malafrena: (Default)
[personal profile] malafrena
One of the most broken aspects of contemporary society is the lack of community. People often give lip service to the word "community" without knowing what it was, and I did not know what it was until I had children and suddenly understood its lack. When I joined the co-op preschool system, I began to feel what community could be - people looking out for each other, people working together on a long-term common goal. At the same time, I saw its limitations: for one, it would be a community I would have to exit when my children entered kindergarten.

So where do we look for examples of community? Here is a perspective from bell hooks, from her time growing up in the fifties and sixties, where home was a place to develop critical consciousness and a foundation for black liberation struggle. She's talking about the nuclear family as well as the extended family, and linking what happened in the family space to what happened in the broader black community.

This task of making homeplace was not simply a matter of black women providing service; it was about the construction of a safe place where black people could affirm one another and by so doing heal many of the wounds inflicted by racist domination. We could not learn to love or respect ourselves in the culture of white supremacy, on the outside; it was on the inside, in that "homeplace," most often created and kept by black women, that we had the opportunity to grow and develop, to nurture our spirits. This task of making a homeplace, of making home a community of resistance, has been shared by black women globally, especially black women in white supremacist societies. (pp 42-43)

She goes on to talk about the breakup of families under slavery and under apartheid - it was no accident, she says, because undermining the family also undermines the site of struggle - and that capitalism, consumerism, sexism, adoption of white middle-class ideology are doing the same thing today.
Masses of black women, many of whom were not formally educated, had in the past been able to play a vital role in black liberation struggle. In the contemporary situation, as the paradigms for domesticity in black life mirrored white bourgeois norms (where home is conceptualized as politically neutral space), black people began to overlook and devalue the importance of black female labor in teaching critical consciousness in domestic space. (p 47)

So, the first step to a liberatory strategy - for families of any color - would be to rebuild that politicized domestic space, that "homeplace." To bring critical consciousness back into the home through feminist struggle.

I'll agree with that but also say it's only a first step. One home with a critical consciousness, disconnected from the rest of the community, is not going to be effective. Critical consciousness has to be shared with the broader community. For that to happen, we have to strengthen community ties. And for that to happen, we need to know what community really means.

Well, what does it mean?

No, I don't have the answer. But I do know that to build community, you find a common goal, shared work. For me it was the shared work of our co-op preschool. For the community hooks spoke of, it was building a black liberation struggle. Regardless, it goes farther than cultural criticism, farther than standing in a circle holding hands and singing. It has to move into practical action and material change too.

Of what sort?

That's the question.

hooks, bell. Yearning: race, gender, and cultural politics. Boston: South End Press, 1990.

Date: 2010-07-24 04:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is very interesting stuff - probably the closest brush I've had with community in the sense you're talking about was at my experimental-school college, which had the same shortcoming as the preschool: you have to leave after a few years.

Otherwise, while I've not been directly involved in any, I think cohousing might be a similar sort of thing, though kind of limited in its scope.

Date: 2010-07-26 02:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Cohousing does sound intriguing.

Date: 2010-08-07 02:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
In what way would you say that cohousing is limited in scope?

I think neighborhood-based community is where it's at - especially with the price of oil so high (i.e. Deepwater Horizon spill). But on the other hand, our neighborhoods are so segregated by race and class.

Date: 2010-08-07 04:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Limited in scope mainly because it's generally a couple dozen people at a time. I'd love to see suburbia consist of a zillion cohousing clusters, but the effort to get there is daunting.

Plus, as it currently stands, cohousing is always a huge and intentional effort on the part of a group of founders - though by now some of the communities have been around for a generation or more. I'd be curious to see what happened if you just built cohousing-type developments and plunked people in them without that binding intention, whether the communities would work or not. I suspect you'd get some of both, some working where the people who happened to live there were the kind who liked the idea and were willing to make the effort, and some not, where people weren't like that.

Date: 2010-11-11 07:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
". I'd be curious to see what happened if you just built cohousing-type developments and plunked people in them without that binding intention . . ."

Oh my, that sounds dreadful! I think that everyone who moved to a cohousing community would need to agree to abide by certain rules. Then you have the question of who would pay for this development. I would suggest that current cohousing communities could band together and create a central fund for the development of new communities, which is gradually repaid. They could also send people to help plan the new communities.


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