Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) Syndrome

Reset has struggled for over two years to find a property for our campus in (around, adjacent to, somewhere, anywhere!) near the Bay Area. Promising properties have fallen through over and over again and thus far, we are still homeless. Our entire team has been thrown into a never ending hurricane of uncertainty about our jobs, our organization, and our ability to do the work we set out to do.
For me, the most jarring part of this property hunt so far has been an email that a potential neighbor sent to a member of our team after a community meeting. Essentially, she was against Reset moving to the property and she had emailed over fifty people to share her sentiments. And oh, by the way, she believes in the work that we do. She just didn’t want us there.

NIMBY. Not In My BackYard.

Shortly after this community meeting, there was a sudden reversal of zoning in which an obscure legality resurfaced to dismantle Reset’s ability to run our program from the site. We don’t want you here.

Juxtaposed with the Google Impact grant – won through public vote –  this experience gives me a discordant reminder of the reality of creating change in our society. It seems so many of us are willing to support inspiring causes, good work and social change when it can be done from behind computer screens in the safety of our own homes. But, should the work actually require a change in our lives, a commitment, an action toward professed beliefs, resistance is immediate and swift. We are good people who believe in good things, but very few of us want to examine our deeply ingrained and subconscious beliefs about other human beings. It’s easier to say we want change than it is to live it.

 The Racism Train

There’s a problem when we champion change, then hide from it when it really counts. Like it or not, white superiority is well defended and protected. It may be unintentional. It’s likely unconscious. Without more introspection and sincere interaction, the racism train keeps rolling – George Sachs

In a system that is built firmly on the perception that white is normal and good, that black is dangerous and criminal and that everything else is foreign, unnatural and barbaric, it seems that unless people are willing to recognize racism as it exists, we will be forever hopelessly skewed toward inequity. We have a society built on racism with people who are unwilling to believe they are racist.

The most insidious misunderstanding of racism is the belief that all racists are like Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan: overtly murderous and hateful toward their victims. Too much of this certainly exists. However, in its most basic form, racism is prejudice plus power. For better or worse, we are socialized to develop prejudices about others. However, as Peggy McIntosh writes, white people carry an invisible knapsack of privilege that most do not even realize they possess. These privileges are attached to great power. Conversely, people of color are acutely aware of the prejudice they face and the privileges and power that are withheld from them. The systems created by this combination of prejudice and power have been solidified and compounded throughout history and over generations. They are unquestioned because they are woven so imperceptibly, so normally, into our structures, institutions and beliefs. But, once you see this racism, it cannot be unseen. It is everywhere.

And, I might add, one could argue the same thing for gender, ethnic, able-bodied, religious and sexual privilege and power.

Very few people want to perpetuate racism and its attendant inequities, injustices and frankly, destruction and death. However, the reality is that we are. We all are.

A Few Questions

When we look squarely at injustice and get involved, we actually feel less pain, not more, because we overcome the gnawing guilt and despair that festers under our numbness. We clean the wound – our own and others’ – and it can finally heal  – Desmond Tutu

Unless we are willing to ask ourselves hard questions and look inward at our subconscious beliefs, we will continue to perpetuate a status quo in which everyone loses in the long run. We all have implicit biases (learn more about yours here) that have been ingrained through the messages we receive from the world around us. Our subconscious beliefs don’t always match our professed beliefs, even if we want them to. But, we can work on our own awareness and then, over a lifetime, continue to work on change.

Do I live in a neighborhood that is mostly white? Is it because the schools are better? Am I okay with the fact that schools in some neighborhoods are better than others? Am I okay with the fact that not all students have access to the same quality of education and resources? That too many students of color students attend schools that I feel uncomfortable walking through, let alone sending my children to? Am I willing to integrate schools so that all students have the same access to resources that I’d want for my children? Am I willing to push for a reallocation and increase of resources that would enable us to create a system of education that is enriching, innovative and equitable for all young people? If not, then what am I afraid of and am I willing to look inside at the real beliefs I have about people who do or do not look like me?

How familiar am I with the history and institutions that created and maintain the segregated neighborhoods in which we live? How familiar am I with the history of any people of color in our country? Is it okay that the stories and truths of entire populations have been erased from our dominant narratives? Am I working to teach my child(ren) a more authentic narrative that includes multiple perspectives, people and events? Am I asking for the same from school curriculum? If not, why not? Am I willing to ask myself whose reality I believe to be more important and why?

What do I do when a black boy, like Trayvon Martin, Michael BrownJordan Davis, or Tamir Rice is senselessly murdered? Or when a black girl is attacked sitting at her classroom desk by a school security officer? Or when a black people are arrested for entering their homes, as in the not-so-isolated cases of Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and businesswoman Fay Wells? Or when innumerable black men, like Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Sam Dubose, Kenneth ChamberlainJohn Crawford III, Sean Bell, or Amadou Diallojust to name a few, die at the hands of the police with no believable reason? Do I have the luxury of turning off the TV and forgetting the event? Do I think these events are isolated and new? Did I get more incensed about the murder of a lion than I did about the murder of a human being? Do I entertain the possibility that the children did something to provoke their own murders or attacks from adults who were supposed to protect them? Do I justify the deaths and blame the victims for their own murders? Would I entertain that possibility if the child or person in question was white?

When thousands of people are regularly senselessly and innocently killed around the world, do I mourn with all of them? Do I stand with every man, woman and child who endures violence and death? Did I feel more outrage and sadness about Paris than Beirut? Than Nigeria or Syria? Did I stand with Paris on my Facebook wall? What did I do to show solidarity with people who suffer at the hands of terror everywhere? Do I even know about events that are destroying the lives of people around the world? What am I doing about it?

If I really believe all people are equal, what am I doing to ensure that we don’t replicate systems that maintain an unjust and inequitable status quo? No. That maintain an inhumane and genocidal status quo around the world?

I can answer some of these questions satisfactorily to my soul; but most…most and more haunt me everyday. There is so much work to do.

Our Responsibility

All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action -James Russell Lowell

A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race – Joseph Smith

What is our responsibility? Whose responsibility is it, if it is not ours?

There is much I do not know, but I do know that our responsibility is great. We have a responsibility to our families and our communities. We also have a responsibility beyond. It is not enough to profess support of good causes or solidarity with those who suffer. That is only a first step. We need to act. We need to change. We need to create change.

At least, we need to try.

Our Backyard Garden

If we could but recognize our common humanity, that we do belong together, that our destinies are bound up in one another’s, that we can be free only together, that we can survive only together, that we can be human only together, then a glorious world would come into being where all of us lived harmoniously together as members of one family, the human family – Desmond Tutu

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together – Lilla Watson, Aboriginal Activists Group, Queensland

 I believe that most people are good people. Well-intentioned people. People with good hearts who love deeply and care for others. We protect those with whom we share a connection. We tend to our small plots in the expansive garden of the world.

We say – and truly believe – we want everyone to have their own sustaining and plentiful plots, but we are less inclined to see the realities around us. We are less inclined, even resistant, to observe that the lush plots of some are built inside enclosed, barbed-wired, electrical fences. Some plots operate with a redirected water supply that nourishes only their plants. Some plots are built on the backs of the people tending other plots.

Parts of the garden have become deserts for want of water and shade. The pesticides used to protect plants in some plots are killing their neighbors’ plants. Some people are straight up destroying other peoples’ plots for their own gain.

At some point we must realize that the entire garden is our garden. East Palo Alto, Richmond, South Central, Hunter’s Point are our garden. Syria is our garden, Nigeria is our garden, Mexico and China are our gardens. When we look up and remove the shades that are blocking our vision, we will realize that our actions and inactions, our penchant to look out myopically for our own affects the entire garden, and thus, actually harms us and those we love. We lose our collective humanity.

If the world is our backyard – our garden – then we cannot push the responsibility away. We are sisters and we are brothers. We should be connected with love. Our liberation, our freedom and our humanity are bound together. We cannot abide by the NIMBY syndrome; it is a sickness we must eradicate. We must seek out and welcome our responsibility. Our souls and our hearts as a people depend on our willingness to act with love. We must recognize that the entire garden can become even more fruitful, lush and generative when we care for it together. The world and its people are our garden to tend.

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