Monday, July 09, 2007

Listservs

So our wonderful, odd little neighborhood has a listserv for its residents. Most of the time it's limited to e-mails announcing lost and found pets, requests for recommendations for contractors or lawn guys or a/c repair. Pretty harmless and most of the time helpful stuff.

But once a year, everyone who posts loses their freaking minds, and those of us who subscribe but never post are treated to day after day of rantings and personal attacks. After the moderator receives enough complaints and/or unsubscribe requests, he brings down the hammer and reviews each post before it gets sent out. B's cousin Ty spent hours setting up a great forum where neighbors could have personal conversations about various issues without cluttering inboxes, but he took it down due to a lack of use.

Past issues that have cause people to go insane? One year it was helicopters buzzing the neighborhood. Some people on the list were convinced it was a plot by the police. Others thought maybe it was the Men In Black. Some bitched that it was nothing more than harassment and were sure that richer neighborhoods didn't have to put up with the same noise. Another year it was about a restaurant moving into the HEB shopping center applying for a permit to serve liquor late at night. It's a pretty common request for a restaurant or bar to make, but it sure got everyone around here up in arms. One particularly curmudgeonly neighbor got himself forever banned from the listserv by calling the employer of a man who had posted a message the crank didn't agree with. Sheesh.

I unsubscribed during these rounds of upheaval because I was tired of coming home from a morning of errands to find 25 e-mails in my box that were nothing more than people yelling at each other.

But it's happened again, and this time I decided to ride it out, mostly because I wanted to see how it all ended. It started when one resident posted a warning that she had caught a man dressed like a meter reader peering in her neighbor's window. She called the utility company and found out that no meter readers were scheduled for our hood that day and that what the guy was wearing didn't match their uniforms. So she posted a helpful message describing the man, including his clothes, hair color, and ethnicity, and warning people to keep an eye out. We've had a number of break-ins in the hood of late, and I felt her message was a good one. Someone else then posted about how she had confronted a man who turned out to really be a meter reader. Her point was that we shouldn't be afraid to go out and ask folks what they're up to, that we all need to look out for each other.

Well those two postings started the firestorm. One woman, who is a minority, blasted the entire neighborhood as racist, saying that of course everyone who is white and who lives in this area automatically believes that anyone who is black or Hispanic is up to no good or is a nanny or maid. All this because the original posting listed the man's race, just as it listed his hair color and clothing type and shoes. Things disintegrated from there, with lots of messages saying "We aren't racist, we're just cautious." And the same woman e-mailing back with, "Yes you are. Everyone in the neighborhood should be apologizing to the guy who really was a meter reader for assuming he was a crook." From there it just got more and more rude, to the point where there were e-mails telling people to just shut up and move if they didn't like being here.

In the end, I wish I had unsubscribed before it got to that point. I had been feeling really good about our little corner of Austin after the kids' lemonade stand this weekend. Without exception, all of the neighbors who stopped, friends and strangers alike, were so friendly and so supportive of the kids. Even the people who didn't stop at least slowed down, smiled, and waved. I was so proud of our little community. But then I went inside and read all of the hateful e-mails and felt miserable. I thought about posting a nice friendly message complimenting our neighborhood on its support, but then I figured I'd just get blasted by the woman who was accusing everyone of being racist for being, in her opinion, one of the rich, white folks who have moved in and ruined things.

Fortunately the moderator has gone back to vetting messages before they hit the listserv, so we'll go back to it just being postings about garage sales and lost pets. But it all left such a bad taste in my mouth that I may have to unsubscribe again.

1 comment:

O'Pine said...

OY! This is so much like my neighborhood. We are a TINY little neighborhood in central Austin. But now, due to what basically amounts to immaturity, we have two--count 'em--TWO neighborhood associations.

I wish I could say something positive about neighborhood associations in Austin, but I just can't. They really, really suck in my opinion.

It's always the vocal minority (and I don't mean ethnic) who seems to steer and sway.

Ahh. Too much of a rant. We'll bitch more about it in person.