May 2019 Global Ecovillage Network monthly webinar was hosted by NextGEN.
Privilege and Inequality in Ecovillages: A Global Perspective Towards a New Story
Ecovillages are integral to creating the beautiful world we know is possible. However, some of the same social patterns of inequality also appear within ecovillages. A global array of speakers will share how the inequality has impacted their communities, and we also invite you, the participants, to share your experience and insight. Together we will weave a new story of social equality.
Speakers: Gabriel Siqueira (Brazil), Thyago Nunes (Brazil), Thumbs Cassidy (USA), Nonty Sedibe-Sabic (South Africa), Nora Schramm (Germany), Crystal Bird Farmer (USA).
“Food for thought” kind of questions
- What barriers to entry would your friends or family describe if they were to join a community like yours or a community in general? Why do you think that happens and how could those barriers be broken?
- What parts of your community do you see as still being similar to the inequalities of the larger social norms? What are the root causes for this and how could your community create more equality?
- When was a time you or anyone you know in your community experienced a microagression based on your ethnicity, disability, gender identity, or sexuality? Why did it happen and how could your community work towards preventing that?
- To have privilege in society is to benefit from the circumstances you were born into, but did not earn. This may include your race, gender, or class. Can you identify any of your own privileges and how they have affected your life? Consider asking someone who doesn’t have this privilege how they have navigated similar situations.
Notes and comments on the webinar
Note taking: Audree Morin, Trudy Juriansz
Attunement/blessing of space – Nonty
Welcome & Overview – Thumbs, NextGEN North America (Facilitator), Co-host: Prisca, CASA Jóvenes, CASA Brazil, Youth Council
Background to this topic
- Race and privilege in ecovillages is very complicated, searching more answers and understanding. We can’t do this on our own, need to do it in community. In North American movement, ecovillages have pioneered many sustainability innovations but its a time in our movement, to focus on healing racism. In NA movement, yearning for healing
- Thumbs background – witnessed “racism” in latinos filling lower rate positions like field labor, and gated neighbourhoods mostly being populated by whites… Now on organic farm wanting to become an ecovillage, doing social justice activism, rich network of allies, the most engaged white people in anti-racism.. and yet still so hard! Example: organizing natural building convergence, really hard to not get only cis hite men as instructors!! + How do you not work yourself so hard and burn yourself along the way, doing that hard work? Want to get an overview of how this is going in the rest of the world! https://www.koinoniafarm.org/
- Prisca: Gen’s view: GEN talks about human rights very specifically, working toward building a more specific view of this topic. We can continue to study this topic after the webinar: study groups, other social medias, workshops etc. https://ecovillage.org/about/vision-mission-goals/
Nonty Sabic (www.risecircle.org , www.nontycharitysabic.com), South Africa: Advocate for Ubuntu Indigenous Wisdom and Sustainable Living, social justice and diversity activism, sacred space holder, involved in GEN, one of the co-founders of rise Ubuntu network. From South Africa, born during Apartheid. Colonial trauma in her. History of racism in her, embody and carry it with her. Grew up in community in South Africa, very strong. Racism almost taboo in the ecovillage movement. Wanted to live in community when went to live in Europe, was really happy to meet GEN and ecovillage movement. It’s a tough topic. First time able to talk about it: Findhorn, noticed how much healing needs to be done in the network. Her experience has been very difficult in middle class white communities. Still a learning process for her to speak about it.
Movement: sense of creating this new story, this better world. Has been in a situation where had to call out someone racist, thought was good space for that because all the self work, consciousness… but no!! People not ready for that! Defensiveness. “We are good people! How can you say we’re racist?” “We do all these things, you must have an issue if you have something to complain about…” Yes I have an issue! As a healer I see we have to heal this. If I show my anger, or challenge the leadership, immediately seen as enemy black woman. It’s a shock to the white leadership: not used to People of colour (POC) not being in agreement! EV movement just repeating what is happening in the mainstream world… Privilege is invisible to those who have it. If calling out: making them uncomfortable. Even if distinction based on race not planned, racism can still occur, because of lack of awareness. Still creates prejudice.
Her traumas: 1) living in Europe being an African woman holding an African Passport. Rough moment when passes the border. Sometimes don’t get a Visa immediately. People from her community don’t understand that reality. 2) White feminism, not understanding the issue of an African Black woman.
There are white people who are actually willing to talk about this, not just writing but actually doing work for years, and have the courage to enter a room and acknowledge their privilege. Talk about things they still need to work on.
GEN Europe: hold space to work on this issue, how to heal. Work on our (POC) own internalized racism. Incident with people from Korea, needed healing. It’s better to admit that racism is there than pretend we’re not racist. Internalization means we (POC) don’t speak our experience because fear of upsetting the system. Don’t realize that this silence supports the continuation of this system. If you’re a POC who disagrees with what’s going on: “you don’t have gratitude for the charity we give to Africa. We are going to Africa to help African people”!!! Africa doesn’t need your help! We already have strong community. We need to change the way we speak, this is not empowering either for African. We need to see each other as equal, not one that needs to be helped by the other. As POC or African people, not speaking up because fear of losing our friends! Nonty’s people: racism is there! Tiring to be constantly to be calling it out. Not POC’s job to tech white people about white privilege. Racism deserves the same attention as other world’s problems! Part of the work that needs to be done to create a new story! Plays on our emotions consciously and unconsciously. It can not miraculously happen. Need to start somewhere: realize it’s a orcess. Start: yes I am racist! Need to create safe spaces, where we can be vulnerable, and go beyond ceremony. What do you do when ceremony over? Self growth, eco lifestyle: all this energy put into racism.
“How do we get POC to our conferences?” → what do you want to do with them, apart from taking pictures? The question: “why there are no POC in our network?” White middle class people: shows symptoms of privilege. Classism and racism. Having the right intention is no longer enough.
Been told many times “why don’t you leave GEN?”!! From POC: why are you educating white people about racism? You should help your own people… → This new story is not only about POC or white people, it’s about us coming together.
Nora (Germany): environmental management, sustainable mainstream, interconnections between dimensions of sustainability.
Structural racism. Currently lives in international student dormitory: 4 nationalities coming together. Sometimes challenging, aware of her privileges. White (global privilege), female: only privilege she doesn’t have, access to electricity, drinking water, internet, able bodied, have parents who have access to work and college education, middle-class, heterosexual, privilege of living in her own country (Germany)!! Can write application in her mother language. Experienced power structures at work, from her perspective (white) and from the perspective of the ally (other side).
GEN Europe Ecovillage conference in Estonia 2018: support Nonty’s view: mostly middle class, educated white people.
Yes hear about caritative mindset, agrees with Nonty.
Raise your hand if you have experienced some kind of structural discrimination.
Post-colonialism: mindset that we are better and have to change the ones who were there before to “help them”, “make them better”. Still translates into our vision today: power over nature (capitalism) -> environmental destruction. It’s ok to tell people what is right or wrong rather than supporting their instinct and feelings.
She’s german, her grandfather was involved in the war. Collective trauma, for many German people, even if they’re not aware, happened generations ago.
Recommendations: white people take anti-racism training, POC take empowerment training. If a POC speaks up: LISTEN!!! Don’t get defensive and try to protect your ego. Get vulnerable. “White tears”.
We are all racist… Video in the links below: experiment mirroring inherited racism.
“We can fix this”: check what stage we’re at, and what we can do to support the process.
Anti-racism training offered by Phoenix.
Crystal Byrd Farmer (United-States): Grew up in predominantly lower class black community, North Carolina. Community movement through co-housing: a lot of white people who grew up in predominantly white communities: no idea about other types of experiences, don’t believe you that you have that experience. Can be frustrating for POC’ but also a good idea to try to educate in the movement, now working with GENNA Alliance. Privilege is not that life is easy, it’s that some key things are not hard. Renting a house, buying a house, moving into a new neighborhood. Privilege: that’s easy, not privileged: hard. Mass incarcerations: those people find it very hard to find housing, job, a lot of discrimination! ⅓ black men will be incarcerated in their lifetime, vs 1/10 for white man.
She witnesses resistance to hear about racism, because people feel like they are good people, they want to create a better world… “I’m doing all this, why aren’t there more POC joining?”
Why the communities movement is more white:
1) When movement of very progressive people: still have privilege they’re unaware of, microaggressions: someone with privilege says something that is not overtly racist, ex: “can I touch your hair”, smtg pointing out that something is different, not normal in their experiences. POC live with microaggressions daily, and when it’s your living place, you want a break from that, a place of comfort where you’re not treated as “other”.
2) Income and access: a lot of people in co-housing have high income. Buying your own home, or build your home. In US: income disparity 10 times differences between black and white! Black families that has money can only buy in small area of the town of the city. Until recently were not authorized to have the same kinds of mortgages as white families! Could only rent.
Privileged people can do that work a lot easier. What can we do about it: It’s not a problem of wanting POC, POC know that we do want them. It’s about understanding the privileges, and the barriers.
Thyago (Salvador, Brazil): Salvador: blackest city outside of Africa. Inequalities and privilege very evident. His community: Shamanism, nature. But also in very black area, black resistance: slave people would run away. Four of those places around their community and working with them for many years. First they were middle-class people moving to this community in search of nature, but soon became clear that could not ignore the surroundings: how can we make ourselves useful to this place? → ecological school, etc. Sometimes hard to have discussions with those communities, especially because ran by females: intersections of privileges. One bridge: not deny the privileges/lack of privilege of the other. Listen. Create trust.
Studied latin american studies: hard in racial relation. Slavery… Even now: who’s dying and arrested now: black people! Ongoing discourses: mixed democracy, inclusivity… BUT indigenous and black people are the ones who suffer of every public policy or LACK of them. Hard moment in Brazil.
In Bahia, considered white person, in terms of access. Many more white people, engaged in the black movement and other possibilities. Didn’t feel comfortable saying I was black, because he grew up in middle class family. End of journey, whichever access I have, he will use it in discourse of equality. In university, people listened to me.
Not talking about it doesn’t make it not exist!!
In different countries they have different treatments for people with his appearance: in Europe shocked to not be considered white!! In some context white, in some other not!
In his company: decided to talk about racism.
In his community: things they can do everyday to make it better. What do we do with this power that was given to us even though we didn’t want it?? Can either deny that, or take the power and do something about it! Creating ways to raise their agency. Much better having a leader woman of the black communities talking in our place. Empowerment, family agriculture, sewing (making clothes), focus on women. We don’t need to take anyone’s place.
Gabriel Siqueira (IrradiandoLuz.com.br, ShineALight.cc), Brazil: Communications director from GEN. Has all privileges stated by Nora, except stable internet! Comes from Sao Paulo, richest city in Brazil. More white region. When moved to Bahia: white privilege appeared stronger. Looks very white for Brazilian standards. Going abroad: not white in U.S. and Europe. When had dreadlocks: security people followed him!! Felt a bit of what most Brazilians experience everyday in their life. Co-founded ecovillage in Bahia, Quilombola community: structural racism was an even bigger issue than in Sao Paulo or Bahia! Mostly white people, one arab, one indigenous descendent. Half foreigners (in Brazil it’s more privilege than being white). Invited by owner to join Quilombola association. No cars, dirt roads, felt like other times. House of clay, floor is just dirt. All black people sitting on benches, rocking chair old leader. Main questions from the local people: what are you going to do to the waterfalls? Gabriel: we’re mostly observing, trying to understand how you guys work. In the end had pretty warm welcome.
Became super involved with Quilombola community, built trust between each other, invite to join them in the agro-forest implementation, older leaders came to their work, established super powerful trustworthy relationship with the local community!!! YAY!! Showed they were not going to reproduce the history of white people arriving in countryside of Brazil, not going to expel them, or slave them, or anything analog to slave work. Different kind of relationship. First they could not really understand. But still considered gringos, “gringos land”.
After 5 years there was a robbery, brown people pointing guns at mostly white volunteers, tied people up, broke a guitar on someone’s head… assumed they must have money because he’s white! Also hit hard a black person, saying he was a traiter to his people, re-slaving himself with white people… Although big effort to work with Quilombola, wasn’t enough to protect from race inequality.
Ecovillages in Brazil: not safe because far from the police. This discussion is so important, not feel good at all, but usefully uncomfortable.
Watch Gabriel Siqueira’s TEDx Talk “Let’s Include Conflicts in our Plans!” to know more about this story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghOT_Yq4AZA
Nonty’s invitation: UIR: Zooms until December, holding spaces for healing and griefs. 2 meetings/month. For POC to get together, and white people to be in their own space. Will send email and Facebook.
- Beatriz to Nonty: How was the experience to be on the GEN board?
- What she already shared also came from the GEN board experience, similar to other experiences.
- Vera Franco (from FB)
- How do we invite more racial and socio-economic diversity into the Ecovillage movement, as it’s still very “white and middle class”?
- Not only in terms of race, but also in terms of supporting regeneration in financially poorer countries in Europe?
- what stands can we make, as a movement, to support the people who are impacted the most by the climate crisis?
- Emily Stewart (from FB)
- what practices, if any, most represent the ecovillage approach and can be taken into places that aren’t ecovillages/cities/communities etc. And, is this sufficient?
Resources on Racism, Inequality and Privilege:
Comments/notes in chat:
→ Clara: I’m doing my PhD research on diversity in the environmental movement at Antioch University in New Hampshire. I’ve conducted an extensive literature review of the topic, a survey, and interviews with experts in this field. You can download my reports at https://drive.google.com/open?id=14zUDQleM0nNVoEEx0QEkb3QQ4jSCtDzV
→ Nora: some other videos to sensitize for structural racism:
→ Crystal: a version of the “doll experiment” but with other factors https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html
→ Sophia: There is an amazing book called “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngleo that talks more about what Nora was referencing interns of white tears. I highly recommend it for all white people to read.
→ Timo: There’s a 17 page article on White Fragility freely available:
→ Gabriel: The magazine and more info are available in GEN’s website: https://ecovillage.org/webinar-privilege-and-inequality-in-ecovillages-towards-a-new-story/
→ Thalea: Māori Approach to Mental Health Offers Empowering Alternative to Western Psychiatry
Clara: In the US you have to have so much privilege to live in an ecovillage. First of all, the cost of living here is so high that you can’t afford to live without a proper job, and you likely can’t afford health insurance without a proper job. Second, housing prices are so high. Most people cannot afford to pay rent or mortgage while simultaneously building another house in an ecovillage. It doesn’t just affect people of color but also young people and low income people.
Crystal: Clara you are right! Race is just one way people can be disadvantaged.
Clara: On the other hand, co-housing is growing in America because people are under so much financial pressure. More and more people are living with roommates, with their parents, with their children; fewer people are getting married and having children. The nuclear family is much less dominant than it used to be. But the market hasn’t really caught up to the demand for community living.
Clara: I think GEN would have more success if it can pitch solutions to people’s financial and housing problems. Community does not just have to be in an ecovillages. Also, the main problem is economic freedom. It’s very difficult these days for a couple to stay together and find jobs in the same city, it’s pretty much impossible for 4 or10 people. How do we help people achieve economic freedom and sustainability without depending on employers?
Peter: It is the question if we need to wait for the “market” but create our own “market”, which often of course still needs privilege to make it happen, but can overcome some issues and barriers of power.
Baugruppen (basically housing cooperatives) such approaches are more and more used at least in middle Europe (not so in Australia where I have been living for many years), and are now also supported by government (at least local governments).
Timo: Do you know about Resource Generation in the U.S.? They could be potent allies for the community movement as well – https://resourcegeneration.org/
Nora: addition to the privilege/discrimination list: passport. german passport makes you feel like you can go
everywhere, at least if you pay for it sometimes. Nonty mentioned her experience on the contrary…….
Timo: Regarding passports: https://www.passportindex.org/byRank.php
Clara: What would really enable communities is not creating ecovillages that only privileged people can live in, but enacting affordable healthcare, cancelling student loan debt, increasing the minimum wage. Capitalism is set up to make people wage slaves, these are the things that we need to overturn in order to create an equitable society where people have choices about housing and lifestyle.
Daniel: An argument could be made that a Minimal Viable Income would allow so many to create community and focus on their children’s future (e.g. fighting climate change) when they don’t have to focus so much on putting food on their children’s plates.
Angus to Daniel Green : Indeed, a fresh economic framework is really key in figuring out our transition process… maybe it needs truly new patterns and shapes. there was an early crypto project (pre-2015) called PermaCredits, which was a kind of solution tool that included an internal currency component. im not certain that this is the actual solution, but it is a very different vision of how the community self organizes
Clara: I strongly believe that the key is to put our energy towards fighting these systemic problems of society, otherwise we are just creating more spaces for privileged people to escape.
Em-om: I see a better strategy in bringing “the circle way” into the society through ecovillages,
Taking decisions in a circle means that a common vision is put into the center of the circle. If we bring our ego apart, in the middle we put Nature, our essence, there nobody is different, we learn from it, no judgment.
The closest society to Nature, for me is the Rainbow family, as little rules as possible, and taking decisions in circle.
As far as we use pyramidal structure within our society, violence is going to be carried on. Our language is violent, our diet. There are so things we can do, and if use ecovillages as living examples of these values, then we can hope for other people to follow
Sophia: There are also trainings for white folks lead by white folks that specifically focus on healing from internalized whiteness. I know of some in the U.S. such as Training for Change: https://www.trainingforchange.org/public_workshops/white-people-confronting-racism/
Food for thought articles
All articles appeared in Communities Magazine #178 – Class, Race and Privilege
- Beauty and Brokenness: Digesting Grief into Gratitude for Justice, by Ridhi D’Cruz
A child of the Indian middle class immerses herself in the grassroots sustainability movement in Portland, Oregon and shares lessons learned on her journey.
- Moving Beyond Diversity Towards Collective Liberation: Weaving the Communities Movement into Intersectional Justice Struggles, by Deseree Fontenot
The co-organizer of the People of Color Sustainable Housing Network shares strategies for deepening your community’s work on issues of race, class, and privilege.
- On “Waiting” for People of Color, by Michael Brickler
On the land where his grandfather was born a slave, the founder of a nascent intentional community reflects on the challenges of attracting people of color, and the project’s next steps.
- Moving Beyond White Fragility: Lessons from Standing Rock, by Murphy Robinson
Bonded by a shared mission, indigenous water protectors and their white allies find a safe space for giving and receiving honest feedback about white privilege and unconscious acts of racism.
- Barriers to Diversity in Community, by Crystal Farmer
An organizer of Charlotte Cohousing in North Carolina offers several ways intentional communities unintentionally exclude her fellow people of color.
- Growing Inclusivity in Cohousing: Stories and Strategies. by Rosemary Linares
Familiar with both privilege and marginalization, a queer Latina cohouser shares experiences and perspectives on confronting racial and ethnic homogeneity.
- Bridging Social and Cultural Divides in Cohousing, by Alan O’Hashi
A Japanese-American Baby Boomer reflects on how cohousing can confront privilege and prejudice, instill cultural competency, and increase diversity in its population.
- White Bias, Black Lives: When Unconscious Bias Affects Your Community, by Katy Mattingly
Members of Sunward Cohousing recognize and attempt to transform their community’s differential treatment of white-skinned and dark-skinned neighborhood children.
- Reflections on Class from a Newbie at Rocky Hill Cohousing, by Jennifer Ladd
A cohousing project’s budget can help address class and classism—but the community also needs to articulate and explore its culture’s underlying or hidden rules.
- I’m Not a Racist, But Racism Is in Me — and in My Community, by Joe Cole
Predominantly white communities are going to stay that way until they acknowledge and address racism. Here is some guidance for doing that.
- Can We Have Communities without Gentrification? Perspectives from the Ecovillagers Alliance, by Eve Bratman, Brandy Brooks, Taylor Mercedes, Josh Jancourtz, and Joel Rothschild
The first step to recovery is admitting that our problem is systemic, a product of colonialism. The next step is changing that system.
- Conversations on Class at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, by Sasha Adkins
Are ecovillages inherently elitist? Members of one share their thoughts and questions.
- Class, Race, and Privilege in Intentional Community, by Kara Huntermoon
A co-owner of Heart-Culture Farm Community explores ways to use her privilege to help create a society where people are truly equal.
- Why Diversity Is Good for Intentional Community, by Kara Huntermoon
A diverse community gives us better opportunities to challenge systems of oppression that operate within ourselves, in our circles of relationship, and throughout the larger world.
- Combating Racism, One Community at a Time, by Jenny Truax
Catholic Worker communities throughout the Midwest examine themselves, make changes, and reach out in an effort to overcome the insidious influences of white supremacy.
- It’s Not Just the Curtain: Crossing the Class Divide at the Bloomington Catholic Worker, by Laura Lasuertmer
Distinctions and boundaries between community members and their homeless guests can be problematic sometimes, but they are also what allow the sharing and caring to continue.
- Grief and Re-Membering: The Spirituality of Confronting Privilege, Entitlement, and Cultural Appropriation, by Christopher Bowers
We are tasked with fixing the human quilt by tenderly sewing the historical rips made by violence, patriarchy, and white supremacy.
- Multicultural Hippie Roots and Spiritual Foundations of The Farm Community, by Douglas Stevenson
At The Farm, the hippie culture’s voluntary step away from privilege and wealth shaped not only its demographics but also its mission to lift up the less privileged.
- Class-Harmony Community, by A. Allen Butcher
Most types of intentional community are difficult for working class people with children to join—except for this one.
- A Network of Ventures for Community Resilience, by Melanie Rios
Interconnected initiatives in and around Portland, Oregon contribute to a web of emergency resilience efforts informed by social justice, earth protection, and community-building perspectives.
Privilege and Inequality in Ecovillages: A Global Perspective Towards a New Story
GEN Webinar, hosted by NextGEN
Access the video directly: Privilege and Inequality in Ecovillages: Towards a New Story (YouTube)
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