Archive for urban
In need of a house? Affordable housing? Detroit has an abundance of housing with prices unimaginable to most Americans. You can purchase a large spacious home for as low as $100 or less in the underprivileged areas that span for many square miles throughout the city. You might lack public services ordinarily taken for granted in most places, such as police services and street lights. There has been such a surplus of vacant properties that Detroit’s been burning them down. In 2010 there was an estimate of 70,000 burned houses which does not include vacant buildings and those numbers continue to rise with each passing year. Where else in the world would homes that might be considered the picturesque of “the American Dream” be regularly set on fire despite the fact that this nation has its fair share of people who are homeless and/or in dire need of housing?
Devil’s Night in Detroit is when the most fires are set and typically begins on October 30th and runs through the 31st. People from other communities and states travel into the city to join forces with the local residents to help with their local adopt home and other property efforts against arson, as well as bolster local medical, safety, and first response services. In this light, the evening has been redefined as, “Angel’s Night.”
During the early 20th century, Detroit, “The Motor City,” was a growing industrialized city and predominately white prior to the 1920’s. In fleeing the Jim Crow of the south, Blacks began to migrate into the Detroit area during the late 1920’s on through the 70’s only to find they were equally unwelcome. Often met with violent racial hostility by the existing residents and police brutality, social exclusion from employment coupled with housing segregation, Blacks were blocked from equally participating in white society. With the deep seated feelings of entitlement, the settled whites who were already competing with each other for existing opportunities and resources in the Detroit area channeled much of their venomous fears and frustrations onto the Black communities who, like they, were seeking better lives.
The systemic racial issues bottled up coupled with rise of the Civil Rights Movements gave rise to race riots of the 60’s throughout the nation bringing down the racial apartheid. Detroit had the largest riots in the nation resulting in the enactment of Marshall Law on three different occasions. As the apartheid was being dismantled a Black middle class began to emerge where shortly after, the city fell into rapid economic decline. In direct response to desegregation, white flight took hold resulting in resegregation with the nation’s wealth and privileges being concentrated into the predominately white suburbs and higher social classes throughout the nation. In 1950 Detroit’s population peaked with 1,849,568 and declined to 713,777 in 2010. Rather than integrate, much of white society chose to abandon their business and residential property.
Nothing exemplifies white privilege more than with the abandoned properties throughout Detroit. Most of us are required to properly dispose of our unwanted belongings. Black Detroit residents are the primary beneficiaries of these major social problems and toxic environmental issues. In 2010, the population of Detroit was 82.7% Black and 10.6% white with the State of Michigan having 14.2% Black and 78.9% white populations with black inmates representing 55% of the total prison population. Detroit is the poorest city in the nation with 1 in 3 residents living in poverty and many others living near poverty. There are still some very wealthy residents in Detroit, but they live in segregation on the outskirts of the city.
Detroit has the highest murder and missing person rates. These issues may play some role in the highest arson rates as well. As noted by the Detroit fire fighters above, to some degree vandalism has been the culprit, but there are a combination of reasons ranging from desperation where residents set fires to polluted houses that have been abandoned with rotting trash or that pose other social and environmental threats (vigilante fires) to sometimes revenge. Arson is a mechanism the residents have resorted to as a means to correct their immediate problems since the city either will not, or cannot.
But further, some locals believe that the general public is deliberately misled on the level of arson carried out by the residents as some of the power holders of the city are believed to be financially vested with local demolition contractors. It is cheaper to remove burned down houses than those fully intact. This destruction is a form of social expression from abandoned and socially neglected voices. It is revolt as Feagin and Hahn (1973) outlined in their earlier work on Detroit riots, to the many forms of racism that have championed the abuse and neglect of Black communities throughout history on into current times. With the effects of deindustrialization compounded with ongoing blocked legitimate means of survival and societal abandonment, it is no wonder the thousands upon thousands of houses representing the very icon of the American Dream have been set on fire many times over. What American Dream?
The pattern is fairly clear for those who are paying attention. The recent rash of mass killings in the past 15 years seem to be predominately committed by young, white, middle-class males living in mental isolation and painted as “outcasts,” many having a history of early childhood trauma. Routinely, these young men felt unloved, underappreciated and invisible; some were bullied, tormented and chastised for being “different.” There’s another similar pattern of violence emerging in black middle-class males where isolation, doubt, and despair exist exerting more emotional labor to cope with constant microaggressions and other power dynamics working to undermine their character and dignity.
African Americans are routinely branded as incompetent, insubordinate, and incapable of measuring up to an unattainable white standard. Many professional black men find themselves having to defend their credentials and right to exist in the workplace as an equal on a daily basis. In a forthcoming publication on workplace mistreatment among physician assistants (health care providers) by Smith and Jacobson, black PAs were found to experience discrimination at a rate of forty times that of their white counterparts. In other words, for every one white person that felt discriminated against in the workplace, there are forty blacks that feel similarly. Taking this idea a step further, where three white providers report feeling undervalued and mistreated, there are 120 black Physicians’ Assistants (PAs) that report similar experiences. The shear magnitude of mistreatment in this context underscores the daily hassles that black Americans face. These experiences do not dissipate; they accumulate within the souls of black folks, always teetering on that one tipping point. Everyone internalizes his or her experiences differently. Some suffer in silence, only to have it play out in the form of physiological disease and early death. Some take this pain and frustration out on themselves and those closest to them, causing strife in their home life. And others still, without social support of any kind, eventually turn to random acts of violence, mayhem, and even murder.
The nation experienced another tragedy as innocent victims fell at the hands of a seemingly deranged man with no known cause. Aaron Alexis, a civilian contractor for the Navy, reported similar accounts to Christopher Dorner with feelings of shame and disrespect at the hands of Whites. Beneath the carnage of unimaginable hurt and suffering of the families who lost loved ones at the hands of Alexis, of those physically and emotionally wounded by the actions of Dorner, and of those forever scared by the terror of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo lies an early desire for humans to connect, to be loved, and to feel as though we matter in life. These distraught men and many others like them, driven to kill innocent people in a fit of rage or despair, just as Klebold and Harris did at Columbine High School in 1999, are a reflection of our deep and unresolved inequalities as a society. As we overly pathologize the suspects, we fail to go deeper into the structural and unequal institutional arrangements in society that make these men feel as though they have been singled out for exclusion in the first place. Though the actions and reactions of these young men are deplorable and even considered evil by many, it does not discount the origins of their despair—our unequal society.
American racism imposes constraints on the material conditions of life by limiting access to society’s valued resources, which are the fundamental building blocks of good mental health and social well-being. When opportunities to fully participate in society as co-equals are denied or restricted because of arbitrary and superficial differences in melanin, some black Americans, understandably, crack under the constant pressure of having to measure up to white societal standards and norms of a community where the rhetoric of colorblindness prevail. Though most do not see murder as the outlet, black men in America from all socio-economic strata can relate to Christopher Dorner and Aaron Alexis in at least one important way, their persistent frustration working in a predominately white and hostile work environment where people of color are made to feel devalued in a supposedly equal society.
Most Americans refuse to talk about race, believing it does not exist the workplace. Yet, corporate America is teeming with unexamined white racial attitudes that Blacks must reconcile in some particular way. Because black men have largely been shut out, left out, locked up and left behind, there is very little else to turn to but one’s pride. We humans care a great deal of what others think and feel about us. The threat of being shamed and humiliated are often the trigger for violence, particularly in African Americans who are more vulnerable to these shame-producing and debilitating effects.
The degree of social isolation and exclusion that Dorner and Alexis both professed is a reality for many black people, especially black professionals, who know all too well about the difficult and isolated experiences they encounter in white spaces. Ignoring the perceived experiences and lived realities of subaltern peoples and seeing them as less competent than their white counterparts has been shown to result in a higher probability of mental health disorders among Blacks. So maybe it was mental illness and reports of schizophrenia that drove Alexis to commit these unspeakable acts. And maybe it was also the pressure of being black and male in a society of white domination and group entitlement that at least contributed to his collapse. These very public displays of mental corrosion by black men are a growing cancer in our society, a scourge that, in part, stems from deep systemic inequalities. And just maybe, we are asking the wrong questions when it comes to efforts of stopping these horrific and tragic events.
Dr. Darron Smith is an assistant professor in the Department of Physician Assistant Studies at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Follow him on twitter @drdarronsmith.
The intersection of race, space, and history in local government policies and politics illustrates the profound impact of spatial arrangements on the reproduction of systemic inequalities. As Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin point out in Two-faced Racism: Whites in the Front Stage and the Backstage (2007) significant research supports the argument that much of the social space in the United States is highly racialized.
Two articles provide significant insight into how such racialization occurs within the context of the efforts of cities in California to reconfigure historical neigborhoods and nullify and erase the presence of dominant ethnic identities from the landscape. Wendy Cheng’s perceptive article entitled “’Diversity’ on Main Street? Branding Race and Place in the New ‘Majority-Minority’ Suburbs” (2010), describes two redevelopment campaigns in the Los Angeles West San Gabriel Valley cities of Alhambra and San Gabriel that epitomized the struggle for white economic, social and political dominance over Asian American and Latino pasts.
In an area in which Asian immigrants and Asian Americans constitute half the population and Latinos represent more than a third of the population, the polarization of the city of Alhambra is reflected in residential patterns, with the largely white northern area reporting a median household income 50 percent higher in 2000 than the southern area comprised of a heterogeneous mix of working-class to middle-income Mexican-Americans and Asian Americans.
Cheng documents how the redevelopment of Alhambra’s Main Street involved high-pressure tactics by the city to excise small Chinese businesses and replace them with new “mainstream” businesses. For example, the city gave Starbucks a “tenant improvement allowance” using $136,000 of HUD money and bought an 8,000 square-foot building for over $1 million with an additional $350,000 in upgrades to lure Tony Roma’s to open a restaurant on Main Street, after the chain restaurant had refused several overtures. And the redevelopment agency literally gave Edwards Theatres a 43,000-square-foot parcel of land and $1.2 million form a HUD loan to construct a movie theater. To cap these efforts, the merchants in the Downtown Alhambra Business Association invested in a diversity branding effort with banners that included an older blond white woman, a young Latina woman with freckles and dark hair, a middle-aged Asian man, and a young blue-eyed, blond white woman.
Similarly, in his article entitled, “From ‘Blighted’ to ‘Historic’: Race, Economic Development, and Historic Preservation in San Diego, California” (2008), Leland T. Saito chronicles how the determination of historic designation in the city “favored Whites and overlooked the history of racial minorities” (p. 183). The city commissioned studies on the Chinese Mission, Douglas Hotel, and Clermont/Coast Hotels, three properties associated with Asian American and African American history, and concluded they were not historically or architecturally significant. The Chinese Mission, established in 1927, was a major social center for the Chinese American Community. The Douglas Hotel was the most important entertainment venue for African Americans when it was established in 1924 and the only hotel that would accept African Americans in the 1930s and 1940s. The Clermont/Coast Hotel also had significance for the history of the African American Community.
It was only through the lobbying efforts of the Chinese American community and the African American community that the Chinese Mission and Clermont/Coast Hotel were preserved and received historic designation. Due to the lack of a major lobbying effort, the Douglas Hotel was demolished. Saito concludes from these examples that
“public policy is an important site of struggle over the meaning of race” (p. 168) and that “race remains significant in the formation and implementation of development and historic preservation policies” (p. 182).
Community groups, however, can play a key role in counteracting the racial consequences of public policy.
Both these articles present evidence of how space is intertwined with race and history in the identity of place and underscore the importance of community activism and minority participation on city councils. Such activism and solidarity are critical in overcoming divided racial, economic, and geographic interests, ensuring the voice and representation of minority populations, and changing the dynamics of power relationships within municipal governments.
An article in the Grio by Lola Adesioye, a Black British writer, is titled “Riots were a long time coming for black Britons,” and helps to explain some of what is going on in the London and other urban rioting. She notes that
The riots have been ferocious. Buildings have been burned down, shopping centers looted, police and firemen attacked. People are afraid for their lives and their livelihoods.
And that many people there are calling even for the British army to come in and put down the rioting. We might note that the U.S. used military units to put down black revolts in the 1960s in several major cities, so this public and political orientation is not new.
Adesioye points out that the rioting started in the Tottenham area of North London, where conflict between the mostly white police and young black men has been at a high level for decades. Indeed there was another major riot in that area some 26 years back, involving earlier generations of white police and black Britons. The riot in 1985, as with these riots, started because of an apparent police malpractice incident. The Tottenham rioting reportedly started when a mostly white police unit called Trident shot and killed a black man, father of two, and nonviolent protests over that killing turned violent. The Trident unit had been started as a community-generated attempt to deal with black-on-black killings in the area, but she notes that many in that community now see it as “just another way in which the police can oppress young black men,” much like they do in the United States.
Adesioye summarizes her view of the causes of the riots by black Britons this way:
This violence is as a result of . . . unexamined racial issues, a crumbling sense of community among black people with no real leadership, unresolved class issues, social exclusion coupled with a lack of opportunities, a deep recession in addition to an extremely high cost of living, a new government who has been cutting back on services for youth, disenfranchised young people, and a dependency culture. . . . Black people are underrepresented in all areas of public British life from politics, to economics. . . . and we are overrepresented in crime and incarceration.
She further notes that the rioting has spread to other areas and involved nonblack young people, especially working class white youth, who also face major economic and social class barriers, especially under the new austerity policies of the new conservative British government.
What is entirely missing in Adesioye’s article, however, as in almost all research on U.S. rioting in the 1960s-1970s (and most research on racism and racial inequalities today), is a clear focus on the white, mostly male elite decisionmakers who are immediately or ultimately responsible for most of the underlying conditions of these British riots. These “racial issues” seems a very tame and deflecting way of saying “white racial oppression.” The white elite’s drive to keep British (and U.S.) society highly unequal lies behind most items in her list, yet even she does not call out these powerful whites. The beginning of wisdom on these matters is the what Michael Parenti calls the “reality principle,” that is the necessity of calling out and making transparent the underlying oppressive reality and the main agents in that reality. Race riots are always about oppressive underlying conditions, and often triggered by precipitating incidents caused by the police.
And do look at the individual comments made by people after the end of her article. Numerous whites make extraordinarily racist comments. And there are several comments about the possibility of racial riots in the United States. Of course, we as a country hold the record for the number of race riots over a few years in the 1960s and early 1970s—more than 500, with many lives lost and many people injured.
Given the extreme and growing economic inequality in this country between white and black Americans, and indeed between rich and working class whites, how long will it be before we see similar urban rioting in the United States?
The conservative right-wing has remained unabashed about its racist talk. We have heard vitriolic metaphors such as “Don’t retreat, reload,” “armed and dangerous,” and talk evoking the second amendment to encourage (white) Americans to protect themselves against a “tyrannical government,” and I might add, African Americans and other Americans of color. This kind of discourse does not contribute to the development of the great debates on which this country was found and how it solved its problems. Even though we live in the 21st century, our conservative right has returned to the so-called “glorious” days of the Jim Crow era, where the lynching of African Americans was the way of southern life.
For Neal Boortz, an Atlanta-based right-wing radio host, the subtle practice of racism against African Americans and other Americans of color is not enough. Boortz is advocating that whites should take up arms to defend themselves against “urban thugs.” He literally has generalized the criminal activity of some urban black males to the entire black community as well as Hispanic communities. One danger of Boortz’s statement is that some hate-mongering neo-Nazi will use this as an excuse to target at random innocent Americans of color as an excuse to eliminate them, becoming judge, jury, and executioner. Boortz also fails to understand that crimes in urban areas are usually “black-on-black” crime.
Therefore, is Boortz using the phrase “urban thugs” as racist imaging of urban Black men generally — and maybe thereby justifying some whites’ attacking them? The late Marable Manning once said:
Black-on-black crime usually victimizes the working and poor, but it can paralyze virtually all Black people of whatever social class or neighborhood. It produces for capitalism and the state a deep despair, a destructive suspicion [blacks] hold against each other. It thwarts Blacks’ ability to achieve collective class consciousness, to build political agencies which advance [Black’s] material and cultural interests, and develop [themselves] economically. It forces Black inner-city merchants to strap revolvers on their calves or shoulders, while serving poor patrons behind plexiglass shields. It stops Black doctors from making emergency calls to their patients who live in the midst of a tenement slum or ghetto high rise complex. It instills a subconscious apathy toward the political and economic hierarchy, and fosters the nihilistic conviction that nothing can ever be changed in the interests of the Black masses.(p. 66)
Manning does not mention whites in this passage. His statements are limited to black neighborhoods regardless of social class. Any sensible law-abiding American citizen would never approve of criminal activity by any individual, regardless of race. But urban black males and their families live in poverty because systemic racism has incarcerated more black males at a greater exponential rate than poor white tattooed males, because of the outsourcing of jobs from urban and rural communities to overseas, because of the lack of educational opportunities, and because of the lack of a strong support system.
Moreover, systemic racism has economically underdeveloped the urban Black community (see Marable Manning’s book above). Because of the black male’s frequent inability to head his household because of the above mentioned reasons, many black women and children have remained in generational poverty. But the most devastating effect systemic racism has had on blacks was reducing them to animals in the minds of whites to justify the ill-treatment of them, then blaming them for their subsequent poor conditions.
Here is a new and interesting report on “race and place”published by PolicyLink and California Endowment that explores much important territory with data on the costs of structural and systemic racism. It begins this way:
One number may determine how healthy you are and how long you live. It is not your weight, cholesterol count, or any of those numbers doctors track in patients. It is your address. If you live in a community with parks and playgrounds, grocery stores selling nutritious foods, access to good jobs and to other economic opportunities, clean air, safe streets, good schools, ample health care and social services, and neighbors who look after one another, you are more likely to thrive. If you live in a neighborhood without these essentials, you are more likely to suffer from obesity, asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or other chronic ailments You are also more likely to die of a stroke, a hear attack, or certain forms of cancer. You are more likely to be injured or killed during a crime, in a car crash, or simply crossing the street. Healthy people and healthy places go together. This simple fact, supported by a deep, evolving body of research, is propelling a broad- based movement in California and in this nation to improve the health of people. . . .
and then adds:
Woven throughout the nexus of health and place is the often unspoken strand of race.
There is much food for thought in this research report about the links of space and racism in this report, and it uses a “structural racism” perspective from the Aspen Institute.
Yet the report never really calls out white decisionmakers as such, as the responsible white parties for the many racial inequalities the report’s data document so well. ‘Tis interesting how most critical reports on racial inequality still defer to white sensibilities in that way. Is this sidestepping of white racism by name a sort of white racial frame in its liberal version?
Part Three. Recall that along with a few other Middlebury College students, I spent my January winter term working in a public school in the Bronx. Our Education Studies Program coordinated this valuable learning experience outside of Middlebury’s “bubble.” However, I found this “bubble” not easily escapable; at each turn I found the racist pumps that keep it inflated and witnessed rapid “repairs” to any momentary puncture of its surface, those longing for the fresh air of a counter-frame silenced by the same dominant ideologies that plague the halls of my campus. The following is part of a reflection on my experience.
One day I helped out in a classroom so loud the principal made multiple visits, but to no avail. As the substitute teacher yelled at the students, they responded by making fun of him. “McLovin” they taunted, something to which he did not take kindly. A vicious cycle of verbal attacks escalated between them as I sat down with a small group of students and worked to make the assignment accessible to them. As the pocket of students were producing amazing work, it was clear that if we simply divided up the room amongst us we could reach the students more individually and help them better to engage in the material. When I offered that suggestion to the sub he shut it down without the least bit of hesitation: “That would work in an ideal world, but this happens to be a world of criminals and rapists, and that is who these kids are going to become.”
When I informed the assistant principal of his remarks she halted in disbelief; the administration had just praised him with the offering of an extended position at the school. She thanked me for telling her and ensured he would never be welcome in the school again. “I never would have known,” she admitted. “He looks just like an educated guy.”
It was obvious that white, clean shaven, tie, and a dress shirt equaled educated. Just as obvious was the fact that if any of those elements were lacking it did not hold through. In defining the educated through the white racial frame, the assistant principal defined who her students will never be.
The BBC has a news reports on organized French human rights protests against French government expulsions and other negative treatment of French Roma people (so-called “gypsies’):
Thousands of people have been attending rallies in Paris and 130 other French towns to protest at the government’s policy of deporting Roma people.
A majority of French respondents in polls support the government expulsions and other apparent “cleansing” of these mostly working class residents of France:
About 1,000 Roma (Gypsies) returned to Romania and Bulgaria from France last month, while official figures record that 11,000 Roma were expelled from France last year. The League of Human Rights, which called for the demonstrations, said it wanted to counteract government “xenophobia” and what it described as the systematic abuse of Roma in France.
French President Sarkozy has apparently expanded these high-profile campaigns for political reasons, even against opposition in his presidential cabinet:
Prime Minister Francois Fillon hinted that he disliked the crude links being made between foreigners and crime, while Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he considered resigning over the issue.
There have been violent encounters between the Roma and non-Roma police in some cities:
In mid-July, riots erupted in Grenoble after police shot an alleged armed robber during a shootout. The next day, dozens of French Roma attacked a police station in the small Loire Valley town of Saint Aignan, after police shot dead a French Roma man who had allegedly not stopped at a police checkpoint.
French politicians’ expulsion and other policing actions have seen dissent and criticism from international sources like the Vatican and the United Nations, even the European Commission.
The article largely ignores the large scale racialized discrimination that targets the Roma, something Jessie detailed here. I am not very familiar with these recent French events, or the background. Perhaps some of our viewers can add some savvy comments on the situation in France.