Thoughts on Exclusion and Erasure

** In order to be politically correct the names have been removed from this status update.

It is highly problematic to work in the community without acknowledgment and affirmation of that community context and historical narrative. On three separate occasions on two opposite ends of the spectrum, I have seen organizations attempt to step into communities to do urban agriculture work by either erasing the macro history of that community or the microhistory. Both ends of the spectrum speak to a moral and/or ethical issue and I want to explain why by explaining what I saw and what problems it caused.

The first example: organization does work in the community. Works primarily in predominantly african american neighborhoods and purports ita work to be an intervention that will help that community. However, the organization does not hire African americans from the communities in which it works nor does it have in its programming any culturally relevant themes that speak specifically to race, class or the racism that was perpetuated that makes the interventions the org interjects into the community necessary. This is an example of erasing the macro history of a community. By removing race, an approaching the community with a color-blind approach – the community is treated as an ahistorical entity that just appeared with these problems out of thin air and that the intervention the org purports as a solution is one size fits all. Nothing could be further than the truth and nothing is more disrespectful. Communities are not ahistorical. How they come into existence and the stories are woven into are their heartbeat.

The second example: Organization doing work in a community evolves swiftly due to the passionate leadership of a small volunteer group. Circumstances change. The small passionate group has to move on to other opportunities. The organization doing work in a community has a leadership change. Instead of engaging the small passionate group that has built the community relationships and trust on the ground – the new leadership decides to start over – while still working in the communities that the small passionate group built trust in. When the small passionate group is brought up by the community – the new leadership dismisses the conversation and in some instances castigates the small passionate group. The new leadership pretends as though the work that came before them was done by them unto folks not familiar with the organizational history. The community then does not trust the new leadership of the organization. This is an erasing of the micro history of a community. The narrative of how the work got to that point is important. To dismiss the contributions of those who came before is dishonest and unethical.

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