Baltimore and beyond: where are the affordable housing?

A recent repot from Mc Kinsey Global Institute warns us “… Decent, affordable housing is fundamental to the health and well-being of people and to the smooth functioning of economies. Yet around the world, in developing and advanced economies alike, cities are struggling to meet that need. If current trends in urbanization and income growth persist, by 2025 the number of urban households that live in substandard housing—or are so financially stretched by housing costs that they forego other essentials, such as healthcare—could grow to 440 million, from 330 million. This could mean that the global affordable housing gap would affect one in three urban dwellers, about 1.6 billion people.”
McKinsey Report

Nationally the lack of affordable housing has been reported on by multiple sources, in Baltimore and beyond. The most recent figures suggest the largest lack of affordable housing in the US. “Like many American cities, Baltimore faces a serious housing crisis. Vacant lots and homes pervade the landscape, yet a large number of residents are struggling to find affordable places to live. Close to 50 percent of metropolitan Baltimore households are “rent-burdened” — defined by the federal government as paying more than 30 percent of income on housing. The once thriving industrial economy that powered this city, like so many across the country, has all but vanished, leaving in its wake a shrinking population and a dearth of well-paying jobs to afford the ever-increasing rent. Of 80 low- and moderate-income Baltimore jobs analyzed by the Center for Housing Policy, less than 35 percent make enough to meet the threshold of rent affordability for a two-bedroom apartment.”
alternet

The Atlantic

Baltimore Brew

And yet, we continue to build housing for the wealthy, gentrify our neighborhoods, displace our social challenges into someone else’s back yard, and guarantee profit for the rich.

Tonight neighboring cities Baltimore and DC are fed up. At a rally this evening in front of city hall in Baltimore residents and advocates called for a negligent city government to resist the continued privatization of public services: the most recent being water in the city of Baltimore. But the lack of affordable housing and living wage jobs due to corporate take-over of our public servants and and inadequate funding of our programs runs a close tie to the issue of water privatization.

water rally

In DC today, long-time residents are participating in a sit-in at Councilman Bowsor’s office. Why? Because their public housing rent has been increased more than 50%, some as much as $600/month, after the limit on affordability expired and city representatives allowed market forces to run public housing. This pattern of privatization is running like wildfire in our cities as strapped governments turn over their duties and responsibilities to corporations. In effect, they are continuing their negligence to the public by not only assessing lower tax rates on the wealthy, but also offering additional tax breaks for developers and corporations to build unaffordable housing, take over property and land with generous government subsidies, ignore equitable hiring practices, treat social challenges like dirt to be hidden from the eyes of the elite, and build schools which discriminate against the poor. When will we end these persistent injustices that sustain inequity? Perhaps we can take a lead from our DC sisters and brothers!
ONE DC

Eminent domain and land takings: private gain, yes; public benefit, no.

As we wait for Governor O’Malley’s promised 8000 jobs to materialize to benefit the public in the Johns Hopkins eminent domain-driven expansion into 88 acres of Middle East Baltimore, a recent publication in regard the benefit of eminent domain is of interest.

“Given the controversy surrounding the Kelo decision and the potential implications for long-run economic growth, it is worth investigating the effects of eminent domain for private
benefit. This paper contributes to the current literature by empirically examining the effects on government revenue and revenue growth. …Ultimately, we find virtually no evidence of a statistically significant positive relationship between eminent domain and the subsequent level of state and local tax revenue. In contrast, we find some limited evidence of a statistically significant negative relationship between eminent domain and the subsequent growth of state and local tax revenue. These results are robust across a variety of specifications.
Our results contradict one of the primary arguments often made by politicians in favor of eminent domain activity (and cited as a constitutionally valid justification by the Supreme Court)—that it will increase revenue. One possible explanation for that contradiction is that economic impact studies of new local developments are often plagued by double counting and the omission of opportunity costs. As a result, the subsequent impact on the local economy, and therefore on government revenue, is often much lower than anticipated. While much further work is needed in this area, one implication of our results is that voters ought to be much more
skeptical about politicians’ and developers’ claims regarding the revenue impact of eminent domain activity for private purposes.”

Takings and Tax Revenues: Fiscal impacts of eminent domain.

While private benefit to private developers is consistently clear in redevelopment in our abandoned communities mediated through tax breaks and credits, loans and grants, and contract favoritism and cronyism, Harvey’s analysis of the dispossession of black and brown communities during the foreclosure crisis provides a necessary comparison. He asserts that the 40-80 billion in assets lost in the African American and Latino/a communities during the foreclosure crisis parallels the 40-80 billion gain for the Wall Street gang during the same time period. These relationships of wealth lost through dispossession of land in black and brown communities and wealth gain in private corporations must be quantitatively confirmed. Because we know such studies will not be initiated by government-who facilitate private capital in wealth dispossession of our most vulnerable-it is up to community-driven organizations, think tanks, and community activists to take it up. Waiting for those who steal from the poor to tell us exactly how much they gained from their thievery does not benefit the poor.

David Harvey

The displacement of the people in Middle East Baltimore was trumpeted by politicians and Johns Hopkins, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and its sister followers as benefiting those impacted by historical segregation and systematic disinvestment. The health of the people would be impacted positively was the consistent media soundbite. Some studies continue to affirm that voluntary relocation of residents during development provides a positive impact on health, greater in some than others. However, a careful analysis of all of the impacted residents in communities targeted for redevelopment shows a different picture. Research by Sabriya Linton and others confirm that drug activity which was previously localized in the Middle East community before displacement/redevelopment was decreased after displacement but correlated with an increase in drug activity in neighborhoods where residents were relocated-shown by number of calls for narcotic services. Such data confirms the historic and current redevelopment practices which intend only to remove the ‘faces of poverty’ but not to help or remediate the causes or social or health consequences of poverty. This study shines light on the disrespect of and lack of benefit to local residents by the powerful stakeholders who ignored the organized efforts of residents of Middle East Baltimore demanding greater benefit for their entire community, social programs to help those in need, and work force development processes which would ready their community to benefit from the redevelopment. This research by Lipton adds to the data showing the intention and result of this redevelopment project of Johns Hopkins and its development proxy, EBDI, to ignore and displace its existing community partner in an attempt to expand to attract a whiter and richer population to be its neighbors-gentrification.
S-1. Linton et al. J Urban Health 2014

These data offers us evidence of the capitalist means of expansion-through dispossession of land and human right to health and safety- mediated by a premier hospital and research and teaching university willing to ignore the health and social needs of its community neighbor. We are offered a glimpse of the definition of what so-called anchor institutions actually intend to carry out in the communities they inhabit.(submitted for publication, From Anchor Institutions to Anchored Communities: Displacement, Ethics, and Countering the Threat to Public Health Lawrence Brown et al). In fact, this pattern of development through displacement dates back more than a century and continues today under new labels: urban redevelopment, community revitalization, RAD, Choice neighborhoods, HOPE VI, Promise zones- mediated not through industrial capital but private:public partnerships and neoliberal practices.

Participatory democracy: right-to-vote, right to participatory development, and the right of government to prevent foreclosure

Right to vote in Hong Kong

Assuring democracy in countries which claim democratic governments is already difficult! What about countries which make no qualms about non-democratic systems of government? The current struggle in Hong Kong for voting rights in Hong Kong’s upcoming election is just that. Residents of Hong Kong are demanding that they have representative vote of their region’s interest in the new chief executive-governing leader- and have been ignored by the powerful government bodies of China and Hong Kong. (1) In response students in Hong Kong have taken to the streets and occupied them, initially called Occupy Central. This has expanded to the general public now called ‘the Umbrella Revolution or Movement’. Their intention is to gain support for their demands for some form of participatory democracy. This past weeks’ demonstrations witnesses this struggle and has garnered solidarity across the globe-from US to Germany, Australia to Belgium, UK to Canada. (2) In spite of such massive turnouts and show of people power protesters have met with violence from the police authority as well as anti-democratic thugs. The occupation of public space continues today with people camping on streets as Hong Kong demands public / human rights to determine their lives-participatory democracy. (3)

Right to equal participation in development in DC and Baltimore:participatory development

In the District of Columbia, public housing residents have been organizing and demanding that the city government and housing authority stop development which threatens their displacement and continue gentrification. OneDC, a local grassroots organization has led the momentum for resident-owned and -driven development for many years. Now they confront city officials to demand that they are part of all development plans which involve their community. (4) Such a demand, representation in decisions that affects your life, seems quite reasonable and certainly would be an assumption for those in power. But for these same individuals who make decisions for public housing residents, their exclusion of residents from planning seems to suggest that these rights should not be afforded to low-income and of-color communities. Such blatant discrimination in housing and community development and urban planning in the US is meeting greater challenge as evidenced by OneDC’s challenge to the powerful stakeholders’ deciding the faith of public housing residents in the ‘People’s Platform’. (4) They are demanding participatory development.

In Baltimore, RHA (Right to Housing Alliance) and residents have led the charge to assure HUD’s recent program to privatize public housing (RAD, Rental Assistance Demonstration) does not leave residents with no rights. While some have called for minimizing or removing private capital from this demonstration project, Baltimore has demanded that residents remain a direct party in the decision-making between management and tenants. (5,6) Even though everyone would expect such a right, HABC appears to feel that public housing residents should relinquish their rights to decision-making in their homes. Such discrimination by Baltimore’s city leaders, supported by neo-liberal policies and programs of the US continue to assure that those without power remain separated from and at the mercy of those with power. RHA has organized and rallied in support of more transparent decision-making and negotiation on contracts being formulated for private developers-demanding participatory development. (6, scroll down for full article by Cohen).

The development for community equity has not found a foothold in Baltimore as yet, but we have hope that participatory development will rise up in Baltimore. The recent project announced in Sharp Leadenhall could potentially lead to more gentrification or equity: dependent on resident’s organizing and assuring a place at the decision-making table with a Community Benefits Agreement in hand for negotiation. (7) Anything else would leave too much dependence on the developer to make a ‘good-faith’ effort to accomplish in regard benefit to existing community. In the past, these ‘good-faith’ efforts, whether in legalize or verbal, have amounted to nothing. This is evidenced by the current Hopkins/EBDI/Casey development in East Baltimore which continues to project moderate and market rate housing, more Hopkins buildings, a school to attract higher income residents, a hotel and a park intended to benefit new residents while affordable housing or permanent employment for local residents remain missing. East Baltimore residents may well heed West Baltimore’s lead in suing the state of Maryland for development of transit-Red Line train system- which excluded their participation in deciding on a route which will disrupt their community and cause harm. (8) All of these development projects continue to receive large government subsidies in the form of new market tax credits, state grants and loans, TIFs, and PILOTs. The city of Baltimore could easily assure that these government subsides make their way back into the pockets of residents by legislating affordable housing in each development is assured for 99 years, a living wage is paid by all new businesses which receive government subsidies, and mandating local/co-op business ownership in each development area. New York City recently legislated a realistic living wage mandate for development and businesses which receive more than $1 million in city subsidies. (9) The current wage of $7.25/hr required by law in the state of Maryland will do absolutely nothing to lift working class people out of poverty, if they benefit from employment in new or ongoing development projects-some ongoing development projects are exempt from recent local-hiring mandates exempting major developments that have benefitted unfairly from public subsidies such as the Hopkins project in East Baltimore. Until we revolutionalize the accepted unjust and neo-liberal policies and practices governing housing, community, and economic development in Maryland we will continue to grow the health and wealth disparity gap in Baltimore, already ranked in the top 10 (of 50 big cities) in regard income inequality. (10)

Government can prevent foreclosure

Across the US citizens affected by the foreclosure crisis-an outcome which was enabled by the banking industry and real estate groups- are demanding their rights through legal strategies. Several cities are challenging the courts to allow city governments to use eminent domain to take late or default mortgages and negotiate with residents for a more affordable rate. For example, New Jersey admits that this strategy may force banks to negotiate with owners for fear of their mortgages being taken by the city through eminent domain. (11) Richmond, California has already implemented eminent domain to seize mortgages greater than the value of homes with San Francisco pending a decision next week on similar strategies. The two cities are considering pooling resources and promoting a national movement toward taking underwater mortgages back from lenders and offering home owners a more affordable mortgage. (12) The use of eminent domain in this way forces lenders who participated in driving up the housing market through loans based on ghost collateral to re-negotiate in more just ways with those they offered credit. City governments willing to stand up for public rights welcome in a new era of democratic participation through public offices. Cities which continue to document foreclosure challenges, like Baltimore, would benefit from similar strategies for participatory democracy. (13)

participatory democracy

1. Live stream from Occupy Central / Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong
2. Solidarity for Hong Kong across the world
3. Ongoing coverage from Hong Kong news sources
4.People’s Platform for an Equitable DC
5. Rental Assistance Demonstration Program
6. Right to Housing Alliance, RHA
7. Proposed mega-project in Sharp-Leadenhall get tentative support
8. W. Baltimore homeowners sue state to block Red Line
9. DeBlasio to raise living wage
10. Gentrification, inequality, and the paths toward housing equity.
11. New Jersey Mayor address foreclosure problems
12. San Francisco to decide on eminent domain to prevent foreclosures
13. 2007-2013 foreclosure data in Baltimore, MD

People matter: Human impacts of planned development

The one-day conference at MIT on Saturday September 13, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm, EST will offer reflections and opportunities to shape the discussion and future of development, without displacement. symposium site

Offer comments to the the questions framing the day by linking to critical reflections from those doing the work. view questions and share comments

Project Homeless Connect: one day to act!

Here is an opportunity to act!
Project Homeless Connect in Baltimore

The 3rd Annual Project Homeless Connect-Baltimore will be held on Thursday, October 2, 2014 at the Baltimore Convention Center.

The event provides on-site services for the local homeless community, such as medical exams and screenings, haircuts, legal advice, identification, access to healthy food, and more. Participating homeless and at-risk individuals and families are paired with a volunteer guide, who helps participants navigate the various services and share the experience of the event.

See flyer for volunteer information or go to the website!

PHC 2014 Volunteer Flyer With Shifts

Are we coming home to racial healing or greater separation?

A search for the terms ‘racism’, ‘race relations’, ‘racial discrimination’, ‘bigotry’ and ‘post-racial’ of 6 of the highest circulating newspapers in the US 7 years before Senator Barack Obama made his announcement to run for president and 7 years after that announcement offers some facts for reflection. In the latter 7 years there is a decrease in the number of times the first 4 terms appear either in the title or the content of these newspapers, the last term ‘post-racial’ has shown an increase-from 1 to 9. (1). This is a small glimpse of the silencing of racism as a real phenomena in our society, before and after the first African American took the highest office of the white house. This research shows that during the process of President Obama having to prove his birth in the US, not once did any of these periodicals link race or any permutation of this word to this act of racism. When these major print media collectively and systematically neglect racism and its devastating effect on those who are oppressed and those who perpetuate the systems that allow this to occur, we could interpret this as a society which is well on its way in healing from racism. Another interpretation is that the reality of society is told to us by those with power, and reflects their perception of society. The perception of society, of those with power, is significantly separate and different from the reality of people of color who continue to suffer from a history of racism daily. The perceptions of those with power, are gained through their learning and experience from the lens of white privilege. They have the privilege of deciding and living their perception of reality; one which neglects the history and consequences of a country birthed and grown in racism. But what else would we expect? We can only know what we have experienced and learned from those who gather around us. And here lies the challenges of transitioning from greater racial separation to racial healing: a learning of the experiences of non-white America by white America.

Acknowledging the past and the present racial tensions

The appearance of ‘post-racial’ in these periodicals also supports this sense of a healing reflecting again a lack of understanding of the reality of people of color in America. For those who perceive a ‘post-racial’ society in their daily lives, the shooting and killing of an African American teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO this past week may seem like an anomaly. Like the anomaly of Trayvon Martin’s murder and the anomaly of the more than 400 young black men killed by police yearly. This evidences the systematic violence against black men, institutionalized by our legal system. But this evidence of racial separation and oppression is evidenced not only in the legal system with police brutality, we see it within the judicial system with the recent removal of key protections of the voting rights acts, and the systematic challenges to affirmative actions. We see it in the political system by the leadership of the Republican party and their funders in attacking programs and polices of the current administration and the disrespect of President Obama by elected representatives not seen before with other presidents. The educational, housing, labor, and health institutions also perpetuate significant racial inequity evidenced by the gap between whites and people of color in: accessing and completing high school and higher education, living in disinvested and abandoned communities, home values, income and professional accomplishments, health care access and outcomes.
The presence of racial separation and tension of Ferguson, MO plays out in many segregated areas across the US. Such neighborhoods of majority low-income and African Americans or Latinos/as were created by a history of housing segregation supported by the government and private interests. While a majority of white America fled to white enclaves in the suburbs, banks and government discriminated against African Americans for house loans creating segregated communities of blight in the 1950‘s and 1960‘s and the ghettos of today. The disinvestment in infrastructure, schools, recreation, housing, security, sanitation, and health services in these neighborhoods assured continued inequity in health, income, education, and the skill-sets necessary for movement out of poverty. This history assured access to all resources for whites-low income and higher-while black people had to struggle against significant odds to access any resources or opportunity for mobility. (2)  Ferguson is an example of such a neighborhood, scorned by the majority white establishment whose privileged perceptions do not allow them the grace to understand this history of racial segregation and their benefit from it. The way one white colleague describes this is “white people are like the horses running down the track with covers over their eyes”.

Such white-powered privilege sows and reaps a perception that disallows the opportunity for understanding the history and experiences of those without white-skin privilege. It allows a clear separation between ‘us’ and ‘them’ which mandates security and ordering of society based on one group’s ideology and ‘truths’. This privileged existence for those with the power to remain unquestioned is what defines white supremacy. White supremacy is the visible and at times invisible structures built by and fueled by white-powered privileged individuals which formulates clear sets of rules and rights for white-skinned individuals who do not have to consider the other: life according to white America, reality through white America’s eyes. The killing of an African American teenager, unarmed with his hands in the air, running away from a white police officer pleading not to be shot affirms the privilege of white supremacy. And yet this witnessed example of violence, while a tragedy for this teenager, his family, his community and all those who may have been touched by him, is also an opportunity for us to confront the history of racial segregation and violence yet again and direct our energies toward racial healing. Will this be that drop that runs the bucket over and create a new landscape for healing and wholeness?

Acting for healing

Watering truths of our collective past to flourish so we can begin to heal the soil for something beautiful to grow is a step in creating a new landscape of racial healing and equity. Acknowledging the racist practices and policies which built our country, the present day outcome of such practices, and the steps necessary to move toward racial healing are conditions that can bring about truthful dialogue and action to repair its consequences. Delving into the roots of current racial and ethnic inequities-income, educational, housing, health- is a part of this unearthing of the causes and consequences of American racism. There is no indicator whereby African Americans and/or Native American Indians and/or Latinos/as do not lag behind white Americans, none. Such stark evidence is the result of white-powered institutions orchestrated by individuals either ignorant or blinded with their own self-interest to utilize such systems for their and their descendants benefit. The systematic exclusion of non-whites from these benefits are the chronic conditions we are facing today. Racial healing, mediated through truth and reconciliation meetings around the country, city by city, intending to understand and repair this past is a practical step to begin anew together and move forward. They must be consistent and address the acute and chronic issues we face today. The effect on whites and non-whites must be understood, benefit and suffering, with everyone at the table to share and listen. Goals must be set, parameters for evaluating process and outcomes implemented, follow-up to assess changes coordinated, and measurable indicators analyzed and reconfigured for changes necessary along with the funding necessary to assure this occurs. Indeed six meetings or six months of gatherings will not undo and begin the process for changing such systemic belief systems of ‘us’ and ‘them’; we must be committed to the years necessary to undo the more than 300 years of racial myth and reality embedded in our consciousness and hearts.

Johns Hopkins Hospital service workers protest for a livable wage, 2014

Johns Hopkins Hospital service workers protest for a livable wage, 2014

But this is only one step on our path of healing. We must place a priority, a political will, for racial equity. We must fund affordable housing and decrease homelessness; fund health centers to effectively serve our poor and racially disenfranchised; we must educate, in all schools whether in white or non-white neighborhoods, about the true history of racism and segregation so the future generations do not repeat their ancestors mistakes; we must remove ineffective people from offices who perpetuate racial division to benefit those historically in power; we must divest from banks and lenders like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase Bank and other members of the ‘wall street gang’ who prey on black and brown people to assure continued poverty of people and neighborhoods; we must past laws in every city that requires a living wage is paid to all and redistribute unfair incomes given to presidents and top officers of corporations to fund this, private or non-profit; we must tax the rich to fund the path out of poverty and racism which redistributes this wealth assembled through exploiting the poor and people of color; we must invest in our historically disinvested neighborhoods like Ferguson in Missouri and East Baltimore in Maryland which visually continue to affirm the deep racial divides which exist and which must be addressed from the ground up for racial healing to occur. In effect, we must protest the status quo and accepted perception perpetuated by a white-dominated America that the American dream is accessible to all. We must do so in the streets, the board rooms, the class rooms, the halls of justice and the ivory halls of institutions, the press rooms, the bathrooms, the clinics, the employment lines and the unemployment lines, the churches, temples, synagogues, in nursing homes and child-care centers, in solitude, in community, in silence and out loud, we must protest for peace and racial equity now.

The vitality of our communities, our country, is at stake until racial healing occurs. The term ‘superpower’ used by the current president and his predecessors is a farce until we act at home the way we preach abroad. Mainstream media perpetuates the myth of a harmonious USA living an American dream desired by other countries, alternative media provides us too often the grim reality of the effect of racist and classist division. While each provides a glimpse of someone’s reality, having all our realities acknowledged so we can choose and envision change based on truth is critical. The media must help us broadcast truth to the masses. Change must come at all levels and begin with us: what privileged white-determined perceptions do we have of our brothers and sisters of color, whether of color or white? We must challenge those with power to imagine and practice change by stretching their privileged belief systems. Our current administration must increase the chances that this American dream they broadcast abroad is obtained first, by the descendants of the first Americans who slaved and died for this country- the black and brown people of America-even while we invite other vulnerable and privileged  populations from abroad to reach for that dream with us.

Acutely, rebuilding communities such as Ferguson, rife with racial tension, with the voice and presence of community is a step toward healing any disaffected community. In a recent interview President Obama noted that the war-torn countries in the Middle East cannot be rebuilt with the US going in and telling them what is best for them; it must happen from within these countries, led by the affected people. He continued that anything else is simply temporary, an interim period that puts a lid on things, until destruction later erupts. This truth must be brought back home, in America, supported by the powers of this administration. Such wisdom can usher in a new way of community healing, one that respects the experience of those most impacted by the many band aids that placed lids on the racial tensions that exists across America. Ferguson, Missouri is an opportunity for us to heal these tensions and abandon the path of separation we have been on for too long. Acting today for racial healing continues the path of our ancestors and assures that future generations realize freedom from the tyranny of racial oppression.

1. Major news reporting on race*

2. State of America’s children

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Historical Trauma, Colonizing Capitalism, and Systemic Racism: Addressing the Damage Caused by Serial Forced Displacement

Lawrence T. Brown
_____________________

This is how it’s done. When people are sitting on [stuff] that you want, you make ‘em your enemy. Then you justify taking it.Jake Sully in Avatar

The problem of the 21st century is forced displacement. As capitalists and corporations march around the world grabbing real estate, resources, and rare earth minerals, the people of the Earth face the loss of their homes, neighborhoods, and livelihoods. Without land and the spaces to create and sustain viable cultures and communities, the people of the Earth shall perish.

In the United States, the colonization of land is at the heart of American history. Equipped with the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, Europeans swept across the land, plundering and murdering from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, eventually colonizing the land and displacing several million American Indians and Alaskan Natives from nearly 2.3 billion of acres of land to only 96 million acres of land.1,2 In the midst of today’s immigration politics—which demonizes immigrants coming from Central and South American countries—it is worth noting: early Europeans were the first “illegal aliens.”

During British colonial period, the colonizers erected powerful educational institutions where certain scholars in the employ of slaveholding capitalists created pseudo-scientific racial categories.3 Schools such as Harvard and the College of William and Mary opened what were called Indian schools to “civilize” and Christianize the indigenous people.3 Eventually, Europeans assumed whiteness as identity and as a rationalization for racial hierarchy and land domination. American Indians were racialized by Europeans as the “Red Man” and “Redskin” to facilitate colonization and to demean and dehumanize indigenous peoples.4 Whites colonized what became known as the United States, displacing Native Americans from their property and erasing their histories. Disconnected from their lands, Native American tribal groups were and remain affected by historical trauma, genocide, and health disparities.5

The History of Serial Forced Displacement among Descendants of Enslaved Africans

Black people were also uprooted and disconnected from their West African homelands due to the European-led Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade after Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. Approximately 12 million Africans were captured and packed on ships for the benefit of capitalists in the slave economy, i.e. slave traders, bankers, insurers, and plantation owners. Approximately 1.8 million captured Africans perished on African shores or in the ocean during the Middle Passage. Over 4.8 million Africans were shipped to Brazil alone. Another 4 million Africans were shipped to the Caribbean. About 400,000 African people were transported to the 13 emerging British colonies in the future United States.6

Before the Civil War in the United States, enslaved Africans had blackness imposed on them as a racial category and rationalization for dehumanization and rendering as property. By the beginning of the Civil War, Black people numbered 4.4 million strong.7 After the Civil War during a meeting, twenty Black leaders, led by Garrison Frazier, gave General William T. Sherman the reconstruction plan for the newly freed population of Black folks—every person should be given 40 acres and, later, a mule.8 Sherman then issued Special Field Order 15 which gave 400,000 acres of land to 40,000 Black people. As a sympathizer with the Confederacy, President Andrew Johnson overturned the Special Field Order 15 and confiscated most of the land back from the newly freed men and women.9

But in spite of the denial of reparations for enslavement and dehumanization, Black people would make a way out of no way. After Emancipation (1863) and Reconstruction (1865-1877), Black people built and created independent communities, universities, economic districts, and churches. They purchased millions of acres of farmland10 and constructed hundreds of neighborhoods11 throughout the heyday of Black Codes and Jim Crow Apartheid from 1878-1965.

But while valiant Black activists toiled, bled, and died to secure the civil rights victories of the 40′s, 50′s, and 60′s, the majority of whites in government and the banking industry colluded to confiscate Black lands and colonize valuable Black Space. The USDA worked to dispossess rural Black farmers of their land.10 The Federal Housing Administration subsidized suburbs for whites and did not insure Black mortgages in the cities.12 Additionally, the Federal Housing Administration strongly enforced racial segregation via restrictive covenants.12 The Veterans Administration also engaged in discriminatory mortgage lending practices while administering educational and job training benefits in a racist manner.13 The Urban Renewal Administration partnered with white downtown business tycoons and historically segregated universities to displace Black residents.14 The Federal Highway Administration and Bureau of Public Roads partnered with the highway construction industry and local leaders to build highways through the middle of thriving Black neighborhoods.15 Altogether, over 1 million households were displaced from the late 1930’s to the early 1970’s by federally-sponsored actions,12 affecting at least 2 million Black people and hundreds of Black communities.11

In the private finance sector, white bankers engaged in redlining, denying mortgages to would-be Black homeowners, guided by the maps drawn by the federal Home Owners Loan Corporation.16 White terrorist mobs destroyed Black independent communities in Wilmington, NC in 1898 and Rosewood, FL in 1923 while murdering dozens of Black folk in Atlanta, GA in 1906 and bombing Black Wall Street in Tulsa, OK in 1921. White lynchers—often led by terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan—lynched 3,000+ Black folks, sometimes stealing their lands as in the lynching of Isadore Banks in Crittenden County, AR in 1954.

Up through the early 1900s, the reign of violence instilled a justified fear that partially induced 6 million Black folks to leave the South during the Great Migration, starting in the 1910′s. During the Red Summer of 1919, whites violently raged against Black people in over 30 cities in cities such as St. Louis, MO, Washington DC, and Chicago, IL.17 Later in 1946 and 1947, white Chicagoans used violence to repel Black homeowners from living in segregated white neighborhoods Park Manor and Fernwood.18 But the reign of violence followed Blacks wherever they congregated and established collective wealth and economic security.

With the serial loss of Black farmland, homes, neighborhoods, and economic districts, the Black community has been and continues to be threatened by colonizing capitalism. I define colonizing capitalism in this essay as land-grabbing or “landjacking” for profit, using banking mechanisms, corporate development, or government legislation to displace less powerful people. The majority of Black people today are living in the New American Apartheid,19 characterized by systemic racism and colonizing capitalism that facilitate serial forced displacement.

The History of Colonizing Capitalism in Black Communities

Banks and financial institutions have historically operated and currently operate with a toxic combination of colonizing capitalism and discriminatory racism in Black neighborhoods. In some ways, it makes sense that banks and insurance companies operate in such a manner once we account for the fact that American slavery helps explain the rise of some of today’s banks (Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Wachovia/Wells Fargo) and insurance companies (Aetna and New York Life).20 From the 1930s through the 1990s, banks and real estate agencies were allowed to practice a variety of mechanisms to damage the homeownership prospects of Black folk, including restrictive covenants, redlining, predatory lending, racial steering, and blockbusting. Leading up to the financial meltdown and Great Recession of 2008, banks such as Wells Fargo, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Citigroup were the key culprits in targeting Blacks and Latinos for subprime mortgage lending, leading to mass foreclosures.21,22

Targeting Black communities for originating subprime mortgages is known as reverse redlining, 23 another financial tool that is being used to transfer home ownership from families back to banks. 24 Some Wells Fargo bank employees called their anti-Black subprime mortgages “ghetto loans.”25 Altogether, we can trace today’s banking practices to a recent time where banks did not let Black folks obtain mortgages due to residential restrictions and redlining at the behest of the federally-sponsored, eugenics-based, racially-demeaning, color-coded maps.26

The ultimate result of systemic racism and colonizing capitalism for many African Americans is historical trauma and serial forced displacement, through gentrification, mass foreclosures, eminent domain for private interests, and the dismantling of public housing. Since presidents and Congress members have been defunding the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and downsizing public housing over the past 40+ years, local public housing authorities have been selling their land holdings to private corporate developers so they can obtain valuable urban properties.27 HUD has utilized land disposition as a main tool of HOPE VI in the 1990s and 2000s to demolish public housing and is now using Choice Neighborhoods and RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration) in the 2010s. With these methods, local housing authorities are selling public land to corporate developers for private profit.27 Often, local nonprofits and black municipal political leaders have partnered with local governments to facilitate this arrangement.28

What is certain is that millions of Black people have been forcibly displaced over the past 25 years. The analytic firm CoreLogic reported that since 2008, there have been approximately 3.4 million completed foreclosures (as of March 2012).29 Over 250,000 public housing units have been demolished with another 285,000 slated for demolition.27 Eminent domain was expanded by the Supreme Court in Kelo v. New London in 2005 and has been shown to primarily target areas occupied by Black and poor populations.30 The same is true for gentrification.31 Therefore, it is not unlikely that in the past 25 that at least another 2 million Black people have been forcibly displaced and hundreds of Black communities have been impacted.

The Health Effects of Sustained Historical Trauma

Disconnected from their homelands, farmland, coastal and waterfront properties32, independent communities, urban neighborhoods, and private homes, African Americans—similar to Native Americans—are affected by colonizing capitalism and serial forced displacement, both resulting in a disproportionate burden of health. The resulting root shock and the rising stress when attempting to cope with serial forced displacement is still sending shock waves through the bodies and spirits of those affected by the loss of their homes, communities, and identity.33 The ongoing damage caused by colonizing capitalism and serial forced displacement has resulted in sustained historical trauma in Black communities. Michael Sotero describes historical trauma as follows:

…historical trauma originates with the subjugation of a population by a dominant group. Successful subjugation requires at least four elements: (1) overwhelming physical and psychological violence, (2) segregation and/or displacement, (3) economic deprivation, and (4) cultural dispossession.34

Given the history described above and Sotero’s definition, it is clear that Black folks in the United States as a population are impacted by and victims of sustained historical trauma. The history described above for the Black population in the United States are the “elements of successful subjugation” described by Sotero as necessary for sustained historical trauma. To a varying degree, the same can be said for American Indians, Alaskan Natives, and undocumented immigrants from Central American nations.

Research is presenting more and more compelling evidence of what is known as the ‘transgenerational epigenetic inheritance’ that can provide the key pathway by which historical trauma exerts an influence on the health of affected populations.35,36 According to Alan Horsager, transgenerational epigenetic inheritance means that “…experiences and environmental exposures can change the way your DNA works (without changing the DNA itself) and this could be passed on to your offspring.”37 Thus, the impact of colonizing capitalism and serial forced displacement in the past may be passed epigenetically from prior generations to present populations.

Since forced displacement is still taking place in many Black, Brown, and Red communities, the primary effects of historical trauma are still being experienced today in many ways. As Sotero explains:

Trauma response in primary generations may include PTSD, depression, self-destructive behaviors, severe anxiety, guilt, hostility, and chronic bereavement. Psychological and emotional disorders may well translate into physical disease, and vice versa.34

In response to an interview concerning diabetes among the White Mountain Apache posed by researcher Tennille Marley, a tribe member and elder Sharon stated:

Our people are descendants of ancestors that were here that did not have these types of disease before what we call ‘The Arrival.’ The ancestors did not have immunity against certain things that were brought over by the early Europeans—the Conquistadors and the colonizers. I believe that our problems with diabetes go back to those times.38

Elder Sharon’s response perfectly captures the sequelae of health conditions that began after the imposition of colonizing capitalism and forced displacement enacted by early Europeans. The elder continued:

…this historical trauma is handed down intergenerationally from our ancestors … even though our contemporary Apaches might not be aware of that. They will deny it … but they’re not aware that our parents, our grandparents, suffered from [it] and … how the mistreatment has brought these things down to us … Genocidal policies by the U.S. government and by the Conquistadors strongly affect our health now.38

Many Black people are also in denial about historical trauma. But the medical and health-related evidence is rising. Black people who have been displaced recently can experience negative health outcomes ranging from cardiovascular to mental health, including everything from heart failure to nervous breakdowns, from anxiety attacks to deep depression, and from loss of cultural identity to wrestling with suicide. In many ways, being forcibly displaced even today opens fresh wounds that have never healed.

Of course, the immediate stress imposed by an impending forced displacement poses a health risk that Mindy Fullilove brilliantly conceptualizes as ‘root shock’.33 But a broader conceptualization of stress can help explain how historical trauma remains such a visceral force in the lives of many Black people in the form of an ‘aftershock’. Due to what can be described as perseverative cognition, the victims of historical trauma might worry about history repeating itself or might ruminate on the devastation wrought by past forced displacements. Perseverative cognition is another key pathway by which historical trauma exerts an influence on the health of affected populations. Brosschot and colleagues describe perseverative cognition as the following:

Worry, rumination, and many related cognitive processes in the literature, such as anticipatory stress and cognitive intrusions, are conceptually close but are usually not equated with one another. … The core feature of these repetitive cognitions that is responsible for the effects on somatic [or physical] health is that they contain cognitive representations of a psychological problem, a difficulty, a crisis, or, in other words, a stressor. To refer to this central shared feature, we suggest the term perseverative cognition. Thus, we define perseverative cognition as the repeated or chronic activation of the cognitive representation of one or more psychological stressors.

This research indicates that the chronic activation of the cognitive representation of historical trauma can introduce a more chronic form of stress that simultaneously and negatively activates cardiovascular, immune, endocrine, and neurovisceral systems.39 Put simply, chronic stress derived from worrying about and ruminating over sustained historical trauma wears down the body’s systems.

Most Black folks are acutely aware of striking and sobering incidents that speak to the sufferings and struggles, the trials and tribulations that come with being Black in America. Thus, when due to this awareness, a Black person has experienced forced displacement in their lifetime, they may continue to worry or ruminate over lost land, lost homes, lost dreams, and lost opportunities long after the act of forced displacement itself, activating chronic stress. Because of serial forced displacement and other community injuries, Black folks know historical trauma can reemerge at any time. Due to ongoing systemic racism, they know that it often will.

Serial forced displacement is a lethal social determinant of health, one that reverberates as a series of aftershocks following the initial root shock.33 The damage wrought by historical trauma is passed epigenetically from former generations to current populations. Perseverative cognition concerning historical trauma can induce worry and rumination that prolongs stress. As loved ones die and communities are broken in the aftermath of forced displacement, people lose hope; they wither and are left to face the punishing fates. But the negative health outcomes are not due to fate, chance, or lack of personal character. Rather, it has often been the result of the societal design described above.

Addressing Sustained Historical Trauma

We need a movement to increase people’s education about the role of colonizing capitalism and systemic racism in leading to serial forced displacement, root shock, aftershocks, and long-lasting negative health outcomes. We need a movement to help medical practitioners and lay persons alike understand the health effects of sustained historical trauma, especially among those who have been forced to leave their homes recently or who have been victims of racist violence and incidents.

We need a movement that starts in Baltimore and activates 10,000 people and 100 organizations to divest their money from banks that offered subprime mortgages disproportionately to Black people just as the U.S. Presbyterian Church is divesting funds companies that enable Israeli occupation of Palestine.40 We need a movement where local Black churches and civil rights organizations align to create an anti-foreclosure fund to help people keep their homes, especially since some of them have worked hand-in-hand with the banking system to expose their parishioners and members to subprime mortgages.

We need a movement in the halls of power to pass new anti-displacement legislation, prevent banks from engaging in subprime lending, and enforce affordable housing a human right. In order to prevent the damage that is caused by colonizing capitalism and serial forced displacement, we need to infuse the curricula of our educational systems—from kindergarten to college—with the methods by which colonizing capitalism and systemic racism combine to cause death and destruction to Black, Brown, and Red people.

We need a movement to hold Black churches and civil rights organizations accountable for facilitating foreclosures by partnering with banks just as the Jesus of Scripture whipped the money changers in the Temple. American churches are in need of reform as they have accepted or condoned colonizing capitalism, serial forced displacement, and systemic racism. As Edward Blum describes Du Bois’ thinking on the matter:

…organized religion, at least in the western world, [has] failed miserably because it [has] been co-opted by big business and land-grabbing nations. The world of finance corrupted the world of faith, Du Bois proclaimed, and this created a world where demons disguised themselves as angels, bullies paraded as benefactors, and the blind claimed that those with eyes could not see.

Ultimately, in order to heal the damage that has already been caused, we need to address the physical and mental health symptoms existing in the Black populations today—especially among the descendants of enslaved African in the United States (DAEUS)—and prevent them from occurring in the future. To do so, we need to institute and implement land restitutions and reparations for those who have been harmed by serial forced displacement and sustained historical trauma. Only land restitutions and reparations will allow the Black community to restore and rebuild Black neighborhoods, independent communities, waterfront properties, and economic districts while reconnecting to farmland and land next to the waters that brought our ancestors over. If we decolonize our society and undo racism, we can reconnect to the land, articulate and maintain an empowered identity, walk in communion with our ancestors, address historical trauma, create sustainable ways of living, and be made whole.  

ReferencesEndnotes

Educational and geographic segregation, generational racial poverty: can we build something different in Baltimore?

The gap between the educated and uneducated, segregated by place or geography, is not new to America. This new study by Diamond out of Stanford University however confirms that there is greater geographic segregation between those with and without education and access to resources over the past 20 years. (1) Per the report the current income gap between those with and without a college education is 75% and results in an affordability gap, in housing, education, and other amenities. This results in neighborhoods and cities becoming more segregated by education and income. “Rising college share then improves local amenities and productivity, leading to a more desirable city, which again benefits the college educated at the expense of lower skill workers forced to relocate elsewhere. These types of policies force the local policy maker to decide whether he or she wants to improve the city at the possible expense of less skilled inhabitants’ economic well-being.” The study confirms that the lack of sufficient resources in low-income neighborhoods and the resultant place-based inequities that predict health disparities. (2) What is lacking in the analysis is how racial dynamics affects this current and future segregation/gentrification of our neighborhoods and cities.

However, what we do know from the recent study by Alexander and colleagues out of Johns Hopkins University (The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood) is that while those born into poverty are likely to remain in generational poverty in adulthood, African Americans born into poverty are much more likely to remain in poverty than their white counterparts born into poverty. (3) This data confirms anecdotal reports through almost 30 years of tracking of 800 children born in neighborhoods of low-income in Baltimore and represents a pattern across similar cities in America. Such patterns include a 30% employment gap between white and black men in the little remaining blue-collar jobs in Baltimore; 49% employment gap between whites and blacks who had dropped out of school; 100% income gap between low-income whites and blacks even while low-income white men had the lowest rate of college attendance or completion compared to low-income black men in the study. Findings from the study also confirm that low-income black neighborhoods were more likely than low-income white neighborhoods to be negatively impacted by urban renewal practices, resulting in displacement and severed social networks.

Many of us like the neighborhood feeling of Baltimore. But our neighborhoods are segregated and difficult to ignore, if we are a little awake. The Baltimore Neighborhood Indicator Alliance 2012 data confirms that our city is segregated:

Neighborhood                                Families living in poverty (%)                 Income (K)
Greenmount                                              38                                                        21

Perkins/Middle East                                 27                                                         19

Roland Park                                               0                                                         90

Mt. Washington                                        0.8                                                        72

Canton                                                       2                                                         77

Southeast                                                20                                                          29

Yes, we have some historic and present day challenges. We know this from talking to folks  who hold the history and we know this from research, in and outside of the city. How are we going to build a new Baltimore that is less segregated and not continuing a well-documented and current history?

The Mayor recently declared that its ‘institutional partners’ of universities will change Baltimore for the better through bringing new residents to Baltimore. We are wondering  who it’s being changed for? (4) According to these studies, without clear intention to assure affordable housing, access to quality education and the resources to support a child ready to learn, and employment opportunities for low-skilled and non-college educated residents of all races, Baltimore will continue the current path of gentrification and racial inequity. One look around the gentrifying areas of Harbor East and Middle East Baltimore provides us a vision of the future of a rebuilt Baltimore: $10 latte in Harbor East and $200K luxury condominiums in Middle East tells us who we are marketing the city to.
The recent negotiations between low-wage workers at the Johns Hopkins Hospital which resulted in some workers still unable to afford health insurance and homes in neighborhoods supporting well-being, hints at a continued path of income and geographic inequity via a leading employer and institutional partner who refuses to set an example to all new businesses that Baltimore is a city that demands the right to a living wage.(5) (According to research out of MIT, a livable wage in Baltimore Maryland for one adult with one child is $22.88, with two adults and one child, $20.51; the hospital agreed to a top $15 for employees of 20 years (6)) The privatization of public housing in Baltimore with no assurance that they remain affordable in perpetuity and new development with limited time-periods for affordable housing prices places current low-wage earners at risk of future displacement. (7)

The plan to rebuild Baltimore by increasing the population- by attracting a different race and class which separates out based on education, income, and race- without a plan to prevent gentrification and further segregation commits the city toward a continued gap between the haves and have nots.

With no real government oversight to assure affordable housing and access to quality education is permanent, local hire and livable wages as mandatory rules of engagement with current and future development, it is hard to imagine how low-skilled and non-college educated residents will be able to afford the new Baltimore. We have not assessed the current rental needs of existing residents to assure that sufficient affordable housing is available. WIthout knowing the needs it is difficult to plan to assure that sufficient affordable housing is built. Targeted development dollars and tax subsidies which assure sufficient affordable housing, local business opportunity which matches the market needs of low-income residents,  access to quality education and training to assure competition in the changing workforce, adequate social and health programs which prepares the workforce,  and living-wage employment that assures self-sustainability must be part of a plan to rebuild a different Baltimore. Until town hall meetings, city legislation, the media outlets, neighborhood groups, education and health groups, private and government policy and funding address these vital anchors of equitable community rebuilding to assure all its residents can stay and participate in a changing Baltimore, we are simply orchestrating the disposal of the most vulnerable to attract the more powerful. Basically, we are not doing anything different.

There is wisdom in learning from history and yet our elected leaders and resourced elites, blinded by the camouflage of bright lights, new buildings, and greed, seem to have missed this opportunity for change. Is it too early to predict that another generation is being ushered into poverty even while the intellectuals continue to churn out data, theorizing the exact percentages that may escape, and why? We have the data, we have people telling their stories; we simply need the political will and the compassionate understanding that until we all have an opportunity to participate for change, nothing fundamentally changes for those absent from the negotiations. And yes, we have the resources!

1. Educational and geographic segregation
2. Segregated neighborhoods and health inequities
3.The Long Shadow
3b. The Root: White privilege extends to the poor
4. Institutional partnership to rebuild Baltimore
4b. Institutional partner rebuilds for the privileged
5. The Real News Network: Unfinished negotiations between Hospital workers and Hopkins Hospital
5b. In These Times: Hospital union claims victory in Johns Hopkins Contract Fight
6. Living Wage in Baltimore, Maryland; MIT
7. Privatizing public housing in Baltimore: RAD speak-out

Corporate dollars can control development, health, and justice, until we organize and investigate

A victory against gentrification in NYC

Artwashing gentrification

Brooklyn: before and after gentrification

Walmart closes in the midst of union demands, judge rules unfair

Millionaire supreme court justices

Labor department targets Hopkins doctor for denying workers compensation…

…and the investigation that revealed the corruption

US Health System spends the most on health/capita and ranks last among eleven countries on measures of access, equity, quality, efficiency, and healthy lives

Finding the space/peace to nurture our collective struggle

Upcoming event to nourish the peace and calm we NEED to continue our struggle for justice and equity!

MindfulnessRetreat.finalfly

Register at: Registration site

Baltimore events.SaveDate .final

Honoring our Pain, Nourishing our Joy: Coming Home to Peace
A non-residential mindfulness retreat for People of Color

Friday, August 1st 6:30pm to 8:30pm
Saturday, August 2nd 9am to 5pm

Please plan to attend both Friday and Saturday
$50-$80 sliding scale
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Sacred Activism: Creating Justice through Peace and Understanding
A Day of Mindfulness for Activists

Sunday, August 3rd 9am to 4pm
$35-$60 sliding scale
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For both events: Sliding scale; please give at the highest level you can afford so others can attend.
No one will be turned away for lack of funds.
Please bring a dish (vegetarian preferable) to share for a potluck lunch on Saturday and Sunday.

Location and more details soon to follow. To receive updates or more information contact Marisela Gomez at socialhealthconcepts@gmail.com

Facilitators for both events: Sr. Jewel and Marisela Gomez

Sister Jewel (Chan Chau Nghiem) is of African American and European American heritage. She has ordained with Thich Nhat Hanh as a Buddhist nun 14 years ago and became a Dharma teacher 7 years ago. She has led retreats in the U.S., Europe, Thailand, Brazil, India and Southern Africa. She initiated the first People of Color retreats in the Thich Nhat Hanh community from 2004 to 2007. She is energized by sharing mindfulness and compassion, especially with children and young people, and by bringing mindfulness to teachers and schools. She spent the last 5 years at the European Institute of Applied Buddhism in Germany. She is editor of Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh, and has articles and chapters published in several books, including Together we are One; Dharma, Color and Culture and others.

Marisela Gomez is a mindfulness practitioner, public health scholar activist, and physician. Of Afro-Latina ancestry, she has spent more than 20 years in Baltimore involved in social justice activism and social determinants of health research, writing, and practice. Since 2004 she has been studying and practicing mindfulness and other forms of meditation at Buddhist practice centers in US, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand and France. She has helped to organize retreats for People of Color at Blue Cliff Monastery in New York since 2007, a monastery in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.