Parent-teacher associations and homeowner associations have one really horrible trait in common: both have histories of keeping communities segregated–and have continued along that vein. While they would rarely, if ever, admit the abusive origins of their history, communities of Black, Indigenous, and people of color have often suffered at the whims of “associations.” Insidiously, most of their reasoning could be summarized tritely as “We want what is best for our children/community.”If those associations were honest with themselves, they would admit that whatever their projected purpose, they have come to symbolize systemic racism; to that end, they would work to find other avenues to improve neighborhoods and schools.
Some people argue that these types of associations create intimacy and build stronger communities. However, during this era of accountability, more people are learning about true authenticity, rather than those created within established structures. When people are truly intentional about developing intimacy, they work to build connections which may not have set schedules, do not consistently involve large groups of people and which may not take place under public scrutiny. Community intimacy is hard work because society has been conditioned to compete, but if people make genuine efforts to engage, most of those effects will be viewed without comment. Instead of developing associations–many of which have become the breeding ground for discord–people should how to develop small projects that can help communities without demanding structures.
Control has become synonymous with associations, and thus, with the people who manage and participate in associations. Unlearning dominant narrative conditioning is difficult, and many of the homeowner associations have felt that the only way to avoid dissent is to keep everything the same. To that end, many neighborhoods which have single-family zoning and homeowner associations have declared that no home should detract from the “enjoyment of the community,” i.e. nothing “ugly.” Thankfully, many people have viewed that control is not a precedent for leadership, and have begun to develop more cooperative traits rather than controlling elements. After all, it is not appropriate for organizations to deprive people of money for an organization that can gather crowds for disapproval.
Also, not all associations are treated equally; their influence depends on the location and class of the community. Schools in “better” districts can petition to gain more funding and varied curriculum, while struggling schools are left to the mercy of standardized test scores because parents are unable to advocate around the clock. Neighborhoods in “character communities” are able to maintain their zoning and avoid environmental hazards, while working-class neighborhoods are forced to contend with the whims of the highest bidders. If the voice of an association were absolute, associations would be vital tools in advocacy, but because of the hierarchy, they are weapons.
If people are interested in changing associations, they would need to abdicate the need to control other people’s property. The most important question to ask when creating a governing body is this: Does this body create a safe community for all involved? At this moment in time, people have the opportunity to review association guidelines and determine if the rules genuinely create a safe community for all involved, or if control is the only message. It will be interesting to see what changes occur across the United States.