Antiracism and the Reparation of Community

Neurobiologists – and others – are suggesting that the human inclination to form relationships is an expression of our neuro-architecture. We have a deep cellular bias for forming relationships. Along with this bias is a capacity for empathy. We are human in the context of complex relationships. This is what makes us human. This deep inclination is the basis of human community. We are a communal species.  One helpful resource in exploring this topic further is a short RSA produced video called Empathic Civilization based on the work of and narrated by Jeremy RifkinAnother is Social Intelligence: the New Science of Human Relationships by Daniel Goleman.

The multigenerational impact of systemic racism in our nation’s history compromises this fundamental bias. Racism distorts our attempts to shape communities. It produces communities that are, in the final analysis, unsustainable. White supremacy (the social architecture that generations of racialization have produced) has not and cannot position us for survival in a time of dramatic climatic, ecological and social transition. It may well be the case that if our species is to make it, we need to be about the work of repairing the fabric of community. We need to shape human communities that are sustainable. We need communal fabric that can serve as our bridge into a dramatically different future. This is the work of antiracism. It is the strategic interventions in the processes of racialization that repair and restore community – whether geographically or institutionally defined.

Many organizers that focus on shaping sustainable communities suggest that the word resilient is a helpful way of thinking about the meaning of sustainable. When we explore the practical meaning of community resilience there are three features that especially stand out for me (there are many features and dimensions of sustainability). Sustainable, resilient communities are diverse, adaptive and regenerative.

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DIVERSE. When the FHA crafted a model restrictive covenant in 1938, it was presumed that racially homogenous communities were more stable and peaceful. This model was one of the tools that guided the shaping of the American suburbs. Such apartheid has always been one of the features of communities in the United States. The architecture of white supremacy requires living spaces divided by walls and barriers: railroad tracks, thoroughfares, canals, rivers and streams, etc. Entire sections are effectively reserved for particular racial, ethnic and income groups. Consequently, racial homogeneity has been our default in neighborhood and community development. This social default setting impedes the development of genuine multicultural/multiracial communities. Our history is a stumbling block! When we pay attention to natural ecosystems it becomes clear that diversity is a fundamental feature – and, is key to eco-resilience. Healthy, self-sustaining ecosystems are diverse. In similar fashion, a healthy, resilient community is diverse in every way we can imagine: demographically, economically, socially – even culturally.  Human communities are not distinct and apart from natural ecosystems. We are part of them. The insights of bio-mimicry suggest that we need to pay attention to the ways communities are constituted in the ecosystems around us.

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ADAPTIVE. Ecosystems that adapt to changes in their environment survive and thrive. Those that do not wither and die and are replaced by others. Similarly, human communities that are adaptive have moved beyond imposed insularity and change in response to their social and environmental context.  New immigrant groups are woven into the fabric of community. Economic distress in the larger society is met with new patterns of sharing and connecting.  Local viability and livability is directly related to a community’s adaptive capabilities. The pillar institutions of a community are key to its adaptive capacities. This includes churches, synagogues, mosques, community organizations, fraternal organizations, sororities, small businesses, etc. They are the connectors that anchor communities to the larger society. They can also gather information and interpret for the community the changes on the horizon that will impact community lifeways. Eventually, adaptive communities have to transcend the historic boundaries of community life and create new rules. White supremacy in all its social and spiritual expressions resists such change. It simply cannot countenance fundamental change.

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REGENERATIVE. Sustainable, resilient communities have inculcated deep regenerative capacities. They are marked by cycles of renewal. They recycle the necessities of life. Writing in the Permaculture Activist, Mark Morey points out that we live in a “broken culture;” “the culture of empire and the culture of the machine can never be regenerative.” “Healthy culture can trump the messages and patterns of modern life.” He envisions local communities as “a place of reclaimed and renewed culture.” [1] “Cultural repair has many aspects, but all involve remembering, restoring and reinventing the invisible fabric …permaculture derives its power from understanding the regenerative capacities and logic of nature.” [2] Like a plant that returns nitrogen to the soil – thus enriching it even as it takes its nourishment from the soil – regenerative communities create patterns of renewal that vitalize individuals, families, local institutions and the surrounding ecosystems. This assumes there can be a deep regenerative logic in human communities and their relation to the living systems around them.  White supremacy subverts this deep logic. These three features are sustained in a community skein of mutual accountability relationships. The synergy among them fosters a dynamic, ever changing equilibrium. The discussion of accountability must wait for another occasion. [1] Mentoring for the Earth, Mark Morey from the Permaculture Activist; reprinted in the Utne Reader, March-April, 2014. [2] Ibid

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About the R. James Addington

R. James Addington is a training and organizational development consultant with Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training. Previously, he was the co-director of the Minnesota Collaborative Anti-Racism Initiative (MCARI) – a long-time regional partner of Crossroads. He has 30 years experience in community development, leadership training, organizational development and strategic planning. He also serves as a service-learning consultant with the Institute of Cultural Affairs-USA. James spent ten years in a variety of international local and regional development projects including in Jamaica, Venezuela, India, the Philippines and Nigeria; he directed the Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy in Minnesota (an advocacy and public policy education arm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) for nine years; and served as adjunct faculty at Luther Seminary.

Categories:Antiracism Intervention, Commentary, Racial Justice
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One response to “Antiracism and the Reparation of Community”

  1. Joy Bailey says:

    I love all the pictures and graphics! Thanks for this blog.

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