I joined NextDoor in September of 2015. At first, I was thrilled to have an additional resource to help me get more involved in my East Austin neighborhood. NextDoor was a great way for me to discover urgent matters, when the next neighborhood association meeting was, what volunteer opportunities & meet-ups were available and which neighbors needed support or assistance.
NextDoor has and continues to fulfill this role, but I quickly learned that it is also a dumping ground for people’s implicit racism. In my gentrifying neighborhood of East Austin — a historically black neighborhood — implicit racism and culture insensitivity is becoming so commonplace, that I deactivated my NextDoor account out of disgust and frustration.
This post written by a young white woman was the first red flag:
“I was walking — — – on — — – around 6pm as it was starting to get dark when a red sedan approached me, coming south. The front of the license plate read “Don’t Panic” but it was not like a regular license plate, almost like a sticker or plaque or something of that effect, with a black background and yellow letters. There was a black male driving the car and he said, “excuse me” I kept walking and did not look at him. The car sat there for another second or two and then turned around in the street and headed north on — — — . I did not see the back of the license plate or what make/model the car was. Has anyone else seen this? Or am I just being paranoid? It definitely rattled me!”
Neighbors, almost entirely white, chimed in that she acted smartly, and one even mentioned that she should have called the police. When some of us politely mentioned implicit racism, she didn’t get it, and several folks defended her by saying that she didn’t owe the man a response.
I brought this exchange up to various friends and discovered that many of them had deactivated their NextDoor accounts because of such posts. Several of these friends are people of color. One got off because the racist posts were “too maddening;” another “stopped paying attention” because people on the site seem “very afraid of darker shades of humans.” Friends who are not on NextDoor told me they avoided joining the site because they heard it was full of racist posts.
Not long after, similar warnings started to appear on our neighborhood NextDoor group. One man (white) said he just moved in and saw “a high level of gang markings” and whom should he call at the police department? (A commenter applauded him on his bravery for walking in our neighborhood — a neighborhood in a zip code with over 21,400 citizens that saw zero murders in 2016.)
None of these posts flat-out scream “I’m a racist!” but they all reiterate a growing concern in gentrifying neighborhoods: white people are moving in and not only do they not give a damn to get to know their neighbors of color, they also think their neighbors’ actions and culture are cause for concern and public sharing.
You may be thinking, duh. This has been a problem on NextDoor for a long time, even after the company implemented ways to reduce racism on the site. You see, as a white woman, I’ve never been on the receiving end of racism, of the little things like when someone walks the other way when I walk by, or refuses to acknowledge me when I say “excuse me,” or thinks that my clothing is cause for concern. NextDoor is a window into the implicit racism that people of color experience every day because for some reason white people feel comfortable sharing their biases on the site.
And that “some reason,” I’m surmising, is the fact that NextDoor is a shield we, and our prejudices, can hide behind. Even though we are talking to our neighbors on NextDoor, we’re not getting to know our neighbors. We are not saying hi and engaging with the long-standing citizens who came before us, who raised their families, went to church and saw their friends and neighbors live and die in a neighborhood that has become unrecognizable to them. We are not bothering to learn the history of our neighborhood, or supporting businesses owned by people of color, or respecting the strong cultural identity that existed before we moved in.
We need to step it up.
Before we post on NextDoor, we need to ask ourselves, is implicit racism at play? If you’re not sure, err on the side of caution. Do your neighbors need to be warned of a black man who said “excuse me” to you? Do your neighbors need to know that you’re new to the neighborhood and you think gangs have taken control of the area? Before you post, go out and say hi to your neighbors, go to neighborhood association meetings and go to neighborhood culture events. NextDoor will never be able to replace the joy, and benefits, of face-to-face interaction. And it is only with face-to-face interaction that we can work toward erasing our biases.
(Edit: Since a couple of people commented about this, I want to share that I did respond to posts like the ones mentioned above, but I found that like most social media, discussing such heavy topics online seemed to cause more division than understanding. To put in bluntly: There are neighbors who get it and neighbors who don’t, and no one appears to budge from their sides. Out of sheer frustration, I deleted my account. As I have before NextDoor existed, I’m choosing to be involved with and interact with my neighborhood offline. My neighbors who are not on NextDoor are a more accurate representation of the diversity of our neighborhood.)
This post also appears on my Medium page.