Diversity and Dreams
Watching “Strategies and Perspectives for Anti-oppression in Cohousing” with Crystal Byrd Farmer, Sky Blue, Elliot Cisneros, and Mathilde Berthe from the recent Connecting in Cohousing conference I got to thinking about the way we build communities and our struggle to make them diverse. While I’ve been aware of many factors in the struggle for some time, today I’m becoming aware of a new one, albeit related to the others.
It has to do with every sort of diversity and how we build community from the very beginning. I imagine most communities start in much the same way – with a dream. And the dreamer creates a vision and the visionary becomes a founder and begins to attract other members who share that vision and they become a community.
That’s how it’s worked for the communities I’ve founded. For me, the struggle with diversity began unnoticed in the very first step, the dream. You see, I dream within the cozy confines of my comfort zone. I dreamed about belonging and common meals. I dreamed of it happening in spaces that felt familiar with customary (to me) traditions. I didn’t think to include the kind of discomfort that comes with differences.
The dream became a vision and somewhere along the line the vision got filled out. Like most groups, we tucked in the word diversity, and we meant it. We’d have been delighted if people not-like-us had come along and stepped into our comfortable familiar community, fitting into our vision and dream.
The trouble is that more or less by definition, people who are different from me have different comfort zones, different dreams, different visions for community. That’s not to say that we couldn’t enjoy living together in community, so long as, in the end, community is the primary goal and all the details I’ve wrapped it in as I dreamed are optional. If my goal is belonging and connection, there will be people with all kinds of differences who want that too, because we all need belonging and connection. But the conversation will have to start somewhere other than deep within my comfort zone. If I want to meet people who are different from me, I’m going to have to go to places where they hang out, probably places where they are more comfortable than I am. I’m going to have to include them in the dreaming.
What I heard from Crystal, Elliot and Sky is that building a diverse community may not start with buying land or planning buildings. A more likely beginning is building diverse relationships.
Decades ago as the civil rights movement was in full swing, my very white, very privileged grandmother realized that she didn’t know anyone who wasn’t white, and she wanted to. So she went to an African American neighborhood and knocked on a door. She explained her dilemma to the woman who opened that door. It was the beginning of a decades long friendship.
I’m thinking Grandmother understood something about what it takes to live in diversity that I’m still grappling with. Her precise approach is probably not the thing to do today, but her attitude is. She gathered her courage, stepped out of her comfort zone, and learned some things. I’m thinking she was a person who could have figured out how to build diverse communities. I’m hoping we can too.