I have a friend who's very concerned about sending her children to one of the school districts in our suburb. While her children are not yet school-aged, my friend and her husband may sell their home and rent in a neighboring affluent suburb so they can send their children to a different school.
While the raw numbers may show one school district has better test scores than another, occasionally I get the vibe from some white friends, who are otherwise kind, thoughtful people, that they do not want their children attending a lower-income school located in a higher-crime neighborhood with a majority of-color population.
My husband's kids attend schools in the very same school district from which my friend and her husband are attempting desperately to flee. And shortly after my husband and I were married, we looked for a new apartment as the rent increase at our current place was too high. We lived in the neighboring affluent suburb, and could really only afford to move to our current suburb, which in some parts has an "urban" feel and shares many of the same issues as "urban" areas.
While looking for a new place, I would ask my husband, "Is this a 'bad' part of town?" He would get offended, and (always keeping my privilege in check) would remind me that our closest friends--and his kids--live in this area. I maintained my innocence. I just didn't want to live in an area with high crime!
It wasn't until I learned some nice (white) church ladies were afraid to volunteer at my stepdaughter's elementary school that I realized how offensive it is to label an entire geographic or demographic swath as "bad."
I hang out with friends here, our kids play here - and you say it's too dangerous for you to come here and minister to elementary schoolkids and their families? Combined with the implications of some white friends taking great measures to move out of our school district, I've realized that using these labels ignores the humanity of residents of lower-income, higher-crime areas. More than the humanity - I've realized I disparage the image of God with which we're all endowed.
What does it really mean to use the word "bad" in reference to a neighborhood? What does it mean to assume you would never send your children to school with the children in these neighborhoods, forking over money for private school or simply leaving altogether? We have decided to keep the kids in public school, hoping to maintain a redemptive presence, somehow. This is not to say our decision won't change or to cast judgment on those who make different decisions. Yes, even my friend who is pulling out all the stops to get out of our district. I simply take issue with the underlying implication that it's acceptable to write off a group of people as bad.
Having actually lived in a "bad" neighborhood for four years now, I suppose I dropped the word "bad" from my vocabulary in terms of entire parts of town or school districts. What was once what I would ignorantly label a "scary" neighborhood is, I've realized, where children and families and churchgoers and image-bearers live. So, this privileged white person has learned to think twice before I wrinkle my nose and make a remark about a bad part of town...