Re: A very moving portrayal of the diversity element most difficult to include in cohousing
From: Tiffany Lee Brown (
Date: Wed, 30 Nov 2016 12:17:59 -0800 (PST)
you guys have to see the Saturday Night Live “bubble” skit if you haven’t 
it totally skewers people like me, and it is very relevant to co-housing, and 
it’s hilarious. 

The Atlantic ran a good article on understanding America’s lower-class white 
culture, i think this is the right one:

to directly respond: my recent conversations with Trump voters close to me have 
led me to be even more alarmed than i already was. i believe these are good 
people, very good-hearted people whom i know to actively practice empathy, 
compassion, and generosity. the two primary ones are an older white, rural 
Christian woman who was raised in a lower-middle-class family that struggled a 
lot, but has been in a comfortable upper-middle-income marriage for many years. 
the other is a white, non-Christian, non-college-going, smart, hippie-looking 
guy in his forties in a liberal, small, West Coast city who has a demanding, 
underpaying restaurant job and comes from a big 2nd 
Amendment/Libertarian-leaning extended family. (he voted for Bernie Sanders in 
the primary.)

what alarmed me, sobered me up, were these two factors:

1) they showed no interest whatsoever in protecting those already affected by 
Trump & followers, such as people of color. they complained of being *accused* 
of racism, but even when prompted or confronted about it, replied “Well I’m not 
racist, you know that!” or dodged the issue entirely with “but look what the 
protesters in Portland did, they’re bad!" when i said, “Well, maybe you can 
make this situation better. Trump isn’t going to listen to me, an outspoken 
liberal feminist married to a magazine-publishing Jew, a.k.a. evil Globalist 
Jewish Conspiracy guy. But he might listen to you, one of his supporters. What 
if the non-racist Trump voters got together and wrote to Trump, wrote letters 
to the editor, demanding fair treatment for all races?” and the answer was a 
big fat nothing. they just weren’t interested in anything beyond the 
complaining. also: to me, “racism” includes denial of systemic bias, racism 
includes failing to actively promote help or policies for people of color. to 
many white people (and some people of color), the term “racist” is reserved for 
those who consciously, externally confess to finding other races inferior, 
refusing to hire them for jobs, or turning them into Strange Fruit. 

so that’s a pretty big difference in approach. we may actually be talking about 
completely different things when we toss around the word “racist.” perhaps we 
need to break it down into other terms, and that would help us have better 
conversations about it. we might also need to abandon the language of Social 
Justice, which carries so much baggage at this point it’s really hard to talk 
about our real issues. for example, many white guys of my acquaintance hear or 
read the word “privilege” and instantly go on the defensive, misinterpreting it 
to suggest that they were raised in mansions, that their lives have been easy, 
that their struggles aren’t real. so maybe language and terminology would offer 
us a place to start. 

2) as you mention, the bases of my Trump-voting friends’/family’s worldview is 
just plain different from mine (and from their own spouses’ incidentally). the 
older woman is very Christian and uses her faith as the foundation for cruelty 
against LGBTQ folks. she also frames the cruelty as “love” because she’s going 
to save humanity by, say, not allowing gay teachers’ jobs to be protected under 
the law. never mind that Jesus never said a thing about homosexuality, never 
mind that she doesn’t follow anything else in Leviticus—she believes it is 
wrong, she believes this wrongness comes from God’s will and Word. the 
“understanding” i have of this is simply, well, i understand that humans often 
need to project our fears and stuff out onto other people, and then fight ‘em 
(just as i do when i paint all Trump supporters with broad strokes). perhaps it 
is almost random, the group we choose to consciously or unconsciously project 
all our ugly internal stuff on, the group of people we then try to ban, deport, 
rape, convert, humiliate, or to whom we refuse to extend equal participation in 
society and equal participation under law. 

but what actually frightened me was hearing these folks mutter alt-right 
catchphrases under their breath and tell me about Fox-verbatim “news”. i looked 
at some links they sent me, hoping to find common ground, but walked away even 
more bewildered and horrified. they—these people i love, people i don’t want to 
imagine as today's equivalent to nice German families in the 1930s much less 
actual brownshirts—genuinely believe in a wide range of right-leaning 
conspiracy theories that i can mentally entertain but can’t quite get behind as 
reality. some of those theories may prove to be true. (in the 1980s, as a 
teenager, i was involved in anti-Reagan activism having to do with trading arms 
for hostages and funding Nicaraguan “rebels”, and we were scoffed at, told that 
our crazy conspiracy couldn’t possibly be true. guess what? it was true.) but 
once you believe that a secret cabal runs the international banking system 
*and* feeds all American media their headlines, it ain’t long before the same 
people who convinced you of that can convince you that Jews = Bad. 

i have been harping for a number of years on the subject of our country being 
in an Epistemological Crisis, and this generally makes people roll their eyes 
or glaze over, but the deep divergence in reality-models, in trust of media 
sources, etc., is evidence of this crisis. i personally don’t believe that pure 
journalistic objectivity is possible. having been in the media, in marketing, 
and in academia, i know how easy it is to “prove” anything you want to, 
spinning words, images, and statistics. we have seen blatant instances of utter 
corruption in science, medicine, industry, government, law, and media. we 
should therefore not be all that surprised that the Internet and social media 
have helped push us to a Balkanized state of worldview, of “knowledge”. if we 
genuinely suspend our usual everyday beliefs (say, our belief in what 
scientific research tells us, or what we read in the New York Times or what few 
other actual news sources remain solvent) we become very open-minded. that 
sounds great, but it’s terrifying on an internal, spiritual level. our minds 
are not generally comfortable with radical uncertainty. once we suspend an 
elemental belief, i think we have a tendency to replace it with some other 
belief, however far-out or random. 

we can also feel deeply betrayed by the world failing to consistently align 
with our beliefs and/or with what our society has told us is “true”. the 
bitterness you often run into among the ex-Christian apostasy, especially folks 
raised in a protected, home-schooled evangelical environment, provides a good 
example: you grew up being told a whole bunch of intense stuff, much of which 
never seemed to be true once you got out into the world, and you inevitably had 
to watch the grownups you admired turn out to be hypocrites. you moved to a big 
city and found all sorts of different people, many of whom seemed pretty great. 
how could they all be going to hell? you questioned your beliefs. you found a 
lot of holes in it. disillusioned, you felt betrayed by those who intentionally 
programmed you. instead of becoming a run-of-the-mill urban agnostic or the 
sort of quiet atheist who grew up in a non-believer household, you become a 
bitter and angry opponent of religion. and what are you supposed to believe is 
true, if everything you grew up with has proved not to be true?? perhaps like 
me you become a serious doubter of everything, and end up exploring Theory of 
Knowledge, epistemology, etc. as something to hold onto. “I cannot know The 
Full Truth about everything, and it is likely that one single Truth doesn’t 
even exist, especially if quantum theory is at all accurate, but I can try to 
understand how our brains manufacture ‘truth’ and ‘facts’ and ‘knowledge.’” or 
you become a hardline rationalist atheist, placing your belief in hard 
scientific research and rational-sounding, unemotional political discourse. 
(emotion played a big part in the Christians’ programming of you, so perhaps 
you retreat from that.) i meet people like this *all the time*. 

when things get REALLY weird? say you felt betrayed by your upbringing, whether 
Christian or liberal atheist, went in an opposite direction—and then the new 
belief system you embraced as an adult reveals itself to be full of holes. 
perhaps you stopped believing in Christ but picked up a firm belief in 
peer-reviewed scientific research. then solid information came out that some of 
that scientific research is bunk, that the funding of such research is dodgy 
and biased, that peer review is a joke in many cases. now you have NO BELIEF 
SYSTEM. this is hard on the heart, spirit, and intellect. the collapse of Big 
Media as our sole source of current events information has helped bring this 
about, because the Internet’s wide distribution network allows all ideas to get 
equal air. a story about false scientific research that might’ve blown over or 
been suppressed in 1965 is going to pop up in your Facebook feed in 2015 (see: 
Harvard scientists on fat and sugar in the 1960s). it takes great effort to 
avoid new information these days. so everything you believe is under some kind 
of attack, most of the time. you start to see that people just believe whatever 
random thing they want. they create communities based on belief, worldview, 
knowledge, and even communities initially based on hobbies and kinks can turn 
into entire worldviews. ethics are relative. truth is relative. reality is 
relative! there is no Truth! AUUGH! your brain explodes! you attach onto 
whatever’s in the room. maybe that’s a new religion. maybe it’s yoga. and maybe 
it’s Fox News, Breitbart News, truthers, birthers, Steve Bannon, Richard 
Spencer, and Donald Trump. 

it is natural to fear have our belief systems destroyed. it is natural to fear 
a world that has no definitive Truth. somewhere inside, we know this: if we 
open our minds far enough to be fully compassionate and empathetic with angry 
white racists, we may open up far enough to end up agreeing with them. that is 
a spooky idea. i believe this is part of why we liberals find it so hard to 
breach the Belief Gap with our conservative friends (those of us who even HAVE 
any conservative friends). once you decide it’s OK for our friend to vote for 
someone who accepts the Klan’s endorsement of his campaign, you’re on a 
slippery slope. if you allow yourself to consider that maybe the New York Times 
really is a mouthpiece for the international “globalist” conspiracy, you may 
well soon find yourself considering that everything the Times ever reports is 
wrong… and that it’s OK to stop calling it the international globalist 
conspiracy, and just call it by its other name, the Jewish cabal. some part of 
us, i believe, can feel the tug of this slippery slope. once we allow that Good 
People can be hate-filled racists, or even just casual racists who can’t be 
bothered to help or defend folks who are clearly affected by deliberate and 
systemic racism… then we allow the possibility that *we* can become blatant 
racists too. if our Trump voting friends are Good People who deserve a break, a 
sympathetic book-reading, who deserve our compassion… uh oh! we’re Good People, 
too, right? so does this mean *we* can be more selfish and implicitly racist in 
our thinking and voting? would that become ethical for us? this is frightening 

so maybe “understanding” isn’t the right goal; i don’t know. yes, most of us, 
whoever we voted for, have lots in common. we want decent work, decent schools, 
a decent country to live in. we want freedom. as a writer and formerly an 
actor, i’ve spent my life allowing my heart and mind to expand, to imagine the 
unimaginable in order to portray characters who do, say, and believe things i 
could never do, say, or believe. i can easily and compassionately imagine just 
how easy it would be to go along with the crowd in 1930s Germany, to convince 
myself i was Doing the Right Thing. i love my Trump-voting 2nd Amendment friend 
who i know spends hours and hours every day watching random dudes on YouTube 
promote their various conspiracy theories about aliens, the Clintons, the 
Russians, on and on. does that mean i should spend a lot of time trying to 
“understand” and agree with today’s fake non-racists, much less the openly 
racist ones? i don’t know. perhaps about some things, one must simply stand up 
and say, “Hey, this is wrong.” and sometimes we may band together with others 
who feel strongly about the same thing. do we just nod and smile? “because you 
had a hardship in Appalachia, it’s cool you’re trying to snuff out my Black 
friends”? “aw, poor white 27-year-old guy in a white BMW, you didn’t feel like 
the entire world was supporting every moment of entitlement you felt in the 
last 8 years under a *gasp* African-American president, therefore when you 
walked up to my friend in a bar who was speaking ill of Trump, you felt 
justified in punching her in the head and running away… why don’t you come live 
with me in my co-housing community? we want to be inclusive.” 

perhaps so. but perhaps not. we could spend the rest of our lives learning to 
excuse ourselves and everyone else of our worst behavior… or perhaps we could 
use that same energy in some other way. 

i would be very interested to hear everyone else’s responses to this, 
especially based on living in intentional communities where conflicts 
frequently arise. i have spent too much time in the 
Portland-Eugene-Berkeley-Oakland reality bubble and have only recently returned 
to the way i was raised, living in rural/semi-rural communities that are deeply 
divided in terms of belief, politics, and lifestyle.

all best,


> On Nov 30, 2016, at 10:30 AM, David Heimann <heimann [at]> wrote:
> Hello Everyone,
>       Recently we've been having a thread about diversity in cohousing and 
> understanding people not in our own culture.  A lot of the discussion has 
> centered around diversities such as people of color, LGBT, immigrants, 
> disabled people, etc.  However, there is one diversity we in cohousing 
> haven't mentioned much and whom we ignore at our peril -- white 
> "working-class" without a college education, especially those in the Midwest, 
> Appalachia, and the South, and especially men.
>       Nathaniel Rich has written a book reporting on an extensive study he 
> has conducted of this group of people.  He has not only investigated them but 
> also has lived among them, gaining incredible understanding.  I read the 
> following article about Rich's work in the New York Review of Books, 
> and am floored by the haunting picture he draws.  Haunting not just for white 
> rural working-class people (especially men), but also for the rest of us, 
> considering the way the election and its atmosphere has gone and what that 
> portends.
>       From what Rich describes, it is possible (at least by my mind) to 
> really understand and connect with them, but gosh is it difficult!  It 
> requires a totally different mind set than I have and that I assume most on 
> this list have!  Do you, dear readers and fellow cohousers, have thoughts on 
> how best to do so?  And especially those on this list who are white 
> working-class rural folks or have such among your family and close friends, 
> can you share your perspective?  Not only cohousing depends on bridging this 
> diversity, but the health of country does as well!
> Yours in *full* diversity,
> David Heimann
> Jamaica Plain Cohousing
> _________________________________________________________________
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