Aisha is a 39 year-old digital media consultant who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her experience growing up in a rural area has made her think hard about the keys to community and how we can improve racial relations so that we all have an equal say.
On what she realized about being a good citizen:
I think that sometimes we, myself included, have a tendency to be anti-social. I grew up in a very rural area, so houses were a quarter-mile apart. It’s not like I had a quote-on-quote neighbor. So, moving into an urban area, I was very secluded. I didn’t really talk to my neighbors. I didn’t really know my neighbors. It wasn’t until years later that I realized if I’m going to be apart of a community, I need to engage. I need to get know the people who live next door and across the street. Our kids engage at schools, so why shouldn’t we as parents? I think one of the best ways to improve as a citizen is just to get to know people and to engage with them more.
Race relations in her rural town were not good:
Growing up in a rural area, there were some incidents that were a little intimidating. I remember there were multiple times when people wrote racial slurs on our mailboxes and threw trash in our yards.
Her family responded by moving her to a new community:
We didn’t go to school in our district, because there were issues related to race relations that my parents had to deal with growing up in the area. So, my parents didn’t feel comfortable sending me to school there and sent me somewhere else. I now live in the school district and my kids go to school there. Overall, I engaged with an accepting and friendly community there.
On equal opportunity and race relations:
I can’t remember if it was Rochelle Riley, who is a journalist here, but I think that it was she who hit the nail on the head. She said, “We focus on gaining equality, when what we need to focus on is the equal ability to make equal contributions in shaping our society.”
So we need to be able to talk about how I see what’s valuable to our society and what you see as valuable to our society. While we might see things differently because we are looking at the world from different perspectives, we can come together. We can try to find common ground together in a way that’s beneficial across the board. Where it’s not just beneficial to one group, or another group. I think if people learned to become more accepting of others who are different by getting to know them, by knowing what they like and don’t like, what’s different about them and you culturally, I think (things would be better).
What it should mean to be an American, and why it doesn’t mean that right now:
It should mean freedom. But I don’t think it does for everyone. America is a melting pot. It was a land that was not embracing of the natives who were here. There were quite a few immigrants who made this their home. And now the descendants of those immigrants want to prevent other immigrants from doing the same, from making this their home. I don’t think that it’s a very liberating place to be for a lot of people (as a result).