IN a small group discussion earlier this week, someone noted that we use the word “community” very frequently and loosely. It is used in reference to people who intentionally and consistently come together with a particular purpose, and it is used in reference to people who have something in common and are then, in many cases, assumed to be connected through that commonality. There are many ideas of communities between these two, making it more of a spectrum than a single formation. There are residential communities, school communities, religious communities, sports communities, professional communities, expat communities, partisan political communities, and business communities among many other categories. There is always something that the people in communities have in common. Where we live, where we go or went to school, what we do for a living, how we spend our free time, which organization we support, or some other factor is the central cause for us being together.
Communities, while they exist everywhere and in many forms, are not always active. We may know they exist, and even be a part of them, but be entirely unaware of what, if anything, they are doing. Sometimes communities seem to go to sleep. They just seem to fade into the background, and it is a head-scratching moment when someone suddenly asks, “Whatever happened to … ?”
Communities, whether formal or informal, rely not only on the commonality, but on the commonality being recognized. In many cases, it must be both recognized and prioritized over anything else, namely differences. There may be a community, for example, of people who live in a particular area. What happens when some of those people fail to pay their dues on time? Are they still recognized as community members? Paying members may say they do not “deserve” to enjoy the benefits of the community when they are not making financial contributions. When those people become outsiders, being rejected by the paying members, it sends a strong message. “You may live here like us, but you are not one of us.”
This othering, this punishment, whether or not we believe it to be warranted, has consequences for everyone. Not only are the nonpaying members excluded, but the paying members will likely experience nonpaying members’ noncompliance with regulations and agreements. They may rhetorically ask, “If I can no longer use this amenity or access this service, why should I concern myself with the preferences of the people who have locked me out?” Us versus them quickly materializes, compromising the purpose of community. Unity does not exist where there is division.
One of the most insidious threats to community is the widening gap between professed values and action. Even by calling a group of people a “community,” it is implied that there is togetherness. It is not single-mindedness or sameness, but a recognition of, if not commitment to, being together. Members of the community say, “This is important to me, I see that it is important to you, and there is value in us sharing this with one another.” It could be a cause, it could be a goal, it could be an idea, and it could be struggle. It is identified, and it is central to the coming together of people.
Walking the walk, beyond simply being a member of the group, is a different story. It is less about identity and relationship than it is about personality and integrity. Within communities, we tend to make proclamations about who we are and what we believe, and to go along with those stated by others. This, unfortunately, does not translate into daily behaviour. Some of it is benign, and some of it is of real consequence.
Being in a running club and frequently failing to show up may only negatively impact the individual and their goals, so they ignore the community and the community may choose to ignore their lack of commitment to their goals and the camaraderie they said they valued in the club. On the other extreme, one person failing to show up may impact the group by disqualifying them from discounts or access to certain resources and service because they do not meet the minimum number of people required. Their absence may also affect other people’s attendance. When everyone consistently shows up, everyone shows up consistently.
Some communities are entirely built on values. Within these communities, it is expected that people behave in a particular way, in alignment with the values they espouse. Members of a community formed around child protection should not be abusers of children. That much is clear. Whether or not they consider corporal punishment to be child abuse — an area in which many seem to struggle despite the practice being an intentional infliction of physical harm — may be considered entirely differently, both by individual members and the broader community.
It is interesting to hear people state their support for the protection and respect of children, elderly people, people with disabilities, and people with compromised health, yet observe their actions and inaction that are not only unaligned, but outright in contravention with their own statements. How do you support people with compromised immune systems when you do not wear a mask in large gatherings or on flights, knowing that COVID-19 is still around, still making people sick, and still fully capable of killing people?
People claim to care about girls’ health and/or education. It is not possible to truly care about this without supporting access to comprehensive sexuality education. It is not possible to truly care about this without affirming the bodily autonomy of girls. It is not possible to truly care about this without calling for STEM education for girls, early in their lives. Is it not possible to truly care about this without supporting access to HPV vaccination for girls.
It is important to, first of all, know our values. It is important to state them, letting other people know what they are. It is important to connect with other people who have the same values, opening space for questions, challenges, ideas, and actions to be shared. It is important to live your values, not just on special occasions or when called on to make a speech, but in everyday life. Our values should be evident in our behaviour. They should be so obvious that when we start to share them with anyone who knows us or has observed us for a while, they stop us, almost offended that we would think that they do not know.
Many claim to value community. In most cases, this is at least partly true. People enjoy having a place to discuss their favorite topics, to have their thoughts affirmed, and to have a showing of people who hold the same position. It is comfortable. It is convenient. Community can be powerful, and it can be incredibly useful when its members understand one another, are motivated, and care more about what they share than what they do not. Community is an ideal space to challenge and be challenged. To learn. To grow. To galvanize. To take action, in great numbers. The action, of course, depends on the true values and positions of the members, and this often goes unknown or ignored for the sake of comfort, yet the “community” is celebrated for its “oneness.” This is a farce, and it is a complete failure to the work of community building, much less leverage it in meaningful ways.
It is a helpful exercise to think about what “community” means, which communities we see ourselves in, how the function, and whether there is togetherness or it is stuck at so-called “oneness.” It is helpful to identify the communities that are missing, and the communities we can build. Being in a group for having something in common is not necessarily a community, but it can be the beginning of building one. A critical component of community is, indeed, diversity of identity and ideas, and the ability to use them for the common good, beyond the community itself.
• The Sunday Drive. This playlist is updated on a weekly basis by Bahamian DJ Ampere, setting the mode for Sunday activities. From a drive along the coast to doing household tasks like laundry and cleaning, the music is always a good match. While there may be a few familiar songs, you are likely to hear quite a few for the first time. Expand your list of go-to tunes with great additions from The Sunday Drive. All of the songs featured in January 2024 are now available in The Sunday Roadtrip - January ’24 playlist on Spotify.
• Join Feminist Book Club. Equality Bahamas and Poinciana Paper Press are hosting the first meeting of 2024 on Wednesday, February 21. Members will discuss Blind Days by Ian Chinaka Strachan and Citizen by Claudia Rankine. Join in person at Poinciana Paper Press, 12 Parkgate Road, or virtually. Register at tiny.cc/fbc2024 to receive more information. Buy or borrow the books, or drop by the library at Poinciana Paper Press to read the copies there.
• Late Bloomer. Jasmeet Dutta is a content creator with a decent enough following that people in his community know who he is, but isn’t quite making a living. He lives with his parents and tries to balance his ambition as a content creator with his responsibility as a son. The thirty-minute episodes give a glimpse into the life of a millennial on an unconventional path. As he gains popularity, it becomes more difficult to meet his parents’ expectations, especially as the delivery person for his mother’s food business. The show also depicts the lives of the members of Jasmeet’s immigrant family, living in the western world while holding on to eastern roots.