I drive, walk, even just look around South Phoenix and am repeatedly struck by the clash I see. There is an amount of diversity that is historically inherent in this community, from the Asian wig shops to the Mexican markets and on to the neighbourhoods populated with people of all colours and creeds. But there is an interesting thing about one particular group in this diversified place. The group I speak of is newest to the area, and they are the middle class. They are moving into new developments that are behind walls and gates instead of just constructing and living among everyone else. It seems that as you look around at some of the older, poorer places, you can find bars on windows and chain link fences around property, and you might think “Well, what’s new?” Nothing is new except the frequency and volume, and that is a problem. People were barricading themselves into their homes before the arrival of the swarms of middle class. There were those who had a little, and were surrounded by those who didn’t have a lot. Now whole communities of “Haves” are being build and occupied, and trying to protect themselves from the “Have Nots”. The effect is that what used to look like a diverse, colourful and unified area is starting to look (from the outside) like it is composed of pockets of culturally colourful neighbourhood with pockets of sealed off, sterile fortifications in it.
The colourful look of South Phoenix is breaking up. The area is losing its flavour in favour of a broken up land of segregation. See? I said it. The word that Massey and Denton say in “American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass”, has “…disappeared from the American vocabulary.” Segregation may have a new form in the walled community, but it’s still the same old problem. This is not to say that I totally agree with Massey and Denton. I would not call it “American Apartheid” as that to me conjures up images of a strictly Black/White issue that would involve the regression of American civil rights practices to 1950’s standards towards African Americans and would require the addition of razor-wire topped chain link fences over block walls around the yards and property of the White population, but I think that image is a bit more extreme than what we are currently seeing. Today’s problem with segregation is far more about class distinction, and less about colour. So, indeed I think Massey and Denton may be throwing “hot” words around for attention.
The HOA’s that rule the walled communities can underhandedly control who doesn’t get to come inside. And regardless of the power of the HOA, the wall itself sends a clear message, which is that no one under a certain income level is welcome inside. A clear picture of this is painted in geographer Andrew Kirby’s “Spaces of Hate: Geographies of Discrimination and Intolerance in the U.S.A.” Kirby explores the HOA and its influence and potential and finds these pervasive forms of private governce to be latent pits of danger to personal rights. The kinds of segregation methods and controls over the rights of the individuals used by HOA’s are setting up communities to feel as though they are at risk from the outside. This can lead to feelings of vulnerability and the need for actual defence from outsiders. As Kirby states “These are significant tropes, for it will be remembered that these are exactly the kinds of logic that have always been introduced to justify attacks on minorities,” (p.222).
Is South Phoenix becoming a possible flashpoint for these problems, as classes begin to compete for the area? We’ll see first hand over the next few decades, maybe much sooner.
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