home and community

One of the most broken aspects of contemporary society is the lack of community. People often give lip service to the word “community” without knowing what it was, and I did not know what it was until I had children and suddenly understood its lack. When I joined the co-op preschool system, I began to feel what community could be – people looking out for each other, people working together on a long-term common goal. At the same time, I saw its limitations: for one, it would be a community I would have to exit when my children entered kindergarten.

So where do we look for examples of community? Here is a perspective from bell hooks, from her time growing up in the fifties and sixties, where home was a place to develop critical consciousness and a foundation for black liberation struggle. She’s talking about the nuclear family as well as the extended family, and linking what happened in the family space to what happened in the broader black community.

This task of making homeplace was not simply a matter of black women providing service; it was about the construction of a safe place where black people could affirm one another and by so doing heal many of the wounds inflicted by racist domination. We could not learn to love or respect ourselves in the culture of white supremacy, on the outside; it was on the inside, in that “homeplace,” most often created and kept by black women, that we had the opportunity to grow and develop, to nurture our spirits. This task of making a homeplace, of making home a community of resistance, has been shared by black women globally, especially black women in white supremacist societies. (pp 42-43)
She goes on to talk about the breakup of families under slavery and under apartheid – it was no accident, she says, because undermining the family also undermines the site of struggle – and that capitalism, consumerism, sexism, adoption of white middle-class ideology are doing the same thing today.
Masses of black women, many of whom were not formally educated, had in the past been able to play a vital role in black liberation struggle. In the contemporary situation, as the paradigms for domesticity in black life mirrored white bourgeois norms (where home is conceptualized as politically neutral space), black people began to overlook and devalue the importance of black female labor in teaching critical consciousness in domestic space. (p 47)

So, the first step to a liberatory strategy – for families of any color – would be to rebuild that politicized domestic space, that “homeplace.” To bring critical consciousness back into the home through feminist struggle.

I’ll agree with that but also say it’s only a first step. One home with a critical consciousness, disconnected from the rest of the community, is not going to be effective. Critical consciousness has to be shared with the broader community. For that to happen, we have to strengthen community ties. And for that to happen, we need to know what community really means.

Well, what does it mean?

No, I don’t have the answer. But I do know that to build community, you find a common goal, shared work. For me it was the shared work of our co-op preschool. For the community hooks spoke of, it was building a black liberation struggle. Regardless, it goes farther than cultural criticism, farther than standing in a circle holding hands and singing. It has to move into practical action and material change too.

Of what sort?

That’s the question.

hooks, bell. Yearning: race, gender, and cultural politics. Boston: South End Press, 1990.

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