Does anyone remember back in the day when we had things like The Welcome Wagon? When my family first moved from Savannah, Georgia to Coralville, Iowa back in 1988 we had a couple of locals come to our house and welcome us to the neighborhood. It was a really nice feeling because Iowa was drastically different from what we left behind in Georgia and while we still had to work through the cultural transition, I still look back on the kindness of those women fondly.
I miss that feeling these days. I don’t really know many of my neighbors and we don’t have an HOA so there’s nothing formal to create opportunities for us to interact. We wave when we see each other outside tending to our yards but that’s about it.
I reached out to my city director a few months back to see if there were any community-neighborhood rallying efforts already underway and for whatever reason, my part of town just doesn’t have that. Now let me be clear, I love my neighborhood. We’ve owned our house here for eight years and I always thought that eventually we’d get around to getting to know everybody. But the first three years my husband was in graduate school full time and I was working a job that had me off traveling the majority of the time. Then we moved away for three years for hubby’s doctoral program followed by a year’s detour to Hot Springs before coming back to Little Rock. So here we are eight years later and I still don’t know my neighbors.
I know that my story can’t be the exception. The nature of work has us all living more mobile lives than previous generations. So, what does that mean for over all human relations and neighborly behavior? Do we all need to go back and let Mr. Rogers school us a little bit? Could this be a symptom pointing us to some of the crazy issues we’re having with each other today?
I saw this article in Atlanta Black Star that left me feeling conflicted. We have had to turn to the law to seek protection of neighbors from neighbors. Think about that. In the course of our busy lives we have allowed ourselves to think it is okay to abdicate our role in being neighborly and created these spaces for mistrust and malice to creep into our lives.
You see a family you aren’t familiar with in your neighborhood park. Everyone seems to be having a good time though the music may be a little loud. Do you:
A. Walk over and introduce yourself and strike up a conversation so you can get to know them and gently ask them if they could turn the music down a tad.
B. Call the cops and ask them to come check these people out because you don’t recognize them and they are being disruptive.
It’s election season and you see someone canvassing door to door. They are clearly handing out things and going up to front doors to knock on them, not poking around side doors and windows. What in you makes you think, “I need to call the police on this suspicious person”?
I don’t like the Oregon law referenced in the Atlanta Black Star because most of us are grown folks fully capable of reaching out to our neighbors and making the effort to get to know one another so that we can avoid tragic (and sometimes deadly) misunderstandings. I do understand the frustration of living black in the U.S. and facing the daily uncertainty of not knowing whether a white person’s actions could end my life or the life of a brown or black person I love off of a bad assumption fueled by a fear they don’t even fully understand themselves. Please note that I didn’t say a racist person’s actions because this situation is so bad I don’t think we can afford to wait and debate over the status of a person’s racists identity classification.
White cop pulls over black woman for speeding and demands that she exit her vehicle.
Why? Speeding tickets don’t require all that.
Three black teens walk through their local mall having a good time and mall security follows them around.
Why? There are security cameras in place all over the mall. If the teens aren’t behaving badly what is the motivation for following them around?
Black man wearing a hoodie is walking down the street and a white woman hurriedly crosses to the other side of the street.
Why? Do you really think that man is about to grab you in broad daylight and drag you into an alley to rape you?
Here’s another question that is going to make me a little unpopular in some circles.
How is any of this a black or brown people problem? How is it that we have faced these treatments and worse for hundreds of years and yet we keep on keeping on while the perpetrators of this bad behavior have not done the work to fix that ugliness inside of them that prevents them from being good neighbors? Notice I didn’t say all white folks and instead said perpetrators because there are some white folks who have done the work. And I bet you they will happily help others if asked.
We need to bring back a welcome wagon spirit to our communities. We need to get to know each other again and watch out for one another. We need to own up to our own prejudices and do the work to do something about them black and brown people included. I think I’ll start by getting holiday cards for my neighbors.
What will you do, neighbor?
Marta C. Youngblood is a writer, education and social entrepreneur based in Little Rock, Arkansas. For more information on her current projects visit https://about.me/MCyoungblood.