Do you use Nextdoor, the social media application that connects you to your neighbors and community? With more than 79,000 micro-communities established throughout the country, my guess is you probably do or at the very least have heard of the site. I, like many others, joined Nextdoor to stay connected to neighborhood events and score on sales of gently used items. I’ve also appreciated being kept abreast of neighborhood crime and the strategies employed to combat that crime. However, I have not appreciated the racial profiling that happens all too often. “Walking while black”, “driving while black” and “sitting in a parked car while black” are no-nos in my neighborhood and in the past I’ve cringed but not spoken out against neighbor generated “be on the lookout” posts.
Recently, in Oakland, California, the group Neighbors for Racial Justice made headlines for calling out the racial profiling amongst Oakland residents via Nextdoor. Their grievances were so obviously true that Nextdoor’s CEO quickly released a statement acknowledging and admonishing the use of racial profiling on the site and announced the company is making changes to the platform to eliminate the practice. Neighbors for Racial Justice raised their voices, were heard and systemic change is coming. Powerful stuff.
For better or worse, I often draw inspiration for action through the stories of other people’s actions. I’m not usually brave enough to forge my own path. After reading about the success Neighbors for Racial Justice had in affecting change in Oakland, I felt stirred to challenge the racial profiling within my Nextdoor community. I scribed an entry with the same title as this post: “Nextdoor and racial profiling”. Here’s what I wrote:
“Dear Neighbors, I’m not sure all of you have seen this news, but Nextdoor users in Oakland, CA have been called out for using the platform for racial profiling. The CEO of Nextdoor issued a statement agreeing that profiling on the site needs to be addressed:http://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/
I challenge all of us to really think about when and why and about whom we post alerts and make sure our own implicit biases aren’t influencing our fears.
Similarly, I challenge all of us to stop using the word “thug” to describe criminals. It’s been revealed to be the new “n-word” and we have a plethora of other descriptors at our disposal. http://www.newsweek.com/brief-history-wo…”
I recognize the entry wasn’t incredibly well written. As I was crafting the post, I was overcome with nerves in anticipation of the response. But I tried my best to use every tip I learned in the podcast “Your Facebook Friend Said Something Racist. Now What” and employ language that was not attacking. Despite those efforts, some people became very defensive and within 24 hours of the post going live there were 82 comments and 72 “thanks” (the Nextdoor version of Facebook “likes”). The typical Nextdoor post in our community garners a few comments and “thanks”. Clearly, I had struck a nerve.
To start with the positive, through this action I identified several like-minded neighbors who I had never spoken with about racial justice. Two neighbors contacted me directly to say they appreciated the post and that they shared my concerns. Other neighbors contributed to the conversation directly by commenting on the thread. And all of the “thanks” let me and the readers know there were a lot of people in our neighborhood who recognized racial profiling was a problem.
The most powerful part of the thread was when several people of color shared stories about being profiled or stories about when their child was profiled. Stories like when a neighbor called the police because his home was being robbed and HE was the one put in handcuffs. Stories of walking home from the grocery store and being stopped by the police because someone called in about a suspicious person. Stories of a teenage son being told not to wear his Halloween costume before he got to school for fear of being seen as a threat. Stories of a man being followed and monitored by the police while he walked his dog after work. These stories were raw, real and did not have to be shared. I appreciated the generosity of our neighbors in sharing these experiences in an attempt to educate and enlighten.
Despite hearing our neighbors’ stories of racial profiling, plenty of folks remained unmoved. Some of the commentors vehemently defended the use of the word “thug” and said they would never stop using it because the definition in the dictionary does not connect it to race. Other commentors stated that stereotypes exist for a reason and “help save me time” when they are deciding whether or not a person is suspicious. Another commenter said she will call the police anytime she feels uncomfortable, whether or not the person who is making her feel uncomfortable is acting unlawfully or even suspicious. And of course, there were several people who dismissed the whole conversation as “politically correct nonsense”. Scary, right? Especially because users are not anonymous on Nextdoor. First and last names, pictures AND physical addresses are published. These neighbors were making at best insensitive and at worst racist comments without hesitation.
While a subset of neighbors were unbending in their worldview, others commented that they had learned something through following the thread, whether it be that “thug” can be a racially charged word or that they need to pause and reflect before reporting something or someone as suspicious. These folks seemed genuinely surprised and saddened by the experiences shared by their neighbors of color. The power of conversation felt clear.
When I reflect on this experience, I choose not to focus on the people who were boldly racist. No one is going to change their minds overnight and definitely not through a conversation thread on Nextdoor. Instead, I’m focusing on my newly forged connections with neighbors and on the individuals who walked away with a better understanding of their privilege and power. I’m focusing on the bravery and generosity of my neighbors of color who shared the injustices they’ve experienced through racial profiling. And I’m focusing on remembering that if I push aside my inner doubt and raise my voice, I too can affect positive change, even on a small, grassroots level.
Has anyone else noticed racial profiling on their Nextdoor or neighborhood list serves? Have you spoken out against the practice? I’d love to hear your stories.