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Examining White Supremacy Culture in Intentional Community

Posted on July 4, 2020 by
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When white people ask the question, why aren’t there more POC living in intentional communities, one of the answers some speculate is that “they find community in other ways.” I think there are a few things that idea gets wrong. It assumes that controlling land for the purposes of community building is something POC aren’t interested in. It also assumes that the barriers to starting or joining intentional communities are the same for POC. And it also assumes that there aren’t any POC intentional communities.

In preparation for the workshop I’m leading on Examining White Supremacy Culture in Intentional Community, Tuesday, July 7, 4pm Eastern, I want to share a bit of my journey, and a list of POC communities and organizations (see below) that I’ve had the opportunity to learn from.

I had my wake up moment around race back in 2016 following the death of Philando Castile in Minnesota. I was at the New Economy Coalition conference right afterwards, which by that point had become a solidly POC led organization, and there was a lot of processing of that killing, which wasn’t that long after the killing of Freddie Grey the year before in Baltimore and the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO the year before that. I attended a workshop led by the local SURJ chapter (Showing Up For Racial Justice) and really got the message that as a white person I needed to be doing something. 

I was in my first year as Executive Director of the FIC at the time, and when I’d taken on the job I’d done so with misgiving at being yet another white male to take on a central leadership role. So then there I was at this conference, at this workshop, really asking myself the question, how do I use my position?

A couple things became clear. One, part of having privilege is being able to be unaware of it. I knew I would have lots of opportunities to speak and write and so I decided that I would address privilege and oppression every chance I had, and make sure that the FIC was always looking at things with that lens. Two, when I was organizing events I needed to make sure that there were presenters, facilitators, and speakers, especially keynote speakers who were POC. Three, there needed to be a decisive shift in the networking and narrative that I was part of crafting for the FIC and the movement as a whole. 

In all of this, a couple things I learned is that it’s a lot about showing up, going to spaces that are defined and led by POC, and it’s a lot about relationships, being authentic and vulnerable, making personal connections, being friends. 

And that last thing, shifting the networking and narrative, is what really helped me claim that there is white supremacy in the intentional communities movement. And I don’t mean particular individuals or communities out there that hold those attitudes in a more explicit way, which does exist. I mean that it’s part of the DNA of the movement. Here’s how I understand it.

Accessing all the different kinds of resources necessary to start intentional communities takes privilege and is more accessible to white people. When white people start intentional communities they are going to make them, even if unintentionally, so that they are more comfortable to other white people. They are also going to face less discrimination and hostility and be more likely to broadcast their presence. As communities start networking, it’s going to tend to be white communities that connect with each other and support each other. And when organizations start forming out of this network, it’s going to be white people who end up in leadership positions. This means that the movement is going to focus on the concerns of white people. It’s the experiences and stories of white people that define what the movement is about, and this is going to be a self-reinforcing dynamic.

This is what’s happened, and this white supremacy in action. 

POC Communities & Organizations

The list below is by no means exhaustive. I offer it to help others in their quest to learn and find inspiration. It can also offer some ideas about groups that white communities could support to help support the movement beyond their own work of becoming more inclusive and accessible spaces.

Intentional communities and community farms:

Organizations:

Media:

  • Seminar on Black Land and Liberation hosted by House of Ease as part of their online Juneteenth Festival (session 4 you will need to log in)
  • There’s an amazing documentary called Arc of Justice on New Communities, Inc. It was the first Community Land Trust in the US and was organized by black farmers in Georgia in 1969.
  • This is a great essay on Liberated Zones, which includes a discussion about intentional communities, by a black community organizer named Ed Whitfield.
  • The Black Spaces Manifesto is an incredible expression of a Black vision of community.
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