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The Danger of a Single Story- Response to Apocalypse, New Jersey

Kelsey's picture

First, to say what I liked about this article, brief because I disliked most of it- I appreciated that the author tried to contextualize Camden within larger national and global processes of politics and nationalism.  There was a lot about the history of Camden in the article that I didn't know, though of course I am as skeptical of the historical information provided as I am about everything else in the article.  But otherwise, I have to agree with Ari's letter to the editor in that the article "Apocalypse, New Jersey" shows the danger of a single story by portraying Camden only as a broken and crime-ridden city.  As someone who doesn't know much about Camden besides what I've read and seen on my two visits as an outsider, I don't know enough about Camden to say exactly what is wrong about the article, to propose another story that can be told.  It's not my place, not my right, to tell a story about a place I don't know- if I tried, the story would only be representative of me.  But as someone who is interested in crime rhetoric and our prison system, I am irritated by and skeptical of the discussion of crime in this article.  The article reads like it's making a half-hearted attempt to contextualize crime, to explain that there's more crime in Camden than in other places because a lack of jobs forces people into the illegal economy, but the article still ends up reading like it's villainizing drug dealers and other people who commit "criminal" acts as horrible people.  Also, when research has shown that whites and blacks (not to ignore other racial groups, but these are the only groups I learned this information about in my Punishment and Social Order class, which is of course problematic) both sell and buy drugs at roughly equal rates, I question even the idea that Camden has more drug dealing than other areas.  I think the rates are portrayed as higher because Camden is largely lower-income and non-white, and is therefore a target of biased policing policies.  

 Although I appreciated that Ari's letter to the editor addressed the danger of a single story, there were some parts of her letter that made me very uncomfortable.  The most notable place was when she wrote about CFET brought high school and college students like us to Camden to "reflect on their personal responsibility in caring for communities (and the individuals that live in them) that have been neglected and mistreated."  While I see what she's getting at, that it's our job to care about people outside of our communities, this whole idea reads like a white savior complex mentality in a way that makes me very uncomfortable.  Ari herself admits that she's an outsider, that she lives in West Philly, so was it really her place to write this letter to the editor?  I feel like, in the process of challenging the idea of a single story, she's just providing another single story that fails to incorporate the voices and lived experiences of Camden residents.