On “Waiting” for People of Color

Posted on March 10, 2018 by
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Excerpted from the Spring 2018 edition of Communities, “Class, Race, and Privilege”—full issue available for download (by voluntary donation) here.

I am living on land where my grandfather was born a slave, land he and his brother purchased from his former “owner.” This land, combined with my values and discouragement with the way our culture is headed, calls me to form an intentional community (IC).

In addition to its African American legacy, the land also seems to have a meaningful Native American history. A friend who is related to me on the slave-owning side has found Native American arrowheads on the land. We are located at a convergence of rivers that are part the homeland of the Monacan people.

The history of people of color on this land influenced me to make people of color, and diversity, central to the development of our IC—and to decide that the makeup of the community will be mostly people of color and have as one of its core values diversity of culture.

Starting an IC can be an overwhelming proposition. It certainly is for me. To find direction and develop strategies, I have done a lot of reading, visiting communities, taking workshops, and attending IC conferences. While this has helped in my understanding of how to form an intentional community, I found little help in centering this community on people of color. The conferences had few people of color attending and almost none were looking for a community in my area. I heard interest in attracting people of color and curiosity as to why few people of color seemed to be in most ICs but I saw very little success in attracting people of color to most intentional communities.

As part of my research, I’ve learned that ICs have been formed with some success by people of color coming together where they already live and then developing a kind of intentional community there with people they already know. Success has come despite having to overcome tremendous outside pressure such as experienced by Dudley Street in Boston, and New Communities, Inc. of Albany, Georgia, and the violent repression of MOVE in Philadelphia. The high cost incurred in these cases may terrorize others from considering similar communities. These communities are separate from the wider ICs movement. They also seem centered on staying in an area while attracting people from that area.

I began to question assumptions about developing ICs that include a lot of people of color. I realized that, to be honest, what I have been looking for are people of color who want to live where I am and who think like I do. I wonder: Can I get both? People who want to live where I am in most cases already live here and are most likely to be found here. Finding people who think like me is a bit trickier: they would probably have a similar educational background and have my luxury of exploring alternative ways of living.

More assumptions I began to question: to a person rooted by family and other concerns in their current location, joining a new, separate community where a group of people can live together and share resources and goals that reflect their values may not seem practical. It just makes sense: people of color may not want to leave where they live and feel at least somewhat comfortable, to go to some strange rural area where they may face hostility, rural racism, and feel even more like outsiders in this culture than we already do. On top of that comes the weirdness of having to live with strangers who may have a different cultural way of communicating, as well as eating, cooking, cleaning, working, and even relaxing. To say nothing of adding resource-sharing to the mix!

Looked at this way, it just makes sense that ICs are predominantly comprised of some people and not others. It’s not just about people of color; working class white people are not found commonly in ICs either, possibly for some of the same reasons.

People in ICs tend to be educated and have a good bit of privilege. I was brought up in a privileged household. Everyone of my generation, my parents’ generation, and most of my grandparents’ generation had a college education and good-paying, professional jobs. For people of color—in particular African American, Hispanic, and Native American peoples—this is very unusual, when many are working class and without a college education. It would seem to me they would thus tend to be looking to get out of poverty and live in a decent neighborhood. Is it right or even wise for me to be expecting people of color—who may have never lived in a middle class neighborhood—to forget about experiencing that in order to live with me in the middle of nowhere with a lower standard of creature comforts than they may aspire to?

In discussing class, race, and privilege in ICs, we are discussing oppression. Class seems invented to justify oppressing people. Race seems an invented construct, cannot really be defined, and is used to separate and oppress people. Privilege tends to become self-justifying and an excuse for oppression.

In our efforts to develop ICs, we who seek to create alternatives that respond to what is lacking in our societal framework, and who have escaped oppression to a great extent, have an obligation to those who have not been so lucky. It might seem that we can meet this obligation by including people in our ICs who have suffered more oppression and have less privilege than we have into our communities. But how do we do this? How do we develop diversity of culture, ethnicity, and class in intentional communities?

Perhaps it is alright not to know how. In fact, I think the answer may lie in admitting that we don’t know how.

On this analysis, I find I am currently playing a “waiting and coaxing” game: waiting until people of color appear who are open to joining a community and then trying to coax them into joining my community when, I must admit, it may not be right for them. This searching and waiting game goes against my nature. I need a more active approach.

And what is the most effective expenditure of my energy? Should I try to “sell” people on the idea of moving into a potentially uncomfortable situation?

How does my privilege play into this? Does my education and background grant me authority to tell others how to live?

Instead, I have begun to see my privilege as something to be thankful for, and to be thankful for it by service.

It’s a sizable time commitment, when most of us feel we already have too little time—but when we acknowledge that we are blessed, there becomes an obligation to make time to give back.

One way I might best achieve my aims is by working with people and organizations who are already here to help find better solutions for how we all live in our local community. While I may hope for an opportunity to let them know one such solution could be an intentional community, that cannot be my starting point. The starting point is serving as an agent to help them find solutions to problems they, and organizations they are already working with, have identified as major obstacles to progress for their community.

When I make it part of our IC’s mission to serve local communities of color, not only do I contribute to my surrounding community, the IC also receives the added benefit of connecting our IC to the surrounding community—giving us allies in that surrounding community. When I visited the Damanhur IC in northern Italy, I talked with longstanding members who said Damanhur started out isolating itself from its neighbors. They quickly discovered that this only led to mistrust and more division. When they instead chose a path of being of service to the surrounding community—for example, by starting a volunteer fire department, and turning an abandoned factory into a local business and community center—they became allied with their neighbors and an integral part of their community.

While I am just beginning on this path, I don’t believe our ICs can be successful without this kind of service work. I consider this a kind of “bridging,” connecting our IC with the larger community. This bridging is in fact written into our IC’s core mission.

As I look over this article, I cannot help but judge my efforts thus far inadequate: mentioning doing service I have not yet done. It has only been a couple months since I have decided upon this new direction for our IC, but I can see how I have allowed the many demands on my time and energy to divert my intentions. This article has helped me re-center in my goals and recommit to acting on them.

Michael Brickler is a web-media streaming consultant and performer who is forming an intentional community, Donald’s View, based on Diversity, Bridging, and Consciousness in southwestern Virginia on the land where his great-great-grandfather was born a slave.

Recommended Links

Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Boston, Massachusetts: www.amazon.com/Holding-Ground-Rebirth-Dudley-Street/dp/1574480464, www.newday.com/film/holding-ground-rebirth-dudley-streetwww.yesmagazine.org/issues/cities-are-now/how-one-boston-neighborhood-stopped-gentrification-in-its-tracks

New Communities, Inc., Albany, Georgia: www.newcommunitiesinc.com, www.arcofjusticefilm.com

MOVE, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: www.abebooks.com/9781937868321/Burn-MOVE-Philadelphia-Police-Department-193786832X/plp, www.barnesandnoble.com/w/let-it-burn-michael-boyette/1117474135?type=eBook, zeitgeistfilms.com/film/letthefireburn

Damanhur, Italy: www.damanhur.org, www.damanhur.org/en/create-sustainability/damanhur-crea

Donald’s View, Eagle Rock, Virginia: www.ic.org/directory/donalds-view

Excerpted from the Spring 2018 edition of Communities, “Class, Race, and Privilege”—full issue available for download (by voluntary donation) here.





One Reply to “On “Waiting” for People of Color”

lani416

I love your openness. Thank you for sharing this. I agree that I do not want to give up my comforts. I like electricity, hot baths and a warm home, lol.

I am currently at a place in my life where I needed to just get away. I am a natural healer, so I have been privileged to think and live outside of our current traditional ways. However, when I started looking for ICs I noticed that I didn’t see many people my color. I am not a color oriented person, so it took me a minute to realize it. I went back through the list and tried to pay attention to any ICs that may have more diversity and the ones I saw did not have a focus that resonated with me.

I read this article and fell in love and now I am ready to join your IC (of course I recognize being caught up in your passionate desire, lol). Your article answered my question better then the explanation I came up with. (I reasoned that we already live in ICs. We just call them “the projects” or “the ghettos”. However, you put a lot more clarity on my opinion. Thank you for that insight.)

I am 48yr old, black, woman with two children (young adults, they don’t like me calling them children) and I found your description of your IC interesting because of the ancestral history both African American and Native American. I appreciate the link to our ancestors. I also was impressed with your desire to work and be part of the “outside” community. I did read your description of the IC and absolutely LOVED the freedom of living how I want to (I can still drink, smoke and eat what I want.) I feel like I need to justify this statement. I am not saying that I am an alcoholic, smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, eating steaks for breakfast, lunch and dinner. My feeling behind having those restrictions in a community limits the “come as you are” expectations I thought ICs embraced. Being a natural healer, I deal with everyday people who agree with this lifestyle but are not ready to stop. So coming into community would be like going to rehab.

I also liked the tiny house housing concept. I saw the ones with yurts, tipis, RVs, etc, but as I said previously, I still enjoy certain comforts and truly don’t want to give up flushing a toilet.

The last perk of your IC that I want to mention is the water running through the land. Since I am from California and a naturalist I truly love the energy of natural running water; to me it is a reminder of life continuing and growth. Of course there is the basic necessity of having a water source readily available. I would not have considered moving to Virginia if this was not in the property description, as I was really more inclined to a tropical setting.

Thank you for your time in writing this article and especially in starting your community. I am open and available should you need any help with it’s growth.

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