I am deeply concerned that as we attempt to move past race in America; we will do so without examining its role in creating inter-generational poverty or providing a remedy for the economic legacy of poverty and cultural disintegration left by Jim crow segregation and racist economic policies of the early 20th century.
A case study of the above can be found in Richmond’s East End. Prior to 1977, we did not have any black political representation in Richmond, now 30 years later after close to 300 years of wealthy property owning people of European descent running the city and governing African Americans, there are currently arguments circulating that this predominately black community should disregard race and class when choosing a candidate. Perhaps these arguments are made riding on the high of Obama being elected the first black president. I ask that we all take precaution because America is not a multi-racial utopia – yet. On the surface these arguments are definitely well founded and make perfect sense; however, when one looks beneath the surface we can see that race and class are pivotal issues that have to be on the forefront of any discussion of Richmond’s future and specifically the East End though they are often not.
The problem with examining race and class in Richmond is that its history is so traumatic and horrible; that few are courageous enough to deal with it honestly and open; and not only talk about it but develop remedies to problems that have woven themselves into the very fabric of Richmond Virginia’s social strata.
Too few in Richmond are aware of the federal government’s role in creating poverty in Richmond’s East End.
During the 1930’s, federal policies were enacted that established large concentrations of black poverty in the East End. Blatantly racist; these policies determined whether funds for refinancing of homes would be available to what areas of Richmond and how much. Black communities irrespective of income received poor ratings on the basis of racial demographics alone. Federal maps used to identify black neighborhoods from the time outline where poverty exists in Richmond to this day, with the majority of those neighborhoods being in Richmond’s predominately black East End.
How has the current gentrification of the East End been allowed to happen and when black people lose their homes in the East End due to the rising property values resulting from whites moving in snatching up these relatively cheap properties – they are cheap because of the federal policies that concentrated poverty there; what responsibility does the city have to remedy the disparities that it helped create? How many Americans are ready to deal with the historical legacy of intergenerational poverty & blight courtesy of complicit United States government, state, local and private agencies? How many Americans have said that black people should just let the past go while these transgressions go unattended to?
The recent controversy regarding the 7th District seat in Richmond VA left vacant by Delores McQuinn and potential appointee Cynthia Newbille has been construed by some to represent the workings of a black political machine that seeks to keep whites out of political power. The irony and blatant hypocrisy inherent in that argument is that Richmond has been a “true” democracy since 1977 when the first black mayor was elected. Democratically, Mrs. McQuinn was elected to office time and time again by the constituents of the East End, but now since Mrs. Newbille is black and has worked in, lived in and served the East End for 13 years and was tapped for appointment to the vacated seat by Mrs. McQuinn.
Certain interest groups now feel that it is time break perhaps the most important legacy of the East End; that of the last 30 years worth of black political representatives working to undo the malicious destructive legacies created by the Ole Boy network prior to 1977 of paternalistic, racist representation that created the poverty in the East End and kept African Americans dis-empowered. No one seems to want to talk about how 300 years of political powerlessness has affected the African American community. If Richmond is now a multi-racial utopia (which it is not ) it is on the backs of the Delores McQuinn’s, Henry Marsh’s, Sa’ad El-Amin’s, Chuck Robb’s and Doug Wilder’s who led the charge against an ambivalent if not openly resistant racist power structure that we stand.
Understandably the idea of a black person being the best to represent black people does have inherent flaws. It presumes that a black person has the interests of the masses of black people in mind just because he is black. It also presumes (optimistically) that they will be honest and honorable public servants (deep sigh). Often black representatives find themselves in a schizophrenic position having to balance the immediate needs of poor blacks who may be the majority in their districts and the wants and desires of privileged whites who may or may not be sensitive to the immediate needs of Richmond’s black and poor. Add in the generations of racist attitudes and you have the Molotov cocktail that has been Richmond’ post-civil rights “progress” sometimes pushing black people forward, often seeking to appease white people and not “rock the boat”.
One only would have to look no further than the recent campaign of Barack Obama and here the overtones of systemic white supremacy seep into the discussion when even well-meaning black folks said “We want to at least get him in office, then we will see what he does for black people” or “He is not the president of just black people in the United States – he is the president of THE United States”. Each statement alluding to some dissonance in the mental processes of this country that somehow still allows racism a pass, allows white privilege a pass, that somehow undoing the wrongs done against black people is inherently BAD for Americans, and allows systematic repression and intergenerational impoverishment a glaring bright yellow pass that we all can see yet, say nothing. Ironically; once Donald Trump was voted into office; we saw him appoint Steve Bannon (a civilian with no military leadership experience who has ties to white nationalist organizations; and that is the founder of Breitbart; a web haven of such) to the National Security Council; and issue a litany of executive orders that were egregiously xenophobic and discriminatory.
The schizophrenic nature of this country shows itself when we review the disparity in the criminal system, the health system, poverty i.e. in regards to who is and who isn’t poor…We all can read that data and see that blacks are unequivocally affected worse by the social diseases that affect this country. It is as if when the country gets a cold, black people get pneumonia. Just apply that analogy to the financial crisis with all it’s rising unemployment rates and no loans for homes and you have a very tepid situation on the horizon. But even with the facts in front of us, we are unable to mouth the unfortunate truth. American has not moved past race, it is sitting right in our house.
Race is the 500-pound gorilla in the room saying fuck yo couch.
My prayer is that this country will allow it’s inhabitants the respect, elbow room and empathy necessary needed for them to represent themselves on the basis of their understanding, commitment, qualification and sensitivity to the citizens of the communities in which they live, are a part of and come from. In the meantime, to really move past race – we need to honestly examine how race has played an integral role in keeping the majority of African American’s powerless, how that powerlessness has created a racial class caste system and what dynamics are at work to keep the poor impoverished while allowing the rich to get richer. How has race defined the reality of black people in this country? Now that that reality is warped and disfigured – how do we move past it by ignoring the conditions resultant from its creation? Lastly, who benefits from our not addressing the poverty created by race in this country?
While my idealistic side quotes that formidable campaign slogan “YES WE CAN”; when I walk into work in the morning and view the hundreds of black faces who are the recipients of American’s bad check with equality written illegibly in the memo line – I think to myself; faith is the substance of things hoped for; however faith without works is dead.
*** This article was written in 2009; it was updated today to reflect the madness of the Trump Administration