Friday, July 23, 2010

Kindly change

I am on vacation in one of my favorite spots: Cherry Grove, Fire Island. Fire Island is a long and narrow (100 miles long and one mile wide at its widest point) strip of land off of Long Island, with a number of distinct communities dotted up and down the island. On most of the island (and all of the island that I have ever seen), no cars are allowed, and houses, shops and so on are connected by a series of board walks or sometimes sidewalks. The communities are accessed by a very efficient ferry system. We come to Cherry Grove, an old artist’s community now largely catering to the LGBTQ community (although all kinds of people can be found here.)

Today my partner, Stephanie, and I took a long walk down the island, coming at one point to a community called Point O Woods. A sign on the boardwalk leading from the beach into the community said, “Private Community. Kindly do not enter.” However there was no guard or gate, so, taking advantage of our race and age (middle aged white women), we flouted the sign and wandered in. No one really glanced at us, and I did not feel conspicuous or even unwelcome. The people we saw were all white, largely fit and nicely dressed in tennis whites or other white outfits. Later we learned that in order to even rent there you have to be recommended by two other people who already live there.

It is a gateless gated community.

A commons society is easily defined (among other definitions) as one in which it is easy to be good (Peter Maurin). It is easy to be good in this community, if you belong there. Bicycles sit unlocked, and lots of beach equipment is left outside, easy to gather up and take to the beach (which, like all beaches, is open to the entire public.) Clearly if we were young and/or people of color, our time in Point O Woods might not have been so pleasant, and these types of communities always seem to be wanting to keep out people poorer and darker than the current residents. But would we have been so offended by this sign if we had come upon a community that was mixed race, mixed class, with lots of people with disabilities, and other signs of diversity? And de facto, such a community would not have a discreet sign saying, “Kindly do not enter.”

“Kindly” seems a funny word to use—are we being asked to be kind, and not enter? Are they being kind by advising us not to enter? “Kind” and “do not enter” seem somewhat self-canceling yet are yoked together at the entrance to this private community that has a public Post Office, church, community center, fire department and other amenities paid for by taxes collected from a wider group than just these residents.

In some ways it doesn’t matter that a small community on a small (and rapidly disappearing) island is exclusive. But the principal here can rapidly devolve to the Arizona law which basically says “Kindly do not enter unless you are born in the United States, preferably to people born here, preferably to people who came here from England or Europe.”

I would like to put up my own sign: “Kindly do the work that is required to let go of your racism and classism, and I will do the same.” Then we can really discuss what we need to do to create communities in which it is easy for everyone to be good.

1 comment:

Frances said...

Love the connections in this post and glad you are on vacation!!