Cohousing Nation, by definition, lives the “New American Way” that emphasizes the good of the community over that of the individual; accepting that all people are different and all are welcome and valued; power and strength are replaced by consensus and shared decision making.
As such, I’m convinced that cohousing communities have the potential to bridge cultural divides that continue to plague our country today.
The average cohouser has at least some social justice blood running through their veins. I think change will have a better chance of happening by engaging cohousers as members of the dominant culture – upper class, high income, and highly educated white women -who work together and become allies with marginalized groups.
Inclusion will happen organically as the dominant culture becomes more inclusive.
I’ve been presenting diversity and cultural competency workshops and trainings for 25 years for a variety of public agencies, nonprofits and most recently for cohousers.
My approach has evolved and changing again, this time into: “c🕉munification” (cOMunification) training that has a focus on cultural and societal power and privilege dynamics and how only personal change can balance those out.
Remember the old 1950s TV show, The Adventures of Superman? The narrator told my friends and me to model Superman’s can-do behavior because, “he fights a never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American Way.”
Superman’s “American Way” is based on rugged individualism; cultural divides narrowed by assimilation; and quests for power and control.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with the Old American Way, I think it needs to evolve along with society and one way that can happen is through a collaborative approach that results in truth, justice and a “New American Way.”
I continue to believe that racism, as we know it today, began in 1526 when the first people from Africa were enslaved to work at a short-lived settlement in South Carolina.
Public awareness of differences among people, particularly since 1964, enflamed simmering racist attitudes that continue to exist today.
I think people want to change and do what’s right, but based on the audiences I’ve met over the years, most people don’t know how to go about it. Personal change doesn’t happen over night and like anything else that requires better skills, it takes practice, and letting go of personal privilege isn’t exactly something people are too crazy about.
The current political climate didn’t create racism, it makes it socially acceptable to reveal previously hidden beliefs that oppression of the weak was what, historically, made America great.
Considering America has a 339-year history enslaving people (1526 to 1865) that’s more than double the 154-year history, at least on paper, since President Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation (1865 to 2019).
While I think it will take a couple more generations, there have been small steps forward in recent years that will continue, but I doubt there will be any giant leaps.
First, some background. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted, United States citizens – primarily African Americans – were legally “more equal” than they were in reality. It soon became clear that attaining actual equality among people had a long way to go.
That transition led to Affirmative Action in job hiring that provides quotas for racial diversity. After workplaces changed complexions, a need arose about how to better understand diversity that brought about “diversity training” to define the various cultures with the hopes that more information meant better acceptance by the dominant white culture with no systemic changes.
As the population, and subsequently the labor force, has become more multicultural around race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation, diversity training that defines demographics is evolving into “cultural competency” training, which is more about understanding one’s self and changing personal perspectives about others, as opposed to getting other people to be like you.
Why I think social change will take a couple generations is because there is a long-standing national culture that’s advocated for racial homogeneity dating back to the United States Naturalization Law of March 26, 1790 that limited naturalization to immigrants who were, “free White persons of good character.”
In recent times, rampant American xenophobia was stoked after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the round up of 112,000 Japanese who were herded into 10 “relocation” camps; and the 9/11 World Trade Center bombing that seeded the current Islamophobia epidemic.
The current political climate continues to fuel a growing fear among 30 percent of the U.S. electorate that the country will soon lose its 1776 version of American cultural identity.
Current events around over-crowded detention centers for illegal immigrants and those seeking asylum are indicators why we need to become better cultural change managers, rather than controllers of cultural change.
Cohousing is a market-based solution to the immigration crisis that has beset the United States since at least since the Immigration Act of 1924 that had as its unsaid, but expressed purpose of maintaining the racial homogeneity of the United States.
What does that solution look like? Cohousing brings individuals together to form a community.
Housing is housing, but what differentiates cohousing from other housing configurations is the “secret sauce” that mixes several ingredients. The recipe can be altered to meet differing tastes:
- Relationships – Neighbors commit to being part of a community for mutual benefit. Cohousing cultivates a culture of sharing and caring. Design features and the neighborhood size are typically between 30 and 40 homes that promote frequent interaction and close relationships.
- Balancing Privacy and Community – Cohousing neighborhoods are designed for privacy as well as community. Residents balance privacy and community by choosing their levels of community engagement
- Participation – Decision-making is participatory and often based on consensus. Selft management empowers residents, builds relationships and can save money.
- Shared Values – Cohousing communities support residents in actualizing shared values.
A certain ilk of the citizenry, mostly Baby Boomers and older, who experienced the Cold War, will try to reposition the conversation by calling intentional communities “creeping socialism.” Granted, this is a lifestyle that’s not for everyone.
I’m not talking about over throwing the government, but rather reacting to how the general market is changing because it’s basically less expensive to live more collaboratively (higher density neighborhoods) and sharing resources (five households don’t each need a lawnmower).
The rugged individualist and free-market capitalists are unwilling to share their wealth and as such, the market reaction is toward cOMunification.
My observation, Millenials and GenXers who are a generation or two removed from World War II are more accepting of individual differences and more supportive of the collective good out of a need to survive.
Being saddled with the the national debt of their parents, grandparents and great grandparents; forced into a college tuition system that will keep them under the thumb of Wall Street until they are old and gray are two reasons why young people are de-commodifying the American Way.
The tenets of a New American Way would say a home is where we live, not an investment. The only time a house should be commodified is when it’s time to move.
Rather than saying, “The yard needs more trees because it will increase our property values,” The New American Way perspective is, “The yard needs more trees because they will improve the places where kids can play.” As a side benefit, property values may increase.
The cohousing brand of community development is also a hedge against unchecked gentrification, which is one of those jargony terms that get thrown around and used in various contexts.
I define gentrification as what happens when people or businesses look for real estate deals, purchase urban property that may or may not be distressed and update them without much collaboration with existing neighbors.
The data are these.
Cohousing communities consist of members who predominantly liberal, highly educated, high income Caucasians women with high perceived social class who, I think, are a more open to bridging cultural divides by “undoing” the Old American Way from within.
That is to say, members of the dominant culture who live in cohousing, have agreed among themselves to change their perspectives towards a New American Way.
The end result of cOMunification, by definition, is an attitudinal paradigm shift by members of the dominant culture who have agreed to increase cultural diversity in the wider culture, one cohousing community at a time.
This doesn’t happen by public policy but by community-based societal change:
- The group is more important than the individual
- smaller and less are better
- decisions are by consensus giving a voice to all, including minority positions
- there is recognition that everyone is different and all are included
While the tenets of cohousing are noble, they are easier said than done since the American Way is pounded into our heads from the moment we pop out of the womb.
In the 20th century, the United States was metaphorically characterized as a “Melting Pot” in which races and ethnicities would learn English and assimilate themselves into homogenous Americans.
That was true during racial segregation when the pot contained white cheeses like swiss, edam, gouda, and feta, they blended together to make a mixed pot of white cheese.
Immigrants from Europe who all looked like each other, had the old American Way ahead of them after they learned English and otherwise assimilated.
These days, the country has become racially and ethnically multicultural as a result of immigration and can be a part of the New American Way.
Today, the blended food metaphor would be more like a “Tossed Salad” consisting of separate fixings like frijoles, cassavas, napa cabbage, and all kinds of lettuce that are unified with a common dressing.
In my mind, that common dressing is the cohousing cOMunification secret sauce, soon available at a farmer’s market near you.