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“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”: Systematic Racism and Suburbia

John McConnico “Suburbia 91”

My thoughts come after viewing  Race – The Power of an Illusion, Episode Three: The House We Live In.

When I dream about my future, I think of living in a beautiful house in the suburbs with a hunky husband and adorable kids (who act nothing like I did because my kids are perfect!). I will drive a hybrid that is big enough to manage the school carpool and have enough money to shop at gourmet grocery stores, not Costco or Sam Club (yuck!)  All the houses will be cute, neatly lined – and white. Not because of their paint color, but because of their owners. For some reason, in my dreams I never live next to an African American family, a Latino Family, or anyone who came from the Middle East (there is of course the one Frenchman on the block – because he is my husband!). All of my neighbors are just like me, think similarly like me, and value the same things that I do. It’s the perfect neighborhood…..

I never recognized I had no diversity in my perfect neighborhood. I’m passionate to fight for injustices, eliminate poverty, and celebrate diversity; but why isn’t that reflected in my dream?

Do you find yourself dreaming similarly? Maybe the setting is different, but look around at the people – do they all look like you? After watching this documentary, I have better insight as to why I dream this way.

Let me explain, here is a brief, and paling, synopsis of part of the documentary content:

Systematic racism exists and industries exploit these inequalities to make profit. One example, the real-estate industry, who subversively encouraged segregated suburbs through practices such as ‘Red-Lining’ and ‘Block Busting’. These tactics were used to persuade  white suburban home owners to sell and move to new developments out of fear. What fear? That African American neighbors would drive down property value. The reality? Real-estate companies purposely drove housing values down when African American families moved into neighborhoods. Why? Simply, GREED. Real-estate companies sold homes at higher cost  to African Americans. Companies could make double the revenue by selling white homeowners a new home in a new development and  sell their old home to an African American family. This became the origin for the principle that diversity in a neighborhood is bad for property value. A principle that has been passed down as ‘investing wisdom’ by two or three generations.

I would argue this principle has shape the vision of the ‘American Dream’. Often my parents and I would drive around looking at homes. They took the opportunity to instruct me on qualities of a good neighborhood. Their advice went hand in hand with the philosophies created by the mid-century real-estate industry. I took their suggestions to heart and it became what I desired, dreamed, prayed, and order my life around. When I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area I searched trying to find the neighborhood that matched my dream. What I didn’t recognize was my dream was flawed and rooted in philosophy created from greed. Despite how much I begged in prayer, God in his wisdom and glory did not bless me with the ‘perfect neighborhood’. Instead he blessed me with wisdom to understand why I desired those things.

When seeking to live with people who are like me (racially, socio-economically, culturally), I quickly forget the needs and problems facing others. When I hear issues like homelessness, abuse, or starvation – it becomes hard to relate. It can’t be real because its not part of  ‘reality’. MY reality is  figuring out who to have dinner with tonight,  how to save money to fly home for Christmas, and catching up on the latest Downton Abby episode. I surround myself with people focused on the same things. Suddenly homelessness, abuse, and starvation become someone else’s problem. If these issues are brought up in group conversation, the instigator is teased and called ‘Debbie Downer’. I’m not exposed to these problems because I have created a sterilized world to live in, and by doing so, have lost touch with what I have been called by Jesus  to do:

Matthew 25:34-40

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me. Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you? And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Living an assimilated existence in a neighborhood where everyone is like me  doesn’t match kingdom principles! Shocking I know! What does God want for me (and you) then? I’m glad you asked, I believe the answer is diversity.

God IS FOR diversity:

Revelation 7:9-10

Galatians 3:28

Romans 10:12

Colossians 3:11

1 Corinthians 12:12-30

Ephesians 4:2-5

Ezekiel 47:22

I believe purposely living in a community that doesn’t look like me, that’s imperfect, and plagued by ‘societal issues’ is EXACTLY where God desires me (and you) to be. After all, Jesus said in Mark 2:17 “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”. My dream of living in the ‘perfect neighborhood’ is actually the ultimate battle of the flesh talked about in Romans 8:5, 13:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. . . . For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

If you think I’m incorrect that’s ok. But I ask you to think about the current housing crisis in the U.S. Most agree it’s the effect of an entire generation striving to maintain the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ lifestyle. Selling one house to move into another before the neighborhood turns bad and property values decline….. sound familiar?

I’v challenged myself to stop dreaming for a  lifestyle rooted in a philosophy of greed. Starting today I’m aligning my life to Kingdom principles. I’m reconstructing my dream and rethinking what the ‘perfect neighborhood’ looks like. I believe it’s something like Psalm 133:

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.



One comment on ““Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”: Systematic Racism and Suburbia

  1. […] Part 2: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”: Systematic Racism in Suburbia […]

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