around all Americans. They will be adults who do not view people who are different as the enemy.
How do we do that? Provide kids with a safe environment, a good education, and surround them with resources that let them know society cares about them, and they will grow up to be successful adults. Finally, do not only surround your kids with other kids that are exactly like them.
Hopefully, when we elect Joe Biden in November, we will soon have a President who feels the same way.