Dealing with Racism in the Communes

by Raven

Racism is an endemic problem in both the communes and in society at large.  Nearly all of the communes have had accusations of racism raised against them.  Although this occasionally involves cases of overt racism, more often it’s because of an environment which ranges from difficult to outright hostile for folks of color.

The problem, as I see it, is that the communities were started by and contain mostly white folks and, as a result, are built in such a way as to create and sustain a white culture.  This is not going to be changed by well-meaning white folks or by having one or two BIPOC communards in the community.  In August, 2020, as the US grappled with the Black Lives Matter movement, the REAL team at Twin Oaks put out a statement talking about trying to create true diversity at Twin Oaks.  At one point, I heard folks talking about recruiting in a way that TO would become as much as 40% BIPOC. I think that this could have made a real difference.

Twin Oaks O&I Board, June 2020

I wondered where the idea of 40% came from–then I looked at the demographics.  The town of Louisa is about 67% white and a little under 30% African American.  Louisa County is just about 51% white and nearly 46% African American.  (For comparison, Ozark County, where East Wind is located, is 97% white and Delaware County, where Glomus Commune is located, is 96% white.)

Unfortunately, the changes being pushed for at Twin Oaks didn’t happen and most of the members of the REAL team have left for other places.  

RIght now, I think the best hope for movement on racism in the communes is the Serenity Community for Justice and Peace being formed in Louisa County. I was particularly taken by an interview with Britiah Walker, one of founders of Serenity, who said that in spite of how the BIPOC founders, most ex-communards, have experienced discomfort and a lack of support from majority white communities, they want to maintain positive and progressive relationships with the other Louisa County communities, saying “…we all truly need each other to create positive change.”  She also made the point that “Serenity would be contributing to more diversity in the other communities.” Britiah added, “If there is a safer and more comfortable landing ground for BIPOCs coming from outside the area, as well as a greater draw for BIPOCs to Louisa County communities, they might feel more comfortable exploring other communities.”

Serenity founders

I think that the biggest thing that the communes can do to address racism right now is to support efforts like this.  Acorn Community has given the Serenity Community a year lease on the former Mimosa property and gave them work to do to earn income.  I was pleased that the Federation of Egalitarian Communities offered Serenity a $5000 grant and a $5000 no interest loan, once they become a Community in Dialogue with the FEC.  They still need more money, and land, and labor, and probably quite a few more things.  If the communes are serious about addressing racism, I think that supporting the Serenity Community is probably their best opportunity to begin the process of change.

Dealing with Racism in the Communes

4 thoughts on “Dealing with Racism in the Communes

  1. […] I was pleased to get to see Little Flower, the Catholic Worker community in Louisa, and meet Sue and Bill who keep the place going. I also got to talk with the folks who are creating the Magnolia Collective, a very new and very small community in Louisa with big dreams. With a bunch of communards from Glomus (we sometimes refer to ourselves as Glomunards), we got a tour of Living Energy Farm, which I have seen many times before, but I am hoping that we might try some of their technology at Glomus. Most of all, I got to connect with the Serenity folks, who I think are trying one of the most important community experiments in decades. […]

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  2. East says:

    I am currently living at Twin Oaks in 2022. Raven is still spot on. Twin Oaks is an insanely white space and we are struggling as a community to grapple with our whiteness and privilege. Some days we feel like a white summer camp for privileged people trying to escape their white existential dread. I will say, it seems like a decent amount of white members care about trying to make Twin Oaks less racists and we are focusing a bit more on dismantling white supremacy here at the moment. There are some education groups, some policies in the works and a group of us are doing what we can to divert TO’s hoarded resources towards Serenity. That said, as one of the white people spear-heading this effort, I am not optimistic. For starters, REAL team is no longer in existence and there are very few BIPOC currently in our community. And honestly, I’m not sure TO will be a truly safe space for most BIPOC for a while (ever?). Whiteness is something every single white person has to face for themselves. It is a life-long struggle to dismantle white-supremacy both internally and on a society level. But not every member is on-board with that and I cannot claim that we as a community are truly committed to change. It is easy for white members here is to get distracted because we live such busy lives just trying to maintain this place and our systems are not designed to facilitate meaningful change. I came here hopeful that because Twin Oaks desires to be different that somehow it was and that it just needed a push in the right direction, but the longer I stay here, the more I question any sense of hope I have.

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