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Keywords:

  • gated community;
  • whiteness;
  • physical environment;
  • niceness;
  • fear of others;
  • crime

This article links two ways of maintaining whiteness and white privilege employed by gated communities residents in the surrounding suburbs of New York City and San Antonio, Texas. The first, the fear of others, is well documented in the anthropological literature but not as a strategy for maintaining whiteness in the built environment, while the second, the desire for “niceness,” is a relatively new construct that focuses on the way people make moral and aesthetic judgments to control their social and physical environments. Niceness and fear of others were initially understood as discursive means for justifying and rationalizing the choice to live in a residential development that was closed off and seen by outsiders as exclusionary. It also became apparent that fear of others, when combined with niceness, inscribes racist assumptions on the landscape. This inscription of whiteness is seen as natural, normative, taken-for-granted, and most importantly out of residents' everyday awareness. Thus, gated communities with private governance and a homeowners' association are creating and maintaining white spaces similar to those in South Africa discussed in this volume by Matthew Durington. This addition of the concept of niceness to an understanding of how gated communities work as racist and exclusionary places begins the unraveling of how “nice” people, who say “nice” things, and have “nice” or liberal values, participate in maintaining whiteness in the built environment.