Monday, November 20, 2006
Whenever I encounter the word community being used in the media I have a picture of being proffered a shiny sugar coated gaudily wrapped sweet by a smiling stranger with emotionless eyes. An ersatz sweetener that contains no gram at all of sustenance. It has become the ubiquitous term that is reached for when a certain mass of the population are to be embraced by a collective noun. It is a many handled vessel into which, if race is the issue, can be poured, Muslim, Afro-Caribbean, Hindu, Sikh or Jew. Each one is depicted as a community. If the odds are high enough they can all be coalesced into black. The word is equally durable as a means of expressing groups of the poor white working class, the Welsh, the artistic or the scientific. On the other hand we don’t apply the term community to those who exist on the edges of conformity; freedom fighter, terrorist, hoodie, rapper, rocker or green activist… It is a binding noun to include those with whom there can be political negotiation, one which conjures an illusion of potential interdependence and togetherness.
Its political purpose is to define a group of people within a population. Once thus defined, individual spokepersons can be selected to represent this homogeneous mass. They speak for the group. Dialogue with power can then appear to take place.
Yet, when we examine any such group we find no such bonding, no comprehensive agreement on attitude, belief or approach, just heterogeneous units of idiosyncratic individuals who might share one or two characteristics such as religion, colour of skin, race or work profile. There is no such thing as the Muslim community, the Jewish community, the white community or even the local community because there is no such thing as community.
We all have shifting interests and allegiances, contradictory beliefs and behaviours. We must learn to be more active in expressing our individuality so that we broaden and enrich the political debate, at whatever level and stop the self-aggrandising posturing of these so called community representatives and the easy gloss with which politicians and media hacks interact with them.