New York as a Center of Difference

While reading Thomas Bender’s New York as A Center of Difference, I was struck by how ecstatic Bender was in his praising of New York. Beginning with explaining how culture and politics in New York are “based on premises not quite shared by the nation generally”, Bender strives to prove to the reader that New York is unique and special because of its resilience to prejudice, and diversity. He furthers this by explaining that New York is sometimes “uncomfortable with America”, as if they were two separate places, not joined together, and how in turn, America is “uncomfortable with, even fearful of, New York City”. To me, this was one of the most important parts of the article. Bender perfectly articulated the stigma surrounding New York City. While I was eager to move to this city, to become part of the lucky few that can share in its magnificence, I was nearly always met with a slight bout of lack of comfort and fear from those that “supported” me. New York is scary to other people. They are frightened of the “New York experience and the outlook associated with that experience”, to embrace differences and change, that you may not always be right and that other people have important opinions. New York was built off of “political and cultural life based on difference”, Bender states, proudly marking its culturally diverse social structure. This allows minorities and majorities to be a part of the democratic, political process. New York is the epitome of success and should be seen as a model for the rest of the country.

When comparing America to New York, the two separate countries bordering on each other, Bender was quick to quip that there are myths of “rural and small-town America”, that is ready to exclude difference from “politics and culture”. However, Bender is quick to warn the reader that this should not be a main way of life. “Exclusion impoverishes civic life and invites injustice”, the author clarifies to the reader. New York is nothing short of “marked by diversity and openly conflicting interests”. That is what makes it so special, and so feared. This “special character of New York” helped to develop the city.

When Bender gets into the history side of New York, he explains how the previous members “embraced the immigrants who were transforming New York City”, which gave it its full-steam-ahead progress. His “communal sense” was an integral part in the success of the city, and ends with asking us who, if not New York, if New York were to fall into the same spots of ignorance and ignore Jefferson’s time, where many communities believed they could be strong under their own values, forming their own senses of governments, would be the beacon of light for our country. If New York was not the one to “stand against the rising tide of…intolerance towards difference”, Bender asks, who could?


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. tgmccormack
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 16:37:28

    I am interested in what you thought of the blog posts about the “littles:” little Italy, Little Korea etc. Though we are a diverse city, sometimes i think we are like a high school cafeteria, all separated into groups of sameness. Critique Bender a little bit with your experience in NYC so far. How much interaction have you had with diverse cultures and races? Are neighborhoods, schools and stores truly accepting of all races. I hate to be the pessimist, but I think Bender is a little rosy about us.


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