By Common Grounds Contributor Helen Hardiman, Esq., MSW
"We often hate each other because we fear each other; we fear each other because we don't know each other; we don't know each other because we cannot communicate; we cannot communicate because we are separated."
These words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. perfectly articulate why I work in fair housing. Segregation in this country and in our commonwealth is a result of deliberate governmental policies designed to oppress some and empower others. But there were people behind those policy decisions and implementation, people whose bias drives not only personal decisions, but policies as well. My fair housing work aims to heal personal biases that hurt others.
Personal bias too often is bred from fear of the unknown or "the other"- those who don't share our skin tone, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, national origin, or level of disability. If we don't have access to people who are not like us in those ways, we use stereotypes to fill in blanks about them. Those stereotypes manifest as discrimination and oppression. The solution to those plaguing problems must start with an understanding of others.
What better way to understand someone's humanity than to live next door to them? To see them playing soccer with their kids in the front yard, to help them shovel their driveway, to lend a cup of sugar - those observations and interactions give way to understanding. Realizing that individual difference is nothing to fear will help erode the hate based on unfounded stereotypes. But as Dr. King said, we must be together to have those realizations. We must communicate. We must desegregate to reach that understanding.
Helen Hardiman, Esq., MSW, is the Director of Fair Housing at Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc. Visit www.HOMEofVA.org to learn more about her work.