Many of you know that I moderate a Facebook page for Minne Lusa Historic District. For what space it takes up in the vast landscape of social media, I believe it has been a good vehicle to spread the good word about our awesome little community. As a matter of fact, several current and future neighbors have chosen to live in Minne Lusa based, in part, on the sense of community they have seen among neighbors on our page. That’s really cool. One of my favorite things is getting a message from someone who is considering moving to the area and who wants more information about it. I would say that I get about one every other month. They don’t always pan out, but it’s a great opportunity for me to give people another perspective about this North Omaha neighborhood that they likely won’t get elsewhere. So, generally I love getting these messages.
This is a story about one I didn’t enjoy getting. Before you read any more, you should know that I initially reacted out of emotion and posted on the Facebook page portions of the message I received from this person (You can see the post and the pursuant conversations it started here). I made my response to her public in a rather scolding way. I wish I had given myself some time to respond with a little more wisdom. Hopefully, you will be able to use more wisdom than I did when you decide how you feel about it.
Minne Lusa had recently been nominated as a finalist for the Neighborhood of the Year Award given annually by Neighborhoods USA, a national organization dedicated to improving and empowering neighborhoods. We were contacted by a potential home buyer who had read the article and was interested in the neighborhood. She stated she and her husband were looking for a neighborhood to raise their children. Naturally she was interested in someplace that was safe. Got it. Totally understand the concern. I’ve answered the “Is Minne Lusa a safe place?” question about 2 dozen times. I was ready to answer it again. But the way she phrased the question made my stomach drop and my body temp rise. Her words were, “We want to make sure we raise our boys in a safe place where they can play outside. So what’s the ratio of white vs black who live in the neighborhood [sic]?” *OK, deep breath* It still gets me riled that the question was asked this way. Want a safe place for kids? Got it. As a dad, I’m right there with you. But then, the ratio question with those two telling letters right in the middle. “VS“.
Now we’re having a completely different conversation. The question was posed in a way that suggested that “a safe place” was somehow quantifiable by a kind of Racial Ratio. To be fair, she never stated what magic number on either side of the equation was enough to call it “safe”. But the idea was clear. “I believe my safety is based on the race of people around me.” This is a hard idea for me to get behind, because I have raised my boys in a neighborhood where their positive influences have come from both white and black people. But the part of the question that stuck in my brain like a toothpick was the “vs”. Versus. White versus black. My response to her question about the ratio of white vs black was “. . . . Um . . . . Zero. There is no ratio of ‘white vs black’ here. We have white people, and we have black people. We have lots of white + black. We have some white & black. But vs? Nope there’s no ‘vs’ here. Ma’am, whatever ratio you are looking for to equate ‘good, safe place’ with doesn’t compute.” I stand behind that sentiment. I can’t abide the idea that someone would look at my black neighbors (who are exceptionally wonderful neighbors) and assume that there’s some risk. Versus! I couldn’t think for a second about being “versus” Katie and Ralph who live next door! Why would anyone be “versus” them?
Later in the post, however, I told her that if she was going to think about things that way, that she should go live somewhere else. I was essentially shaking my digital fist at her in a sentiment that sounds awfully like the ideas I was passionately decrying. “Go on! We don’t need yer kind aroun’ here!” After taking many days to think over my response, I wish that I had done things differently. I’m not really sure what I should have done. I just haven’t been able to shake the feeling that I was being as closed off as the mentality I was railing against.
I think that a different kind of conversation needs to be had. If I don’t want the “Versus” mentality to be a part of this community, then I can’t carry it along myself. But how do I combat these issues without myself being combative? I would love to hear your thoughtful responses about ways we can eliminate the “Versus” mentality in our communities. Let me know what your thoughts are by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by messaging me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MinneLusa.
In the mean time, check out this amazing game / blog post that helps shed a little more light on the idea of equating racial equity with “a good place to live”. It’s enlightening!