On MLK Day: Racism and Memory

There are a couple of things I would like to say on this Monday in 2020 as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s day. Since MLK and I lived through the same times he loomed large in the news, and he still looms large in my memories of those days. So first I will tell you a little story and then I will tell you something I read in the newspaper today that would, if he were still alive, inspire MLK to fight on, because sadly discrimination is still all too real.

I was, as a young adult, a hippie. Weird word, hippie, I guess it was supposed to refer to how “hip” we were. I did not wear flowers in my hair, but I went to concerts in the park and danced to the music and I learned. I learned about the military-industrial complex, and about losing our guys in a war that was not our war. I learned that women were tired of being second class citizens and that from now on we wanted to have our needs and rights taken into consideration. And I learned about racism, which I knew of, but had not seen close up and ugly.

Martin Luther King was a bit older than me. By the time I was 20, he was 34, five years away from his death by assassination. America was in the midst of displaying racial ignorance all over our TVs for the whole world to see. I did not take a bus south. I had my own apartment and had to work. I did march in a demonstration or two. And no matter how much I wanted to I could not take my eyes off my TV when I was home from work.

Here are well-dressed, peaceful people just walking together in their dignity to ask for their rights as American citizens; not separate rights that were supposed to be separate but equal and weren’t equal at all, but just to be left alone to work, live, eat, and travel as freely as any other American. The difference between what America stands for and how America betrays its ideals was never as clear as when those powerful streams of water pouring from fire hoses hit those brave marchers, knocking them to the ground, ruining their best clothing, putting some in the hospital, and striking fear in my heart because something was happening in America that was incomprehensible.

In the midst of all this show of hate, one of my friends decided that we should spend a Sunday in a local storefront Pentecostal church. She was a braver girl than I was, I secretly felt we would be intruding and might not be welcome. But we were welcomed in that church. We were accepted and then petted and called out as “pretty flowers who wandered into the midst of the congregation.” We were blessed and encouraged to go forward and let the minister lay his blessed hands upon us. It was an enlightening experience, an experience that lives vividly still in my memory. And it was impossible not to contrast our warm welcome with the hate playing out daily on my TV. I mourned the sins of the white people in my nation, a nation I had always been proud of – until living in a diverse neighborhood as a hippie girl, opening up my mind to things that never impacted me growing up in my safe suburb. Perhaps we don’t all have these moments of revelation, but I did.

You would think that watching this racial hate play out would have given vent to all the negative prejudices arising out of nothing except the color of one’s skin and that we would have been left burned clean of hate and embracing our differences. That is not the case as we know. Here, at the beginning of the 21st century we see how deeply we have nourished the roots of our racism. We have watched black men killed for the thinnest of reasons and we have seen that there are Americans who must proclaim that ‘Black Lives Matter’. Why would an athlete who has achieved his dream of sports stardom, feel the need to take a knee when he hears the Star Spangled Banner? If racism were not alive and well there would be no need to face white derision by seemingly disrespecting America, when you are really just asking for what should already belong to you.

That’s the story I promised, and here is the news. In today’s New York Times is a story about what Ben Carson, as Trump’s head of Housing and Urban Development is doing these days. We have been made aware of redlining and how it was used to keep some neighborhoods white and some neighborhoods black, to keep us separate. But today my own city was mentioned in this national article as a city that has refused to reassess homes in black neighborhoods, that has left these houses with assessments that are too high and which have allowed the city to collect more tax dollars in this segregated neighborhood than they do in wealthier sections of the city where, inexplicably, assessments are lower.

Now Ben Carson plans to make it more difficult to fight these outdated assessments, to go before the city and present a case for reassessment. It is quite technical and diabolical. In order to make a case for reassessment you must present a list of every reason the city could give for turning you down and then you must refute each argument. In other words, you must now possess some kind of assessment ESP that, of course, does not exist. You must read the city’s mind, a city that can just invent new reasons for why they cannot offer you a reassessment. This directly affects the wealth that should accrue to black homeowners, and does accrue to white people every day from owning a house.

The article also discusses “balloon loans” which make an initial mortgage payment affordable and then raises it out of reach at a later date. All this creativity expended to keep black people from succeeding in America – no wonder we are becoming a decaying nation. We are putting our creative talents to use in the service of the wrong tasks. Martin Luther King, Jr., you left us way too soon, the battle not nearly done, and I’m sorry if your sadness at the evils in the world will not allow you unalloyed enjoyment of the joys of the afterlife. Click on the picture below for a link to the article.

 

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – WSFA.com

 

 

More On Poverty in Our Cities

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I sent an
email to the editor of the local paper, The
Post-Standard
, telling them about the study by The Century Foundation
entitled “Architecture of Segregation
which I had read on The Daily Beast
website.  http://apps.tcf.org/architecture-of-segregation

The study
points out, the article in The
Post-Standard
states, that

“Syracuse has the highest rate of extreme poverty concentrated
among blacks and Hispanics out of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas,
according to a new study of poverty in America.

The study is the latest to examine a decades-long trend in
Syracuse, where the city has consistently ranked as having one of the highest
poverty rates in the nation.

The analysis of census data by a Rutgers University professor
shows that extreme poverty continues to spread unabated out of Syracuse’s core
to the city’s Near South, Near Southwest and North Side.

In 2000, Syracuse had nine “extreme poverty”
neighborhoods, defined as census tracts where more than 40 percent of residents
live in poverty.

By 2010, Syracuse had 19 such neighborhoods, according to a 2011
study by the Brookings Institution.

Now the number of high-poverty tracts in Syracuse totals 30,
according to Paul Jargowsky
the Rutgers University-Camden professor who published the study with The Century Foundation.

“The
general trend is that there is a spreading out of poverty,” Jargowsky said
in an interview. “That is happening all over the place. But I didn’t know
Syracuse was going to stand out the way it did.” “

You can read
the entire article here:

The original
article and The Post-Standard
article both talk about the fact that when neighborhoods became diverse, white
people moved further away and suburban sprawl got further and further from the
city center. People in these increasingly distant suburbs wanted the
convenience of public infrastructure like city water and being connected to the
same sewage grid used by city dwellers (although the infrastructure was clearly
much newer). These folks had good salaries and could pay enough taxes to make
government responsive to their needs. As more and more tax dollars were spent
further from the city center and as the city center emptied out infrastructure
in the center of the city was neglected and deteriorated from age and use. When
folks left behind in the center city tried to follow white people to the
suburbs they found themselves locked out (or locked in). Partly this was
because they were poorer than those who left for the suburbs, and partly it was
due to actual exclusionary practices.

For these
and similar reasons, The Century Foundation study under the direction of Paul
Jargowsky (Rutgers) is pointing out this information so that we can find ways
to change this paralysis in our center cities. Syracuse is not alone in this
situation, although we may be No. 1, perhaps because we are not a rich city, but I
believe that we also share in all of the other ways that white people have
found to pretend that they are not racist. If you want to see what I mean
register on Syracuse.com so you can read the comments of my fellow Syracuse
residents who appear to have been brainwashed by Fox News et al and who are
Exhibit A in what passes for extreme right wing logic which says that the
liberals and the victims are to blame and that this city poverty trap is the
result of liberal programs that support the poor and allow them to survive
without working. I apologize in advance for their ignorance and their inability
to hold an original thought.

The problems
with writing off this study as delineating a condition that is ‘someone
else’s problem’, is that there are and will be repercussions if this situation
continues. It is wrong and we need to tackle the beast and find a way to make
America better. Here’s what one of our city officials had to say:

Paul Driscoll, Syracuse’s commissioner of neighborhood and
business development, said city officials are disturbed by the study’s
findings. But he said officials cannot explain why the city seems to be lagging
the rest of the nation in reducing its poverty.

“We are all struggling to understand why Syracuse is
getting hit worse than other cities,” Driscoll said in an interview.
“We’re just looking to address what cities can do to address poverty.
We’re finding we’re pretty limited in what we can do. We deal with the
consequences at the local level, but a lot of these problems have to be dealt
with at the state and federal level.”

I hope this
will not be our only response to the information in this study. We live in a
city that is home to an important private university. We are a city full of
architects (award-winning) and engineers. Certainly a committee could be formed
to look for some creative ways to address this stubborn inequality in our
community. If it was caused mainly by housing issues and unwillingness to live
in mixed race communities then people who deal with housing issues might be
exactly the people who can find a way out of this. Once some professional
approaches have been discussed and designs produced, perhaps community people
(those stuck in poverty) could be invited into the group to go over the plans
and offer input. I hope this study does not just plop down with a big thud on
our doorsteps and then disappear.

We have all
been getting glimpses of what will happen if we do not tackle this now. I do
not think that our stranded, poor, neighbors are about to accept much more of
being overlooked and over-prosecuted and being deprived of opportunities to
succeed. This issues falls into the category of “pay now or pay later” and if
we wait until later the price will only get higher. Pretend you are so
intimidated by poor minority people that you will do almost anything to defuse
the situation. Perhaps that is the only way these folks will get their due.

The New York
Times
also had an article about this topic. Here’s the link:

Think,
everyone, think!
By Nancy Brisson