Sunday, May 26, 2019

When Neighbors Start Talking

It finally happened. I knew it would. Deep inside I knew it was inescapable, but still I harbored the hope that it would pass me by.

Yesterday my husband handed me a letter.

“I don’t know if you’d be interested in this.”

Nextdoor. If you don’t already know what it is, here’s a Wikipedia explanation. Here’s a really sweet write up from the Atlantic. It seems innocent enough on its face. When it first came out I thought it was a fascinating and helpful concept. But then actual humans starting using it.

A hint to what has eventually gone wrong on Nextdoor is in this flyer itself:

P.S. There are already 800 posts on Nextdoor Stevens Forest, including posts about Crime & Safety in the neighborhood.

Ooh! Do I need to be worried about Crime & Safety in my neighborhood? I’d better sign up right away.

Sadly, there seems to be some sort of unwritten code that makes white people in groups think it is a good idea to share posts like, “There’s a suspicious male walking down the road,” when they see black and brown people. Not only is this a sign of deeply engrained racial prejudice (that they’d probably swear up and down that they don’t have) it makes life extremely dangerous for black and brown people.

As a white person I have never had the police called on me because of odd behavior. Trust me, we have all done something odd in our lives that might have warranted a raised eyebrow from somebody. But my whiteness has reliably protected me. People give me the benefit of the doubt because I look “safe” to them.

Groups like Nextdoor are where white people encourage each other that “it’s okay to just call the police if something doesn’t feel right to you.” It’s the ultimate “let me speak to a manager” reaction to neighborhood difficulties. In Columbia we often say that we are a community without racial prejudice. I’d love to believe that is true, but I know from personal experience that it is not.

Sadly, groups like Nextdoor have often become places where white people congregate and lodge complaints. Some are humorous. Some are innocent. Some are not.

So, with some trepidation, I signed up for Nextdoor Stevens Forest. So far it seems like a lovely bunch of folks who are looking for nothing more than recommendations for home contractors and medical specialists. Perhaps it will be different than all the Nextdoor horror stories I have read about.

I sure hope it’s not like this:

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