Around my neighborhood many yards have a sign including this phrase in several languages: “No matter where you’re from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” I’m glad. I’m also terribly sad that I myself haven’t made much of an effort to get to know my neighbors, and haven’t had many neighbors approach me either. I do know that the long-term residents complain of the college students, who complain of the long term residents, and very few glad to accept those without homes as “residents” of any sort. I think a lot of people feel they should follow the charge to “love thy neighbor.” I also think it can be easy to limit that to only apply to those most like yourself- exactly the opposite of the message of the good Samaritan parable.
My mom is moving to a new area- not so far in terms of distance, and not an unfamiliar area. But an area that is far less racially diverse than where we had lived. She has grown frustrated with the way the majority white inhabitants of the area refer the the minority hispanic and black inhabitants. After all, if it seems like all your neighbors are like you, eat like you, talk like you, and would never call your word choices insulting, aren’t you being loving to your neighbors? This dynamic is causing her to despair that only isolated pockets of America have been working toward (certainly not fully realized anywhere) racial reconciliation, rather than “America” as a whole.
There are definitely benefits of a narrow focus on community- any sort of community ties are growing less and less common/prioritized. But even that narrow focus must be inclusive of everyone in it, as well as those bordered by and those affected by it. There are certainly serious downfalls of prioritizing your narrow interests over others.
As Richmond was developing, black communities grew stronger in numbers and influence, to the point that white communities felt threatened of being overrun. This fear was heightened and capitalized upon by real estate developers, who scared people to sell their properties for cheap to move to “better” areas, then resold these properties at a higher value. Meanwhile, black communities, regardless of their economic status, were rendered “less valuable,” and ultimately a waste of space or a nuisance- the perfect places to bulldoze and add new highways (95, 195) which would cut through the city. This certainly benefitted some pockets of communities, to the serious detriment and destruction of others.
In short, community does need to be valued and cultivated everywhere. But the placement, demographics, and resources of any particular community should not be taken for granted as “just the way things are.” “The way things are” has been intentionally developed (or in some cases intentionally ignored) to become so, and has real effects on the lived experience of others’ communities. But that is often not immediately obvious, even for those honestly invested in loving their neighbors. As Jesus explained in the story of the good Samaritan, your neighbors can be people you are not accustomed to seeing and looking out for.