Power corrupts and harms: Baltimore, policing violence, and its supporters

The recent report by the Department of Justice confirms what many already knew: the Baltimore Police Department uses its power to discriminate -in all aspects of law enforcement- against African Americans, cis- and trans-gendered women. The targeting for stopping and arresting was consistent and institutional. And the neighborhoods targeted were racially and economically profiled. Again, to be clear, none of this is new to most black folks in the city, or any other city in America. What is new to Baltimore is a history of accountability that will be public; if we decide to hold the process accountable. Because a public awareness of lack of accountability is our history and current practice. Black and brown folks have been requesting an investigation for years. It was the public display of protest after the murder of Freddie Gray while in custody of the police that finally led to an investigation of the department.

In light of the recent exposure of the secret surveillance of citizens by the Baltimore Police Department, and the vagueness and corruption of those involved -Baltimore Community Foundation (BCF), the mayor- not so sure that citizen protest is enough. The powerful forces that are leveraged against the black body is devastating and harmful to not just the body of those directly targeted, but the minds and bodies of every black and brown body. Every black and brown body is at risk when one body is at risk. When the lighting is low enough, when the police are in a hurry and angry/fearful enough, and when the vigilantes are feeling brave/fearful enough, every black and brown body is at risk. In some neighborhoods, it’s business as usual, as the DOJ report verifies. So what will we do to maintain a public scrutiny of the process of accountability by the police department?

CahalPech

Who do we trust?

Clearly the non-profit industrial complex has proved itself again to be bought by the rich evidenced by BCF’s receipt of private dollars to support surveillance of the public. But we should not hold them solely accountable. We must hold the entire non-profit industrial complex in our city accountable: the Casey foundation for their funding and collaboration of removal of more than 800 families in Middle East Baltimore for the Science and Technology Park at Johns Hopkins. The Abel Foundation for funding the initial plan, and the Weinberg and Goldseker Foundation and others for their continuous support of EBDI and New Forest City development of the Johns Hopkins Biopark.

These ways of building and rebuilding communities have lead to communities of fragmentation and disinvestment. Let’s stop letting the white and black and brown faces, paid by these same institutions which directly and indirectly support this uneven development, continue this history of exploitation. This continuous exploitation of neighborhoods of black and brown people-serial forced displacement- has set the path for police brutality. This disinvestment and continuous segregation while building the resources of those with power created neighborhoods of poverty and crime. Instead of investment of the wealth, accumulated off the backs of black and brown people, back into these communities they have been exiled and left to fend for themselves. The funding, when targeted to these communities, comes in the form of policing. So it’s no surprise that a wealthy couple in Texas, would pay for police surveillance of our communities and that a foundation would launder the monies for the police department.

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How do we heal, stop the violence, and assure equity?

Where is the moral code of our city and its “leaders”? Tomorrow the Baltimore Action Legal Team and Baltimore Bloc will convene a meeting to hear what residents of Baltimore feel should be included in the response by the police department back to the DOJ. The city council will have a hearing to learn what the Police Department had in mind when deciding to initiate secret surveillance of the citizens of Baltimore. While BCF is not a public entity, it certainly should be questioned by the city council for enabling this type of secrecy which continues the exploitation of the poor and black and brown bodies. Every development which continues to marginalize and gentrify neighborhoods should be called to task for continuing to create neighborhoods of easy targets for police brutality. Gentrification creates neighborhoods of risk by segregating those already facing hardships: like paying more than 30% of income on housing cost, having a low income, having poor health, have decreased educational attainment, etc. It’s time to look at the root causes of police brutality, and not be content with the outcome of the DOJ report. A thorough analysis requires us to understand how historic and current disinvestment by the city and its wealthy “leaders” have created communities prone to violence. For example the current Port Covington development in south Baltimore which seeks more than 600 million in public subsidy continues this history of exploitation of our tax dollars. The city council should investigate the disproportionate growth of the wealthy and the poor in our city and redistribute this wealth. It should investigate and repair how the city has chosen to ignore this legacy of separate and unequal community building and instead continue on the same path. Anything else is just a continuation of the superficial attention to the history of how the powerful have used racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia to exploit a capitalist political economy. How many more reports of the outcomes of this history do we need to change? As long as our communities remain fragmented, and our culture of violence, punishment, and corruption (itself a form of structural violence) continues, we will continue to get the same results. When will we wake up and do something different so we can become healthy and whole, individually and as communities? Let’s demand that our political leaders hold government departments and their powerful cronies/supporters accountable. Enough is enough Baltimore, we must stop the violence!

butterfly

Rebuilding Baltimore: How will we acknowledge and repair our history?

Today I was part of a panel discussion on the role of reparations in rebuilding communities (Marc Steiner Show, WEAA 88.9 FM); specifically Baltimore’s historic and currently dis-invested communities of color. There was a lot of wisdom on the panel, various suggestions. We acknowledged the historic structural racism that led to building chronic disinvested communities in many parts of Baltimore today. These are communities chronically disinvested in education, workforce development, social skills, transportation, health access, housing, recreation, and other core building blocks of healthy and thriving communities. Our conversation identified common threads which were consensual and built on each other. In summary we agreed that the 700 million Governor Hogan announced for demolition of vacant houses in historically abandoned communities should be:

1. secured and committed to this effort
2. used in accordance with a plan by impacted communities
3. used to rebuild Baltimore for existing residents and not only for the 10,000 being enticed to move here
4. used to create co-operatives and entrepeneural opportunities for impacted communities
5. distributed into organizations and projects working in cooperative and solidarity economics and worker-owned, and not the same neo-liberal non-profits who fill their pockets with dollars intended for impacted communities
6. used to build infrastructure to help communities organize themselves to be decision-makers
7. used to create opportunities to address the current social and health needs of impacted communities, instead of displacing these needs into other neighborhoods
8. used to build affordable housing for existing residents and new working class and middle class residents
9. used to create jobs for impacted communities, specifically for returning citizens, hire locally
10. used to ensure the people involved in rebuilding Baltimore are coming from a place of love to build a beloved revolution in our communities that would benefit all

Nothing here is new or unique to rebuilding communities. However, as a collective, such strategies would be new to Baltimore and acknowledge and begin to repair its history of race and class-based injustices. There has been one or two of these strategies used in past rebuilding efforts. But as a whole, a rebuilding plan incorporating such strategies would be revolutionary. In Race, Class, Power and Organizing in East Baltimore: Rebuilding Abandoned Communities in America, the last chapter provides a similar framework for rebuilding abandoned communities. The lessons came from the experience of a 2001 top-down, displacement-driven gentrification plan to accommodate the power of Johns Hopkins Medical complex in East Baltimore. This was a repetition of a similar plan in the 1950’s (Broadway Development Plan), the “highway to no-where” in 1970’s. There have been other urban renewal and “negro removal” strategies-serial forced displacement- since the early 1900’s in Baltimore and beyond. We know how to build inequitable communities.

Now, can we move in a direction of equitable community building? Can we get it right this time? Can we also come from a place of truth and acknowledge how white determination and superiority have dictated all aspects of community building? This truth drives and is embedded in how we have built and rebuilt communities of color, and white communities. This acknowledgement can begin the process of healing as we understand why we must take care to assure equity exists in process and outcome as we repair and rebuild impacted communities. For example, can we build on the model of the Gay Street 1 rebuilding project of the 1960’s in East Baltimore? In this majority African American and low income community, residents were surveyed for what they would like to see, housing was built to accommodate existing residents before their existing houses were demolished, residents organized and managed one of the housing developments (still standing today), residents planned for their high school. The parts missing from this community-driven plan was a robust social program and employment strategies for building employment training and opportunities. Ms. Lucille Gorham was a key community organizer and self-made planner for the community at that time. In later years she said she didn’t understand why vocational training schools was not incorporated in rebuilding communities: “not everyone wants to go to college”; and why social programs such as trash prevention and removal and housing rehabilitation and penalty to slumlords were not incorporated into these efforts. She saw these as basic rebuilding strategies for all communities. What was also missing was the competition from the powerful stakeholder of Johns Hopkins Medical Campus, encroaching on the land for gentrification. This allowed the city government to serve the needs of the public, and not the private giant. It was also a time of civil unrest after Dr. King’s assassination and the truth of racial injustice was glaring across the news and hearts of America. No doubt it affected government’s support of an African American-community-driven rebuilding plan. But what continued in community rebuilding in East Baltimore and elsewhere after the redevelopment was completed, was the same perceived superiority of white people and the inferiority of black-skinned people and the necessary segregation that this required. This truth was not acknowledged then, during the repair of the Gay Street 1 neighborhood. So the aftermath would naturally continue in line with inferior services and disinvestment in this majority African American community, with superior services provided in majority white communities.

We know what works and what doesn’t work to build equitable communities and inequitable communities. We first have to decide which we want to build. Let’s get it right this time and rebuild, repair, our Baltimore toward equity and sustainability! There are many issue-focused organizations on the ground already organizing toward equity: around community land trusts, affordable housing, living-wage, anti-grentrification, public housing, accessible health care, emotional healing/emancipation, transforming racism, transforming systemic police brutality, building worker-owned cooperatives, felony/returning citizen rights, environmental justice, mindfulness and social justice, arts and activism, and others. When we affirm the intersectionality of these issues and recognize how they all address building equitable and sustainable communities, we have the tools for transforming our communities. Can we find the space to see the interbeing nature of our struggles and connect across perceived boundaries? Acknowledging our historic struggle to address the human nature to hold one group superior to another, can begin to repair not only racial oppression. It will help us to dig out the root of the interconnection of all oppressions, our path to healing and liberating ourselves and our communities. Let’s rebuild Baltimore in a true and right way.

Two upcoming forums to continue this Beloved Revolution!

Community + Land + Trust: Tools For Development without Displacement
Thursday, January 28, 2016 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM
UMD School of Social Work Auditorium
525 W Redwood St. Baltimore 21201
Questions? Contact and Rachel@unitedworkers.org

WORKER COOPERATIVE JUMPSTART
A One-Day Training to Help You & Your Community Start a Worker-Owned Cooperative Business or Convert an Existing Business into a Democratic Workplace!
Where: IMPACT HUB* 10 E. NORTH Ave
When: SATURDAY JANUARY 30 10AM — 5PM
RSVP: contact
SLIDING SCALE $1 — $25

Policing: Social, political, economic violence

Policing as a means to serve and protect the public without discrimination and guarantee “equal protection under the law” came into effect in the US when the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was enacted in 1868.1 Previous to that policing was motivated by racial superiority, white supremacy, and racism during times of enslavement, to control the enslaved.2,3 Since then policing has been promoted as the means to serve and protect the public mediated by peace officers or police officers. In the 1980’s and 1990’s crime and police misconduct and corruption increased prompting research into the reasons people will follow the law.4 Studies suggested that only when they feel police officers are acting with legitimate authority conferred in procedurally just ways will people follow law enforcement.4 Procedurally just ways are described as: treating people with dignity, giving individuals “voice” during encounters, being neutral and transparent in decision making, conveying trustworthy motives.5

Policing in the US shows none of these characteristics in regard the increased shooting and killing of black and brown people. A recent survey in 2014 reported that non-whites are less likely to feel that the police protect and serve them, not acting in line with procedurally just ways.6 These perceptions came during a period of increasing scrutiny of policing in the United States after several fatal incidents. The incidents occurred over a 9-month period, of police violence resulting in the death of black men in Ferguson Missouri, Staten Island, New York, Cleveland, Ohio, and North Charleston, South Carolina .7 Since then, Baltimore Maryland , Chicago, Illinois and others ware added to this list. This is the short list, the one we are most familiar with and does not include all the other incidents of police violence not made public. A current example of this is the police shooting of 17 year old Laquan McDonald in Chicago. The video of his killing by a white police officer shooting him 16 times was intentionally kept from the public. This type of corruption does not support “acting in line with procedurally just ways”. The personal violence is clear in this video and confirms the fear that most black and brown people in America have in interactions with police officers.

Police officers and the departments which support them can be perceived as a means of collective violence targeted against dark-skinned individuals and communities. The World Health Organization defines violence as “The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation”. The type of violence is characterized by the person or group committing the violent act and include self-directed, interpersonal (violence committed by an individual or small group of individuals) and collective violence.8,9 The act of neglect is also included as a violent act when assessed from the role of power and intention of the perpetuator.9 WHO defines violence as it relates to the health and wellbeing of individual -and subsequently communities as individuals congregate to form communities. As a part of law enforcement agencies police officers are empowered by government and political bodies to act for the safety and security of all individuals and institutions. When such collectives perpetuate violence, targeted against one group of individuals, this is categorized as social violence by WHO’s classification system (Collective violence is further categorized as social, political and economic according to the motivation behind the collectives’ intention). Collective violence, in this case the police system, can be motivated and affected by one or all three of these factors simultaneously.

Racial profiling is an example of an institutionalized mediated social agenda which when incorporated into policing results in disproportionate harassment, arrest, imprisonment and death of non-white populations.10 Current trends in police arrests and incarceration confirm the continued racial profiling and targeting embedded in policing in the US.11,12 In 2010, black and Hispanic men were six and three times as likely, respectively, as white men to be incarcerated in federal, state and local jails, a gap larger than past decades and correlating with an increased gap in median household income and wealth between blacks and whites.13 Between 1980 and 2010 black males without high school diplomas were more likely to be in jail than those with high school diplomas, both groups more likely to be institutionalized than white males, with or without a high school diploma.22 Black men were more likely to be institutionalized than employed, significantly greater between the ages of 20-29 years.14 A recent report concluded that the excess deaths in black versus white men ages 15-34 years between 1960 and 2010 due to legal intervention is both longstanding and modifiable, regardless of income.15 This data supports previous studies showing deaths by legal intervention greater in black (63%) versus white (34%) men between 1979 and 1997.16

Political violence evidenced in neoliberal strategies of policing is well documented as the “War on Drugs”, affecting urban areas locally and globally.17,18,19,20 In the US, these policies were initially enacted in the 1970s and revived in the 1980s.21 The policies to enact the War on Drugs resulted in increased funding for personnel and subsequent increased arrests for drug charges: drug arrests increased from 7.4% of all arrests in 1987 to 13% in 2007, the greatest increase seen in marijuana arrests.22 A specific policy of the War on Drugs, Zero Tolerance, aimed at protecting the public space, was introduced in US cities like New York and Baltimore that had high crime rates and drug activity. This resulted in mass incarceration of young men, primarily African American and Latino.23,24 Zero Tolerance policies allowed police to stop and arrest individuals for quality of life offenses, such as drinking alcoholic beverages in the street, urinating in public, panhandling, loud radios, graffiti and disorderly conduct.25 Zero Tolerance policies enacted in urban schools resulted in school age children being punished more harshly for disorderly behaviors with expulsion, suspension, and juvenile court referrals, behaviors previously characterized as normal teenage mischief.26,27 Some resulted in arrests, contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline and the mass incarceration of black and brown people.20 The War on Drugs has singularly resulted in mass incarceration and depletion of young men from their communities, increasing community fragmentation, and decreasing this population’s opportunity to develop and determine politically and economically healthy and sustainable communities. 28

Economic violence includes attacks or perpetuation of violence by large groups for economic gain, i.e.. purpose of disrupting economic activity, denying access to essential services, or creating economic division and fragmentation.17 Incarceration of young men and women in urban communities lead to arrest records which initiate a cycle of potential chronic displacement and temporary housing, unemployment and underemployment, disconnect from services and family networks. Housing management offices can now legally discriminate against them for a record of incarceration under “one-strike you’re out” policies, another War on Drugs policy. Their communities lose the benefit of a generation of young men, unable to qualify for employment, housing, public assistance, educational assistance, and family reunification, continuing the cycle of economic violence and neighborhood and individual poverty. This cycle of community destruction through further fragmentation and uprootedness of young men via mass incarceration — facilitated by the school-to-prison pipeline — increases the likelihood of crime and alternative means of income and other behaviors results in unstable, fragmented, and unhealthy communities.29,30,31,32,33,34 For some this alternative economy provides for the basic essentials of food, shelter, clothing, and health care, even while it increases crime and risk of police violence and incarceration.35

Many of these urban communities targeted by the “war on drugs” and increased policing are communities which have been historically disinvested and abandoned since the early 1900s-violated socially, politically, and economically. Such communities were the targets of segregated real estate housing covenants and redlining tactics by the Federal Housing Administration who steered investment in housing and community development into white communities.36 In these disinvested communities, social fragmentation continued in the 1950s with urban renewal. Urban renewal resulted in mass displacement of many of these existing poor and of-color neighborhoods to make way for moderate and market rate development. Planned shrinkage continued with serial forced displacement of these communities followed by gentrification and mass incarceration. The psychological, social and economic effects of being uprooted from one’s home multiple times contribute to community fragmentation,37,38,39 and risk for low life expectancies and high disease burden.40,41,42,43,44,45

Both disinvestment and displacement undermine access to resources needed for health and wellness, including: functional schools, health and social services, parks and recreational opportunities, employment and workforce training opportunities, stable and sanitary housing, housing code enforcement, access to healthy foods, and infrastructure for mobility and physical activity. The resultant places of high unemployment, decreased educational achievement, low-income and high income inequality, predispose the people to generational poverty, high crime, high drug activity, and inequitable health outcomes.45,46,47 Corrupt policing and law enforcement systems continue this trend of social, political and economic violence currently experienced by hyper-segregated cities like Baltimore.48

The path forward toward equity and non-violence must address all ways policing and law enforcement agencies perpetuate these forms of violence.Training officers and all members of these agencies in transforming racism and oppression begins the personal transformation. But the institution and its policies must also be changed. Policies which block accountability and transparency and protect and propagate the violence perpetuated by these unfair systems must be challenged and changed. The larger systems of government and their private partners which rebuild communities and continue hyper-segregation must change. Government must be willing to transfer the wealth accumulated unfairly from the exploitation of black and brown people over the years. Such wealth can begin to change community and economic development in line with equity and sustainability-justice. Government must serve the people, not the rich. Training all public servants in the history of unfair wealth accumulation and the etiology of current wealth and health gaps must occur. Intentional structural, institutional, and individual transformation will begin to dig up the roots of violence-in policing and in all structures of the US.

Notes
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Who belongs in Baltimore? Community rebuilding must happen for everyone

I attended a conference several weeks ago at the Hyatt Regency on Light Street in Baltimore. So I took the free Circulator bus from Middle East Baltimore and walked along the water to the Inner Harbor. This was pleasant. But along with the pleasure came the awareness of the challenges facing our city. For example, the number of police officers at the ready in the Inner Harbor, ready to remove anyone who did not “look” like they belonged, was questionable. At one point when a person who “looked” like they may be homeless sat down at one of the empty tables in the Inner Harbor, there were 3 police officers who came by and harassed him: “what was he eating? where did he get it? The man said “I’m going, I’m going”. After this harassment they left and a few minutes later the gentleman got up and left. I suppose he would finish eating somewhere he belonged?

Exactly where is that? Is it somewhere where those who “look” like they belong can’t see him, won’t be distressed by his appearance? The saying “out of sight, out of mind” is deep and true. If we don’t see the despair and the obvious separation of how we exist in society, we don’t have to think about it and question why it is some have access while others don’t. Is Baltimore city able to be a home to all of us? Those with means and those without? Those who look like they belong? Those who don’t? What does “belonging look like these days? Obviously the Inner Harbor is being secured for those who “belong”.

The challenge of homelessness and poverty, racism and its continuing legacy, and its root causes continue in Baltimore. The different incidents on my walks through the Harbor and nearby areas confirmed this. Other incidents occurred at the bus stops. One man was sleeping at one stop. Another was sitting with his bag. I wondered how he could exist with only that one bag. I asked about his family: he had 4 children, the first two were twins and now 24 years old. He saw them regularly but not the other two. I offered him an orange then the bus came; that was across from the Reginald Lewis museum. At a stop near University of Maryland, someone asked me for change. I told him about the clutch for my 17 year-old car in the shop and how much that was going to put me back. He then said, “how are you doing?”. We had a conversation about challenges in life and how we take care of them, and ourselves. I offered him a peach and he accepted and left. At one of the 4 stops around Johns Hopkins East Baltimore campus, someone asked me if it was free to ride the Circulator. I responded yes but thought we should have to pay; “why should we ride free when folks taking the MTA have to pay?” We shared that maybe those with an MTA ticket could ride the Circulator for free, the rest pay. This conversation begs the question: who exactly is the Circulator bus for? As we rebuild Baltimore are we all clear as to who we want in the city?

One morning, about 730am, as I was walking across the skywalk from the Inner Harbor pavilions to the Hyatt Regency, I came across a woman sleeping on the steps. sleepShe had 2 paris of socks laid out on the cement to dry. Did she wash them in the fountain water near the steps? She had a sign next to her that said something like, “I lived with my father, then he died, then I lost the house and now am homeless”. Not 20 steps away, I entered the Hyatt Regency, its posh, air conditioned-chilled, and politeness stung me and I thought of the woman on the steps. There seemed so much space in this hotel, taken up with aesthetically-placed chairs to assure its occupants a spacious and easeful feeling. I wondered why couldn’t she access these spaces for the night, to rest. I recognized how artificial the built environment was for some; how much it seeks to create incubators, bubbles of separation and insulation from each other. Eventually we justify it as safety, not questioning the origins of separate and unequal that paved the road to today’s poverty. We don’t want those with access to have to think about those without. How are we rebuilding Baltimore to continue this legacy of separation?

As I walked through Harbor East, just in case the path favoring Baltimore’s inequity and separation did not penetrate enough, a reminder was provided by the recent signage in Harbor East: “Baltimore’s Luxury District: right this way”. luxuryThe cranes to the right and left of this sign, a timeless indicator of economic development and job opportunity, confirm that the city is growing. But for whom? The Harbor Point development on the left will usher in a high-rate cost of living while the expansion of the Four Seasons on the right will usher in luxury condominiums for those with means. In this era of privatization of public services, government gifting of tax incentives to the rich to develop, global permeation of local markets, we still have no plan for how we will assure that everyone who wants to stay in Baltimore benefits. Weak policies for affordable housing with no follow-up for implementation currently exists in Baltimore. No plans for equitable education and social services for our existing residents and no living wage policy exists. The trickle-down economics we believe in hasn’t quite trickled down into majority Black Baltimore where 37% of young Black men are unemployed, compared to 10% young White men. Still our politicians and public officials maintain that the generous benefits of our tax dollars to the wealthy to develop and live in Baltimore will trickle down to the masses. To fulfill this plan of trickle-down economics, we have a Circulator bus running in circles in areas that house the professional and “creative classes”, we have Zip Cars and bike lanes serving the same class. The Mayor’s plan for 10,000 new families in 10 years focuses on rebuilding of houses for $150,000. Low income people cannot afford this. Who will “belong” to Baltimore in the next 10-20 years? The City Paper’s annual “best of” series remind us of what our city leaders consider equitable and sustainable development: best example of gentrification seen in Middle East Baltimore shepherded by EBDI (East Baltimore Development Inc.), Johns Hopkins University and Hospital, Forest City, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and our local and state government. In this development of an 88-acre area just north of the Johns Hopkins Medical campus, our city and state leaders and its well-resourced profit and non-profit leaders are quite comfortable determining who belongs as they assured displacement of more than 750 majority African American and low-income families to make room for a different race and class of people. They know who belongs in our city!

Courtesy of BRACE

Courtesy of BRACE

One morning one rider on the bus reminded me of Baltimore’s resilience: “we can’t wait for them to give us jobs, we have to make our own jobs”. He went on to describe how his cousin made money by dressing up as Santa Claus, buying a camera, and making money during the Christmas season. He had a couple other local entrepreneurial stories like this. Baltimore’s residents need jobs, and support structures which help them to become business owners and not forever at the whim of capitalist anchors such as hospitals, universities, and non-profits. Jobs must provide a living wage so people can afford to live in the places being redeveloped. Only with living wage-jobs will low and middle-income people be able to stay in Baltimore and enjoy the fruits of this economic development occurring around the city. Instead of steering Baltimore city residents into the county-with housing vouchers not being accepted in the city- the city’s economic and community development plans must plan for affordable housing, self-employment, and living-wage employment. Anything else will continue to create the conditions of one-check-away from homelessness increasing around our city. As we prepare to vote for city officials, let’s ask each of them, whether new or old to the position, what they will do about affordable housing and integrative economies that assure local entrepreneurship and living wage-jobs. If our elected officials are not ready or willing to address our housing and employment, education, recreation, transportation, and health challenges in Baltimore, so everyone benefits, vote them out. It’s really simple, we have to vote with our feet and hearts, and not with our mouths.

While we act individually on the political front, we must continue to build our collective movement across multiple issues on a path toward equity for all. In support and elaboration of the Black Lives Matter movement, the southern movement, the Standing Up for Racial Justice movement, and all the university-based movements happening nationwide, we can build a movement to take back our cities so all can participate. Baltimore belongs to everyone who wants to be here.

Listening, so we can know what Baltimore is for!

As a long-time activist of Baltimore, I am tired of the same ole, same ole. I keep asking myself, “What keeps me here?” Will the racist and classist ways we rebuild our cities continue with a public transcript of “gentrification benefits everyone” even while rents continue to increase, pushing black people out Baltimore but the “creative class” is welcomed in with bike paths and a free circulator bus? Last night I heard a speech that inspired me.

Baltimore’s Black Mental Health Alliance (BMHA) convened its year-long series “Baltimore Rising: Summoning the Village” with keynote speaker Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove, renowned social psychiatrist and author who has studied epidemics in poor communities for 30 years. She noted the many ways that racism and segregation are undermining our cities and our health. She told us about urbanists who have been tackling these problems in other American cities and who demonstrated “elements of urban restoration.”

Based on this vast body of research and analysis, her call to action to us in Baltimore was clear. We must: 1. keep the whole city in mind in our planning; 2. identify what we are for; 3: make our mark. These are the first three steps in bringing together a clear and participatory vision by those who plan to stay, one that includes all voices to assure we move away from the historic sorting and segregation that has built Baltimore-and this country.

While grateful for this current and urgent call to action, I started to ask myself questions, “How will we do this? Who should be at the table? Where will the money come from? Can we all put our egos aside long enough to move with humility and grace through this process?”

Dr. Fullilove said, “Start with three tasks. Walk the city, tell stories, and find the remarkable places.”

This made sense to me. We can begin this process by listening to everyone throughout the city: the folks on the corners, in the houses, offices, laundromats, clinics, courtrooms, prisons, jails, cafes, boardrooms, classrooms, playgrounds, exercise paths, car garages, parking lots, and bus stops; the grocery stores, under the bridges, the recreation centers, in the synagogues and the churches, the senior homes, the day cares, the recycling trucks, the taxis, the train stations, and the airports, behind the camera and in front of the camera and microphone, in the kiosks, in the long lines at the city departments, in the yoga and mediation studios. This citywide listening will help us “keep the whole city in mind.”

We will also be able to identify what connects us all, across all neighborhoods, understanding what matters to us. We will find out what we are FOR. Then we will be able to “make a mark,” and we will move with intention and skill toward rebuilding a Baltimore of inclusion not expulsion, of economic redistribution not hyper-profitability. Baltimore is resilient and Black Baltimore is strong. Thank you, BMHA and Dr. Fullilove, for calling us to task, and reminding us that it takes a village to rise up, with understanding and dignity.

Let’s do it! DSC_0209

Submitted July 24 2015 to the Baltimore Sun’s Letter to Editor/Op ED.

“We cannot dismantle the Master’s house with the Master’s tools”

This quote of Audre Lorde’s is timeless, has been interpreted and re-interpreted countless times, and still pertains to the way we rebuild communities today. It may be a good time to revisit this penetrating truth, in light of the heightened awareness of the need to “dismantle the Master’s house”.

The Master’s tools, The Master’s house

We have been using the Master’s tools to build and rebuild communities of the United States and beyond, in the image of the Master’s needs. This fundamental truth and its legacy continues to unfold in ways most of us do not fully comprehend. The tools of a belief system of race and class oppression, gender and sexual oppression, and all the other power-generated means of separation, control, exploitation, and oppression have been used to build and rebuild communities over the centuries. Focusing in on racism, white supremacy and classism, these tools imprinted and evolved the genetics of this nation. These tools justified wiping out the Native American population, slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, urban renewal, mass incarceration, and segregation as “normal” ways to build and rebuild communities of Black, Brown, and low-income peoples. Indeed even the current president of the United States acknowledged: “It is incontrovertible that race relations have improved significantly during my lifetime and yours, and that opportunities have opened up, and that attitudes have changed. That is a fact. What is also true is that the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination, in almost every institution of our lives, that casts a long shadow. And that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on. We’re not cured of it. Racism, we are not cured of it”. The nation’s slow and long-awaited acknowledgement of this truth is prodded by the recent heightened awareness of killing of Black lives: killing of 9 Black lives in Charleston, SC by a white teenager, police killing of Black lives in South Carolina, Maryland, Missouri,New York, Ohio, Chicago…the list goes on. The uprisings against such acts of violence, highlighted the intricate ways community disinvestment and abandonment, community fragmentation, police violence, and wealth and health inequities, interact as causes and effects and continue to create conditions prone to violence of all forms. Listening to residents in East and West Baltimore before and after the uprising confirmed the way the Master’s tools, driving the machine of structural racism, continue to perpetuate these conditions:

“When I worked on Monument a police was stopping a woman walking down the sidewalk with her dog. Back then, you couldn’t walk you dog on the side walk. He was yelling at her, calling her black B. Sheila Dixon was walking by, was on the City Council at that time. She said to the officer something about not talking to the woman like that; the officer said she should shut up and keep walking. Next thing you know, he called Sheila Dixon a black B and started calling her name, grabbed her, cuffed her, and had her sitting on the side walk. [Sheila Dixon went on to be Mayor of Baltimore]. Another time, I was on Jefferson street in the afternoon. This police got out the car and told everyone standing on the sidewalk, sitting on their stoops, to get into their houses because this was his street and nobody was allowed outside. I don’t know what to think about that…felt like this could be a german gestapo, know what I mean?”

“Yes [been harassed by police]. We’re just standing in front of the Chinese carry out…just waiting for our food…and the police come and tell us to move along. Move along?…we’re waiting for our food…thought the side walk was public property…we can’t stand on the corner in our own community? they want to pat us down…ask us if we have guns…we call it “SWB”…you know what that means? means “standing while black”…if you black you can’t stand on the corner…did you know that? Not the first time I been harassed or seen other people. Too many times to count… yes it breaks up our community…you know why? because we can’t just stand around and talk…they think we’re selling…we can’t even talk to each other…more than two of us and they scared…you know where this comes from? from slavery…when they saw two or more of us talking they thought we were trying to do something…since then they been scared…”

“Yes, of course [been harassed]. First time was 16. Since then I get harassed/ stopped at least once every year. This is all a system problem. What happen with Freddie Gray is not a one-time occurrence. Last time got harassed, was driving and pulled over, profiled. Some guys walked past and distracted the police. They just left me there, told me to go. Didn’t pull me over for anything. They have to meet that quota.

“police all about themselves. take money for themselves when they raid drug houses, take the drugs too. Then people get killed because drugs missing, money missing”

Our belief systems embed and nourish systems of structural racism and white supremacy, built institutions that maintain racial oppression in place and continues to perpetuate violence against our communities of color, more physical and brutally severe in our low income communities. These are the “houses of the Master” eerily reminiscent of the past times, times we like to think are gone. When we compare the neighborhoods that were redlined in Baltimore (Black neighborhoods characterized as not worthy of investment by banks, supported by the Federal Housing Administration) from the 1930’s and the neighborhood maps of current day Baltimore we see a consistent pattern of disinvestment, almost 100 years later. Many of these neighborhoods disinvested in the 1930‘s remain the neighborhoods with the highest amount of poverty, low educational attainment, highest rates of parole, lowest rates of employment, lowest life expectancy, high rates of infant death, highest amount of abandoned and vacant houses, lowest rates of homeownership (maps courtesy of Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance).

baltimore redlining map
Figure 1.PopAA

Figure2.PovertyUnemploy

Figure3.HSVacant

Figure4.Ownviolat

Figure5.InfMLifEx

Figure6.GunhomPapro

Many of the neighborhoods disinvested in the 1930‘s remain the “houses’ created by the Master’s tools. Those currently with moderate or majority White populations are also the result of the separation and resultant community investment using the tools of the Master: creating communities of inequity, in all aspects of life. Why? because we continue to use the Master’s tools to build and rebuild communities: communities of separation by race and class. Listening to the voices of residents:

“Get the people some jobs…people can’t find jobs…and jobs that pay good money.”

“gentrification cause police brutality…the brothers don’t have anywhere to go now, they hang out on the street corner and get harassed and arrested for that”

“Ain’t none [referring to changes in the neighborhood]. govt gonna do what they want to do not mater what. if they did, they would be done help people. Look at Johns Hopkins, buy up houses and kick them people all out. “

“Less police, more schools, better housing. we need jobs. how can you support your family without a job. No job, you get into trouble. Been clean for a long time now…the job keeps me clean. Got something to do everyday. Things for the kids to do. They get in trouble because they got nothing to do after school”

“t’s not the money, it’s who the money is going to. If the money goes to the same three benefactors, who do the same thing every year, nothing is gonna change. I call it a “pipeline”. They the ones in the pipeline for all the funds for all these things [policing, education, housing, workforce training, recreation, street repair] get allocated to the same ones. We have to allocate our funding more broadly. We need more community oversight. More than that, we need community based organizations in the community doing the work, not outside the community. The money need to come to the community and stay in the community.”

“They giving the police so much money but they not doing their job.Need money to clean up the streets. I love Baltimore, don’t want to go anywhere else. start with this house, they need to fix it. I rent, he’s a slumlord. but I have to try and fix it myself.”

“Took away the rec centers, day care so people ended up having to work two jobs for $8/hr. mothers have to work, so they become prostitutes, then they lock them up. get some jobs so we can live. then we won’t get locked up for living. Now want to stop foodstamps; keep the foodstamps going. are you being fair to people, or just trying to get over?…How come you won’t hire an ex-convict? why can’t give them a break? Ex-convicts have a lot of skills, some of them really smart. Can’t find a job…How bout those ones they falsely accuse, then 20 years later they say “oh sorry” you’re not guilty, and want to give them money. They lost 20 years, can’t make up for lost time, money can’t heal yourself.”

“Need jobs here…That Hopkins project, 2 people working over there on that new project. They talk a lot about giving people a chance, helping people in the hood. but what I see is they don’t hire people from here. EBDI doesn’t hire the local people. But they talk big…tell you you got a record…don’t help you cause you got a record? thought they suppose to help you even if you have a record, don’t call you back”

“Need housing, places for the kids to play…so they don’t keep doing the same things. see those kids over there? they bored on a Saturday afternoon.
when I was a kid we use to play over there, now there’s Johns Hopkins…now the kids they make up their own games, like “steal the smart phone game”…So they get creative, make up games like that, and other ones”

“Nothing changed in this community all the years I been here. Only thing change is the rent, it keeps going up and the management don’t tell you why just that the rent will go up in a month. If you can make it you stay, not you out. Need affordable housing and better landlords. People need to make sure landlords do right by us. Nobody watching them. but they watching us. Who gonna help us?
Need safe places for the kids to play so they don’t go join them gangs and run from school to house because parents don’t want them on the street corner. hard for kids these days. Lucky with mine, she just went to college, so proud of her.

Why change our tools, change our houses?

So what tools are we to use, to dismantle this “house” of oppression and separation, and build communities of equity? How do we as individuals and societies, use the tools at our disposal to rebuild communities in line with peace and justice? Perhaps what Ms. Lorde was leading us toward, was the need for us to re-interpret the use of the tools used by the Master to build communities of fear and hate. Perhaps her guidance was to reconsider not only the use of different tools, but the transformation of ourselves so we could re-interpret the use of the tools at our disposal-previously used to build “houses’ of separation, fear, and anger. Take the knife for example, it can be used to peel a ripe and delicious mango, to offer joy and satiate the taste buds. Or it can be used to cause harm. And so it is with any tool at our disposal. The use of construction labor, justly compensated can benefit those rebuilding communities-developers, corporations/universities/hospitals, other private and non-profit interests- and those doing the actual building if they receive a living wage. Just compensation for any type of work, can benefit those with the means to pay for the work being done and those doing the work. Building homes which are affordable to those with low incomes or subsidized incomes along with homes for the middle and market rate earners benefits everyone, not just those with the means to live where they choose. Health care access and benefit for everyone, regardless of race and class, not limited access for some and excessive access for the rich and majority white population moves us toward equitable health. The tools of community building and existence is at our disposal; unfortunately, based on our belief systems of separation of race and class, we have been using them to benefit one race and class of people resulting in accumulation of good health and wealth aggregated into communities of majority White and professional classes. The children and grandchildren of these groups-the supposed “creative class”- continue to benefit today, while the children of Black and Brown peoples, working class and low-income continue to be disenfranchised, individually and as communities, physically and mentally displaced. Changing our belief systems will be necessary to change the ways we use the tools of community building at our disposal.

Individual transformation, of the ways we perceive those different from us, is necessary. Why? Because we don’t only separate based on differences, we compare and judge, demonize, exploit and oppress using notions of inferiority and superiority. These are the tools of the oppressor, the Master. The stories we hold in our mind, the perceptions and thoughts passed on from our ancestors and kin folk, neighbors and friends, places of worship and education, employment and recreation, these are the fundamental tools, the building blocks of words and actions which justify our use of the physical and mental tools of economic violence, social violence, political violence, and health violence against the other. And these are the tools that lead to justifying the continued neglect and abandonment of communities of color and low income. This justification to demonize results in actions that build communities abandoned not only of physical resources, but abandoned of love, compassion, patience, understanding. This fear of the “other”, often unspoken, spins stories in our mind of the inferiority of Black people. As the White teenager in Charleston admits, even when the Black congregants of the church were kind in words and actions toward him, he had to do what he had been mentally trained to do: remove those who he was fearful of, the other, the “demons”. Such a mind was cultivated to believe these tapes and fear Black people; such a mind justified actions of violence. And it is such a mind, aggregated en mass as White Supremacy which built this country and continues to enact implicit and explicit bias against Black and Brown people, continuing the gap between the majority of White and higher income communities and majority of of-color and lower income communities. Returning to the the insights on the streets of East and West Baltimore:

“The big people know this has been going on. All the time. They don’t care and they turn their backs on it. Turn their backs on this community. If they decide that it has to change, from the top, it will change. Finally someone at the top did the right thing [referring to the indictment of 6 Baltimore police officers involved in the killing of Freddie Gray]. See what happened. The police stop working. [referring to the non-responsiveness of police officers during the month of May after the indictment of the 6 Baltimore police officers] We need them. Just need them to stop harassing black people.”

“The media, don’t get me started…they orchestrate all this. they gonna get me on the news for a night, then something else important come up… but we still here. got to get City paper to see what’s really going on.”

“They took away a lot of stuff, left us here with nothing. Nothing but a little part everyday. so everybody get equal opportunity to leave…they say. But some of us can’t leave…now, we black people, don’t like to see any of us get ahead. If i buy a new car and park it there, someone gonna come along and scratch it up. Just cause they don’t have one. We don’t let each other get ahead because we jealous of them. If we see someone get ahead, we try to bring them down…been left too long”

The gentle steps of change

So what will it take for this shift in our minds, the ultimate tool of oppression, the ultimate tool that fuels the building and rebuilding of the Master’s house. The Master’s house is a house of separation, oppression, and exploitation, in all aspects of life. Therefore in any aspect of our daily life we have the ability and opportunity to change these tapes of the Master. In every step we place on the earth, whether we are walking from the bed to the toilet, the car to the store, the apartment to the restaurant, the bus stop to the barber shop, each step can be a transformative act when we are conscious and aware. And what does this awareness do? Simply being aware of the thoughts passing through our minds, is already a step toward transformation. We can begin to notice the thought that comes to mind when we see a person different from ourselves, or whom we perceive as being different from ourselves, based on some physical appearance. We note what goes through our mind. Maybe we start noting a pattern of thoughts that come to mind when we see a Black person, a White person, a person dressed in older clothing, a person dressed in clothing just off the rack, a woman, a man. Then we notice how these patterns shape the words we use with these perceived others, the actions we engage in with the other. Just this mere awareness, when connected to the understanding of love, of compassion will make us question ourselves: “how am I perpetuating division and discrimination when I have thoughts like this; is it in line with the love and equality, peace I speak about, of the patience I say I want to offer to everyone”. Noticing in ourselves first, how we participate in acts of separation and violence, is a big step toward changing the way we interact with others. When we become more aware of ourselves we become more aware of the interactions we engage in and how others act similarly or different. The individual gentle steps of transformation is a major path of change toward dismantling the Master’s house of exploitation, separation, violence, and injustice. A transformed self transforms all the interactions and spaces we engage in and with: after all houses, communities, societies are made up of individuals. A house of aware and non-violent individuals builds communities and societies of awareness and non-violence. Such collective communities are powerful forces for change, to recreate and rebuild communities of justice and peace, equity and sufficiency.

When we listen to residents of East and West Baltimore, we have an imperative to change:

“Hope things change, want better for this place. I’m a part of it. I just live here, want better cause I live here. Got people growing up, tell me you wanna raise the next generation in something like this? I wouldn’t want to be a child right now, too hard. that’s why I dont have not right now”

“People have to come together, coming together, changing each other.”

“Community is already fragmented-the mentality-The generations before us didn’t inform everyone how the system works, they didn’t tell the kids. Life is a game, change the whole game. lots of people don’t care anymore. know the cause but don’t care about the effect. they say don’t get involved.”

“I learn to stay by myself. If you talk to the ones on the corner drinking, even if you not drinking, they’ll harass you, arrest you, make you sit on the curve. That’s why I stay by myself, stay out of trouble, sit here and drink my beer. Safer that way.”

“Can’t fragment what’s already fragmented; already broken. can’t get any worst. 38 bodies died already in May-more bodies than the days in a month. The police took the month off. Police not making it any better, not worst. It’s a cop out to say they cause the community to fragment. [referring to the number of deaths occurring in Baltimore City in the month of May 201]”

“yes, they [referring to police violence] break up the community. anybody loose someone they love, of course they grieve. They harass people and don’t think they have families.”

“Don’t get involved, keep to self and keep block clean. Don’t socialize. Up and down this block I clean up. I play with my grandkids, raised all 5 of them. My grandaughter graduate from college tomorrow. So proud of her. I teach them to get a job and hold a job. As long as you clean and smelling good, you’re okay.
These my boys [referring to several young men 3 stoops down who come over to ask for a light]. They respect me, I tell them to get jobs”

“Yes, community fragmented b/c they don’t know which way they should go. don’t know which way to go, don’t know if they for us or against us. Fragment, when they should get involved…when police are wrong. don’t know if should get involved. don’t know if it will hurt them. should get involved… we come together as one people. if I say or do something it can be wrong. got everything so enclosed like…one guy thought I was snitching, cop at my door. my [family member] is an officer.”

“Feel like not wanted in the hood. feel like I don’t fit in that area.
Feel like they don’t want no criminals involved, make me feel like I can’t get no job either. Cause once you arrested, you can’t get a job. I got into the Jericho program for ex offenders just come home. They do some training, like cooking. Does it work? see where I’m sitting now? you get a certification in cooking but you got to find you your own job.”

“Get excluded cause have to be on guard. you know. don’t want to talk to the police and don’t want to talk to the gang either, then police think you doing something with them too. Keep to myself, just go and come, say hello, smile, that’s it.”

“The parents don’t teach the kids respect. They allow them to go buckwild.
Never believe in whipping, you can sit down and talk to your child. Don’t have to holler at them. I don’t care how bad they are, even autistic kids you can sit and talk to them. Kids act like this because they weren’t bring up right.
When I was brought up, if I didn’t go to church I couldn’t go outside. 8pm be on the step, 9pm inside the house. playing was fun, that’s it. But now parents they got so much on their mind. The kids running around and throwing stones at cars for fun, little kids..not nice. I just tell them God don’t like ugly.”

If ever there was a time in our society, for change, it is now. Unfortunately, our history has offered us many periods, when change was the only solution. And this is one of them. The tools of oppression must be dismantled, must be transformed; this tool of the mind must be transformed toward understanding, peace, non-violence, justice, and equity, in a breath, in a moment, in a movement. The process of change will recreate and rebuild our house in order and truth. Peace is the way.

Full report of resident voices on policing, community fragmentation and change, by Social Health Concepts and Practices, Inc. will be available soon.

Re-Building communities: separation or sustainability

Community rebuilding as a means to separation

windowplantUrban rebuilding can be a dualistic/separatist undertaking, benefitting the rich only or one which incorporates the community and benefits all-sustainability. A recent article out of Hagerstown Maryland offers Baltimore city and its cadre of urban rebuilders some great advice: include the community in planning for our community rebuilding or continue rebuilding that leads to divergent paths: those with and those without. In regard the lack of social services for the existing community in current rebuilding plans those working at Hagerstown area nonprofit agencies said: “…they were disappointed that a Philadelphia firm that helped the city come up with a downtown revitalization plan did not address the issues with which that the local organizations deal. Ostoich said Urban Partners, which recommended an eight-part revitalization plan for Hagerstown, has certainly observed situations in other cities that are similar to Hagerstown’s challenges…Ostoich said she would like to see a partnership formed between the nonprofit organizations, the City of Hagerstown and the city’s office of economic development to address issues like homelessness and substance abuse.” link1 Each non-profit providing services for homelessness, housing access and affordability, recovery, mental health and substance abuse treatment, post-incarceration issues, employment reported an increase in their clients and the need for revitalization plans to address these needs.

This is the same pattern of urban rebuilding occurring in Baltimore and beyond: revitalization projects which turn a blind eye to the existing social conditions, many of which are brought about by unemployment and under-employment. Plans do not address the need for recovery programs, or re-entry programs, or mental health programs, or job training, or interview skills, or stress reduction. These conditions are present in Baltimore and other cities which have seen the massive loss of jobs since the 1970’s industrial revolution (substituting machine for human power) and the downturn in the economy since neoliberalism-government joining with private investors to grow their wealth using public subsidies. The outcome of such policies and practices has been the increasing gap between the rich and the poor and the inevitable way vulnerable communities become ill when facing increased stress and little resources to address it. The story in Hagerstown offers a glimpse of what Baltimore has been experiencing for decades: an increase in homelessness, drug use and recovery, mental illness and recovery, unaffordable housing, crime and incarceration. Ostoich speaks about a dual path that revitalization is bringing to the city, one which includes the well-off and those not so well-off. Here in Baltimore we continue to experience the same. Door-knocking and listening in the periphery of the 88-acre Johns Hopkins/EBDI/Casey Foundation/Forest City Bioscience and gentrification project confirms the dual pathway of revitalization. Long time residents share about a fear of not being part of the development as housing prices increase and new neighbors move in. They fear being priced out with property tax increases and rental hikes. New residents are happy with the prices of housing compared to NY or DC and like being in an area marketed for “change” for them. Those with skills and education that allow them to work in corporations and jobs which subsidize housing cost (Live near your work, etc) are mostly happy in their new homes as they wait for more change to manifest around them (one question to ask is how is government subsidizing the employer to offer such housing assistance). Families of generational East Baltimore residents talk about returning from areas north and east but lament the high cost of housing “can’t pay that much but would be nice to come back now that it’s finally changing”. Perceptions of why some locals are home during the day, why some are hanging out on the corner at nights, and the safety of the area persist for the new residents: “I wouldn’t let my mom walk in Patterson Park at night”; while the majority of long time residents don’t mention issues of safety as a concern. Both long time and new residents alike talk about the lack of a place to grocery shop: the type of store will be another tale to tell whether it is affordable for low income residents or not. The new Early Learning Center at the Henderson-Hopkins school is also an issue on people’s mind, especially for those long time residents told they have to be on a waiting list because their income is too high to qualify for admission: “all those Hopkins people have high income and they’re there”. For new residents who are fighting the city about paving an alleyway, they don’t understand why this has to be a struggle: “this is infrastructure of the city, why wouldn’t they pay?” IMG-20121020-00685Indeed, why wouldn’t they pay for this while updating the infrastructure for big development projects in the amount of millions of dollars in tax subsidies is normal, with no effective claw-backs or evaluation as to how the public benefits- Johns Hopkins Medical Institution/EBDI/Casey Foundation/Forest City Developers 78 million, Harbor Point 100 million, Poppleton/La Cite 58 million.

But the marks of a dual path in the rebuilding of Baltimore city goes beyond East Baltimore and West Baltimore. The increased cost of parking across the city is another piece of this dualism as well as the extended times meters are in effect and having to pay to drive the Express Lanes on I-95 (in the White Marsh and 695 region). The Express lanes are accessible with payment only, and in the form of EZ Pass only. These are examples of the separation of those who can afford to participate in what the city has to offer, and those who cannot. If you don’t want to be late you can pay to get on the Express lanes and avoid the merging traffic but when a monthly income is stretched very thin, that extra $3.50 (round trip) can be a significant challenge: in paying your bills and in getting to work on time. Baltimore-20140714-01535This dualistic path of community rebuilding tells the same tale in DC’s 20001 zip code where one shopowner of 40 years posted a sign: “Due to ‘gentrification’ and mixed emotions Jak and Company Hairdressers will be closing”: the landlord would not renew the lease.Link2 Here the white population has grown from 6% in 2000 to 33% currently and the new residents require a different set of amenities. We see the same happening in Harbor East where new development continues while the owners of a local fried chicken and pizza take-out-Kennedy- was told their lease would not be renewed. Just across from the Perkins Homes on Eden and Bank and serving this community for over 15 years his product is not what the new race and class of people being enticed to this area are seeking to buy.Baltimore-20140714-01541

Changing the game for sustainability: community ownership and social movements

This “mixing” of the old and new is a challenge that will not go away today but can begin to be addressed if existing community is at the community rebuilding table. The needs of existing residents and businesses can be addressed in the planning, as well as the needs of the new residents usually represented by the developers whose aim is to attract a class of people able to afford moderate and market rate housing and amenities. Such separation of the old and the new is an age-old challenge of rebuilding and continues today because we continue to ignore the outcomes of previous unhealthy and unequal community building strategies and practices. This chronic disinvestment in low-income and African American and of-color communities has resulted in communities unable to compete in the current market-place for decent employment, over-burdened households with little access to resources, and health burdens that limit access to competitive opportunities. Community rebuilding involving the people as well as the place is crucial. This means assuring equity in not only housing but in employment and resources that will remediate and ready existing communities to benefit from new opportunities. It is not enough for developers like East Baltimore Development Inc. and Forest City to say we cannot hire locally because the people do not qualify (due to incarceration records, drug use, or lack of skill sets). This type of minimalist and separatist community rebuilding is unsustainable and what we have been doing for decades. Like Ostoich said, everyone must be at the table so that the needs of the existing community are incorporated into the plan and not displaced away from sight and sound of the new people. This is why the false type of advertising perpetuated by developers about their rebuilding being “game changers” is misleading and simply provides a narrative for the part of Baltimore with access to resources. In East Baltimore, developers should be ashamed about their contribution to this same ole game of segregation in line with Jim Crow and the removal of Native Americans to reservations. Our policies created our current social challenges and therefore current policies must remediate them. Now that would be a real game changer!

Of course, waiting for government to change, while important is not our only option for change. Organizing and building small and large social movements that challenge the current way we address our most vulnerable is important. Local organizing is key. Many new and old residents alike are unaware of their neighborhood organizations in East Baltimore which is a significant risk factor for not having strong neighborhood cohesion. It is this neighborhood cohesion that offers strength and power to resist government’s plans to rebuild communities without local input. Community fragmentation is an outcome of past and current segregation tactics of community rebuilding. However, it is also a cause of continued segregation and a big obstacle to community power. For example, when a 20-block area has neighborhood associations that don’t communicate with each other or when foundations such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation publicly announces it will only fund one of them (the one with whom it has close relations) collective community power is difficult. Difficult but not impossible. In fact, these same conditions existed in East Baltimore in 2001 and allowed Hopkins/EBDI/Casey/Forest City to come into East Baltimore and expect easy exploitation of land and people. Their expectations were not realized only when the number of people organized exceeded the handful which claimed representation -gate-keepers- of the entire community. The gate-keepers who were willing to stand aside and allow mass exploitation of people and place in the form of unhealthy demolition practices, minimal relocation benefit, minimal payment for existing property were simply outnumbered. The creation of a new organization-Save Middle East Action Committee- then allowed a new vision and practice of community leadership, sisterhood and brotherhood, and mutual respect. Strategies and practices for the people by the people resulted in a powerful force which presented the desires of the impacted people, not a handful with close relations to those with power. We are at a critical impass again almost 15 years later, in East Baltimore, greater Baltimore and beyond.

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Water bills are increasing across the city with little accounting as to why by the city government while private corporations are dictating to government what efficiency looks like, here and across the world. Link3 Private and non-profits are increasingly poised to take over the role of government programs in public education as the new head of Baltimore’s education is leading the way with the promotion of charter schools and privatization. Link4 Using public funds in charter schools skims the little resources away from public schools while private funders manage and dictate educational reform according to their political view. Social service programs are increasingly operated by private and non-profits companies even while race and class-based equity is lacking and little accountability and transparency exists due to their status. This re-distribution of the public wealth into private and the non-profit industrial complexes’ pockets should bare close scrutiny and transparency. We require social movements from below to balance the growing social movements from above and from those with unchallenged power: we need to change the game, truthfully and not leave it to being co-opted by non-profits and private corporations competing for public subsidies. The upcoming social movements gathering/ forum in May in Detroit is one to check into as it will bring together different movements addressing housing access/affordability and water privatization and water as a human right in the US. Link5 Equitable and sustainable community rebuilding requires everyone at the table: to bring about balance and accountability in planning, processes, and implementation, to redistribute power long favored by the few, to move us toward a peaceful co-existence that will heal our segregated communities, and to end old strategies and practices that lead to greater separation and dualism of those with and those without.

Role of public health institutions in public health justice

PDF of slides from talk at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
SPH2015march.2
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MariselaGomez
…In these times of historical and current accounting of the effect of anchor institutions in community, at home and abroad, how do we speak truth to power and forge new alliances toward justice? As the field of public health grapples with the social, political, and economic determinants of health, how has a powerful institution like JHU been influential in determining neighborhood health in East Baltimore? Has the development of the institution (and others like it) contributed to the growing wealth and health gap in East Baltimore (and elsewhere)?

Come join us for a discussion with Dr. Marisela Gomez this Wednesday, April 1st at 12pm in Room E6159 for a challenging discussion critical to the past, present, and future of health equity in Baltimore and beyond.

The history of prestigious institutions and their power to exploit those most vulnerable to grow power is vast. To be truthful participants in changing this history we must account for this history and repair it. Transparency begins to hold accountable the past transgressions and find solutions beyond what our fragile human nature has succumbed to thus far. Inequitable health outcomes, arrest rates, educational achievement, income and housing value are symptoms of inequitable communities, of power and privilege. Bridging within and across all our systems-community and economic development, education, criminal, housing, recreation- of society is a large task. How do we forge a path towards equity, while assuring everyone is at the table, and contributing?

Establishing values of inclusivity, accountability, transparency,and reflection/reflexivity in all processes is important. These values must infuse and be embedded in the tools of planning/policy development, practice/praxis, evaluation, public relations/media. And most, most importantly, WE THE PEOPLE, must be involved in all steps of the process toward justice…

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If interested in any slides of presentation, send a contact.

Contemplating peaceful and skillful means to justice,
Marisela

Connecting our struggles across identity politics: a powerful force for justice

Broad-based political organizing

While only 3 months into the Western year of 2015, we have experienced more discussion of the reality of anti-blackness in America than the entire year of 2014. For that matter, 2013 as well. The new media engagement and willingness to report on racism suggests a couple of things: they finally “get it” or there are enough folks standing up and testifying to racism openly. It is unlikely, though wishful, that the media has experienced an abrupt period of enlightenment. We are hearing more about anti-blackness because of the heightened attention of the epidemic of police brutality after the Trayvon Martin case and more recently Michael Brown and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.(1) The movement immediately offered a broad platform which galvanized support from different segregated identity politics: police brutality, criminalization and discrimination of women and children, poverty, community dis-investment, lesbian/gay/bi-sexual/transgendered rights, immigrant rights. The recent outcry from several colleges on black student isolation/segregation is the most recent witnessing of the individual and institutional anti-blackness legacy in the US. But the attention to a culture of anti-blackness is broader and deeper than we may realize: the conservative bastion of medicine in America, the New England Journal of Medicine, published a commentary on “Black lives matter”; faculty members at academic institutions are speaking out about their institutional evidence of anti-blackness; pro-black equity speakers are highlighting at various universities across the US; health departments are documenting the effects of racism and poverty as factors detrimental to health equities. This broad net of protest against the dehumanizing ways society has treated black people and other marginalized communities witnesses-state sanctioned violence, the chronic dis-investment and segregation, the anti-blackness of America. Through policy and practice anti-blackness has enforced segregation and inequity which continues today. The #BlackLivesMatter campaign, formed by three women, invite a coalition of historically oppressed populations to uplift the struggle of each other to build a stronger network of support for each struggle.

Another broad-based social movement has been growing in North Carolina since 2006, increasing public protests after the Republican take-over of the legislature in 2013: Forward Together Movement/Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HToJ). (2) Their platform includes: high-quality public education, living wages, healthcare for all, racial justice, voting rights, affordable higher education, fairness for state contracting, affordable housing, criminal justice reform, environmental justice, collective bargaining and worker safety, immigrants’ rights, a new civil rights act, and bringing the troops home. Their focus has been to challenge and change the state legislative and executive body and political machinery which recently passed legislation inhibiting voter rights and slashing of public funding for social, educational, and health programs. Their movement has spread to Georgia, South Carolina. Tennessee, and Missouri and has impacted the legislation and voting turnout. Consisting of more than 150 coalition partners they continue to stage protests called Moral Mondays at the state assembly in North Carolina.

Identity politics, their connections, and why

These broad-based coalitions emphasize the interconnectedness of identity politics: injustice and oppression mediated through those with power against those without. Communities are segregated by race, income, education, housing, employability and access to recreational and transportation resources. The chicken and the egg argument can be used to describe the segregation of communities of color and its resultant economic segregation. Cities continue to gentrify and segregate by housing cost and education. (3) Here in Baltimore we rank 13th out of 50 large cities in gentrification and the resultant segregation between those with low and higher incomes; Washington, DC took a stunning 3rd place. Even though we see the direct negative outcome on funding for public education from recent public subsidies to wealthy developers who invite more racial and economic segregation, our local and state governments continue to directly and indirectly discriminate against the marginalized. These neoliberal practices of community development: policies and practices which grow the gap between the rich and the poor, drive development in the US and beyond leading to greater segregation. As reported by The Atlantic’s CityLab recently “It is not just that the economic divide in America has grown wider; it’s that the rich and poor effectively occupy different worlds, even when they live in the same cities and metros…Race is a significant factor. Economic segregation is positively associated with the share of population that is black, Latino, or Asian, and negatively associated with the shares of white residents.” (4,5)

The growth in income inequality and the resultant segregation over the last 10 years has raised awareness for some, but most are still asleep to the causes and effects. Scientific American recently commented on the reason for this “dream-like” state that Americans are in: “At the core of the American Dream is the belief that anyone who works hard can move up economically regardless of his or her social circumstances…Sure enough, people think that moving up is significantly more likely than it is in reality…..By overemphasizing individual mobility, we ignore important social determinants of success like family inheritance, social connections, and structural discrimination…We may not want to believe it, but the United States is now the most unequal of all Western nations. To make matters worse, America has considerably less social mobility than Canada and Europe.” (6)

In the 21st century, we continue to live the myth of meritocracy, that we are equally rewarded for our hard work, there is a level playing field that values each person and community similarly. One glaring example of this is the difference in housing value in black and white neighborhoods. The Brookings Institute published a comparison of wealth in white and black neighborhoods showing “wealthy minority neighborhoods had less home value per dollar of income than wealthy white neighborhoods”…“poor white neighborhoods had more home value per income than poor minority neighborhoods.” Of the 100 metropolitan areas studied, even when homeowners had similar incomes, black-owned homes were valued at 18% less than white-owned homes. In effect, the higher the percentage of blacks in a neighborhood, the less a home is worth. This correlation begins when there is greater than 10% of black residents in a neighborhood. (7) Another example of race-based development and housing value is evident by public and private investments targeted to communities which are not majority black (less than 40%) as documented in a recent study by Harvard researchers. (8) This study confirms previous studies on race-based discriminatory community development practices. Development of areas with majority residents of color do occur. However, the displacement of the existing residents and racial gentrification usually result in the neighborhood achieving a majority white status. These practices are well documented through urban renewal in the 1950’s and subsequent government housing programs like HOPE VI and Promise Zones. The 1950‘s and current Johns Hopkins Medical Campus expansion in Baltimore into almost 150 acres are examples of mass removal of more than 1500 black families using eminent domain and tax subsidies as public support. The re-population with a different race and class was the intention of both projects, further displacing low income and black residents for majority middle and market rate residents.

Power of collective resistance

Indeed the marginalization of various political identity communities do not occur in a vacuum, separate from each other. The #BlackLivesMatter and Forward Together movements remind us that the legacy of state-sanctioned violence in all its forms continue to segregate and penalize the less powerful residents of our society. A higher percentage of black-descendant people are poor and live in communities disinvested of healthy foods, competent schools and health facilities with salaries to attract competent staff, healthy environments, safe and sanitary homes, and recreational centers. Low income people of all races/ethnicities are living in similarly disinvested communities. Low income people are employed in high-turnover jobs with little job security, career opportunity, living wages and paid sick leave or time off. The criminalization of people living in low income communities far surpass those living in moderate and higher income communities. The oppression of women, those with disabilities, and sexual minorities occur across all social and economic systems. The power of coalitions to connect across the commonality of discrimination and oppression is great. When each struggle is aware and directly and indirectly support the struggle of another, there is a stronger force moving forward against all oppressive norms and practices. From state-sanctioned segregated and disinvested communities, to disinvested schools, recreation centers, public and social services, health services, to mass incarceration, the thread is a systematic violence against people deemed inferior, of diminished worth. Broad-based movements can offer a platform for various local and national issue-specific or identity political movements to connect and coalesce. Then each small act of daily individual resistance becomes the foundation for building resistance and organizational power across multiple issues; individual organizations/movements collect together to build larger networks of resistance connecting all vulnerable and historically and currently oppressed groups. This type of network of resistance reinforces resilience – I am my sister’s keeper and she is mine. This network of resistance is necessary to resist and change the network of violence currently enforced against all our marginalized communities.

1. #BlackLivesMatter

2. Forward Together Movement, North Carolina

3. Governing. Gentrification

4. The Atlantic.City Lab. Economic segregation

5. New York Times. Income inequality is bad for your health

6. Brookings Institute. Segregation and housing value

7. Scientific American. The myth of the American Dream

8. Jackelyn Hwanga and Robert J. Sampsona. Divergent Pathways of Gentrification: Racial
Inequality and the Social Order of Renewal in Chicago Neighborhoods. American Sociological Review 2014, 79(4) 726–751

RACISM IN THE UNITED STATES: A MULTICULTURAL PERSPECTIVE

Stan Markowitz
Paso Training and Consulting

White History

History has been a powerful tool in shaping our values and our behavior. Yet, quite often what many of us consider to be history is a significant distortion of our complex past–a biased amalgam of truth, half-truth, and outright distortion. In his book, First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History, Professor Colin Calloway argues that American history has been “written and taught as a single story, a narrative of nation building and unending progress that united diverse participants. . . .in a single American experience”. Calloway continues that our history, if we accept the perspective of the great majority of historians, has been the “triumph” of a society “based on the principles of liberty and equality”. In recent years in particular Calloway and others have oncluded that this “narrative has generally ignored or dismissed people whose experiences and perspectives did not conform to this perceived epic of nation building”.

Nowhere has this been truer than in the way our society has dealt with race and racism. For those of us who are white, our perceptions about all people of color, their cultures, and their homelands, were indelibly and negatively impacted by racist “history”. “History” was often used to justify violence against people of color, vicious stereotypes, and the withholding of basic political, economic, social and intellectual rights and opportunities. Just as often it was used to deny that violence, stereotypes,
and inequities occurred or existed. The great majority of people of color, despite efforts by their families and institutions to provide an alternative perspective, were exposed to the same distorted “history”. While for whites history justified white supremacy and white privilege, people of color had to struggle to maintain a sense of identity and
worth in the face of a racist onslaught. Racist “history” was one of the factors that caused people of color in the United States to wrestle with the powerful impact of internalized oppression–the pressure to identify, in subtle and overt ways, with the judgments that the dominant society made about them. Clyde Warrior, a Ponca activist in the 1960’s spoke to this point in noting that American society makes Indian children feel unworthy. He went on to say “as you know, people who feel themselves to be unworthy and feel they cannot escape this unworthiness, often turn to drink, crime and self-destructive acts”. Warrior added that the great majority of Indians were poor, but perhaps ” our lack of reasonable choices, our lack of freedoms, our poverty of spirit, are connected to our material poverty”.

African, Hispanic, Asian, and Indian children had to wonder to what extent the continuous barrage of propaganda called history was true?* If not true, where was the evidence to refute it? When people of color and some whites provided evidence–both historical and from there own lives–to refute the established “history”, the dominant culture refused to acknowledge any revisions that challenged prevalent stereotypes and paradigms and threatened white supremacy and white privilege. A recent study noted that in the past fifteen years increased knowledge about DNA has convinced over 90% of
all scientists that “race” is a social construct and there are no significant differences among people with different skin color. Yet, the study also noted that most white Americans did not accept that.

History, as a Tool to Divide and Conquer

The history of the United States is full of examples of how white society has utilized simplistic and distorted historical interpretations to denigrate one or more populations of color , and to intentionally foster hostility and misunderstanding among people of color. A fairly current example is the myth of the “model minority.” According to the “model minority” thesis Asian Americans are gaining educational and financial success at a far more rapid rate than Indian, Hispanic, and African Americans. Why? According to the “model minority” mythology Asian Americans are working harder, saving their money, maintaining stable families, etc. The clear implication is that similar results could be obtained by other non-white populations if they emulated the “all-American” behavior of Asians. When the “model minority” idea emerged in the mid-1980’s politicians and the media alike, jumped on the bandwagon. In 1986 alone, Fortune, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, and the McNeill/Lehrer Report, among others, applauded Asians as “America’s Super Minority.” The term “model minority” quickly became ammunition for those who blamed African, Indian, and Hispanic Americans for their “failure” to take advantage of the opportunities supposedly available to everyone in the United States.

Ronald Takaki, a Japanese American historian at the University of California, has been one of several scholars who have challenged the “model minority” mythology. Takaki argues that Asian American success has been exaggerated and distorted. He notes that while some Asian Americans have been successful, many more are mired in poverty and are the victims of racist institutions and attitudes. Takaki, further states that the proponents of the “model minority” thesis have distorted the history of Asian Americans. He argues that the “model minority” argument incorrectly assumes that all people of color in the United States have had the same history. It ignores differences in experiences and
culture. Even if it can be successfully argued that a larger percentage of Asian Americans have had more success economically than Latino/a, Indian, and African Americans, it is unreasonable to attribute that success simply to harder work and more ambition. Complex historical factors, if taken into account, provide a very different analysis. That point is extremely important because European Americans have systematically ignored the significance of differences in culture, experience, and
history when making judgments about “others”. The results are distorted and simplistic
generalizations like the “model minority”. An additional, and in some cases intended result, is the development or continuation of conflict between and among people of color

Another dramatic example of how distorted history contributes to internalized oppression and conflict among peoples of color can be found in the powerful documentary the Color of Fear. In the documentary about race and racism in America, several men of color discuss negative stereotypes that their communities hold towards one another. The men also acknowledge that skin color is still (in the 1990’s) an issue in their communities–often lighter skin color is still highly valued. By the end of their discussion the men are unanimous in the belief that their communities (African, Hispanic, Indian, and Asian American) have been manipulated by attitudes that to a substantial degree come from the
dominant white society. They conclude that “when we are hostile to one another we bring all of us down and we strengthen white people and white supremacy”. The articipants in Color of Fear also express their concern about having their discussion about conflicts with one another and attitudes about skin color, in front of white people. They are very clear that historically whites have used conflicts among people of color, conflicts that whites have created, to rationalize white racism. The idea being that if it can be shown that people of color have ‘racist’ attitudes towards one another why blame white people for their beliefs?”

In recent years yet another way in which “history” as written and taught in the United States, has created problems for and among people of color has been the competition for the “margins” of American history–that small space allotted to address the lives and experiences of those that do not fit the “master narrative”. Since the 1950’s the history of African Americans slowly began to be included in history books and classes to a greater degree than before. Black history and the black experience filled up a good part of the “margin”. Still more recently, Indian history has begun to emerge from invisibility. That has been less true for Asian and Hispanic populations in the United States. This has become another divisive issue among people of color and among anti-racist whites as well.

American Racism: Does Acknowledging the Centrality of the Black Experience Diminish the Impact of Racism on Other People of Color?

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I saw this issue emerge during a project with which I was associated several years ago. One aspect of the project involved study circles to discuss race and racism. The content of the study circle discussions focused on the African American experience. A number of participants supported that focus, arguing that while all people of color have been victimized by racism in the United States, black people have been the most visible victims of racist oppression and stereotyping. They expressed their strong belief that in order to understand racism in America the centrality of the black experience had to be acknowledged and understood. Others just as emphatically argued that if the discussion centered on the oppression of black people it would detract from the experiences of Indian, Asian, and Hispanic Americans and the ways in which racism has devastated those communities. They feared that any efforts to understand racism that makes the black experience central cannot accurately reflect the reality of American racism. For them, any discussion of racism had to be inclusive. How do those of us who want to understand race and racism in the United States deal with this issue? It’s that question
that I want to focus on in the remainder of this essay.

Balancing the Centrality of the Black Experience and the Importance of Inclusiveness When Examining Racism in the United States

Racism in the United States has never been only a black-white issue. Racism helped to determine government policies and individual behavior toward Indians early in this nation’s history–policies and behavior that were catastrophic in its impact on Indian land and culture. People from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America, the Middle East, China, Japan and Southeast Asia have all experienced the destructive impact of racist values, behaviors, institutions and policies in more than a century and a half of this nation’s history. Even some white Europeans were affected by attitudes and behaviors that were, for a time, racist in nature. Any serious effort to understand racism in the United States must include all of these stories and how they intersect.

However, it is also true that, for a variety of reasons, white Americans made black Americans the central minority in the United States and that has had important consequences. When the Europeans first encountered Indians and Africans they had similar reactions. Europeans and American colonizers were very aware of the differences in culture between themselves and these “others.” Whites, particularly the English, were also affected by differences in color. Slowly, between the mid-sixteenth and the mid- nineteenth centuries, differences in culture and skin color would justify a doctrine of white supremacy as Europeans, and later Americans, increasingly sought to rationalize conquest, control, and enslavement of people of color. During this period both Indians and Africans were considered inferior races and both were exploited to satisfy European and American objectives.

Yet, with regard to racial attitudes and perceptions, Africans and African Americans began to have a central place. There are a number of reasons for suggesting that this occurred but I want to emphasize two of them. First, beliefs about skin color had a dramatic impact on the English, the European culture that would come to dominate in colonial America and the United States. In Shakespeare’s time the dictionary defined the color black as : “deeply stained with dirt….foul…dark or deadly…sinister…malignant ….wicked”–twenty-six negative connotations in all. Much later a descendant of Scotch-Irish immigrants wrote “….the first difference that strikes us is that of color….and is this difference of no importance?….Are not the fine mixtures of red and white preferable….to that immovable veil of black that covers the emotions of the other race?” In that statement, Thomas Jefferson, reflected the 18th century perspective of the great majority of white Americans, North and South. In Notes on My Native Virginia he described blacks as inherently less beautiful than whites. (It is no less significant that Jefferson also stated his belief that black people were less intelligent than whites or Indians). By Jefferson’s time color had become a major determiner of status in the United States. Dark skin was considered a sign of inferiority and the darker the complexion the more critical the judgment. Indians were not white, but they were not black either. Also many white people, like Thomas Jefferson, came to believe that Indians could be Assimilated-that with “proper training” they could become “white”. The sons and daughters of Africa
could not.

Second, while anyone reading an honest version of our history between 1600 and 1890 cannot doubt that many white Americans believed Indians were “savages” and felt intense hatred towards them, interactions between Indians and European Americans occurred in a very different context from black-white interactions. Indian peoples were separate nations in the Western hemisphere and for a long time many of them were strong enough to hold off the Europeans, American colonists, and after the American Revolution, the United States. At times debates took place over whether the Indians
were actually nations with the right to self-determination and the right to the land they occupied. Despite the debates, colonial and US policy were consistent and Indian nations were exterminated, dispersed, or removed from their lands and forced onto reservations. Racist rationales to justify this country’s “Indian policy” continued to exist, but by the 1830’s, for most Americans East of the Mississippi, Indians became a small, nonthreatening, population. By the end of the 1880’s a similar conclusion can be drawn about much of the area West of the Mississippi. Unquestionably, Indians in the United States would continue to be faced with a powerful and systematic effort to destroy their
culture and their identity and to exploit and occupy their resources and land. Policies by federal and state governments, almost always in collaboration with private business interests, would exploit Indian land and resources in violation of treaty and human rights. Those efforts continue to the present. I think it is fair to say that no population within the United States has been treated more appallingly than the first inhabitants of this continent. Yet, as each successive wave of settlers and the American government moved westward, the Indian presence and the Indian as an adversary diminished in more and more of the United States. Indians did not exist for most Americans or they were not perceived as a threat or an obstacle to others. In time they were even romanticized and idealized by many whites.

The African American experience has been dramatically different. While Indians diminished in number and were increasingly isolated, African Americans increased in number and lived among whites. As early as the 1640’s slavery was evolving in colonial America. By the early 19th century enslaved people had become “property” in the eyes of the white South and most white Northerners agreed or at least acquiesced in that judgement. At a time, the mid-19th century, when the remaining Indian populations comprised several hundred thousand people, the African American population was
approaching five million. Increasingly, white society and white Americans felt the need to dehumanize black Americans in order to “prove” that the growing enslaved population was in fact no better than property “that black people had no souls and were meant by God to be a “mudsill” population whose menial labor was essential to support the efforts of the superior white culture. White America also had to justify a totalitarian system of physical and psychological control and abuse by arguing that enslaved African Americans were a recalcitrant and potentially rebellious population. That took a great
deal of effort since slavery was in every conceivable way the antithesis of the values expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the values of a “democratic” system that supposedly characterized the nation’s belief system.

A profound result of this effort was the creation of a vicious combination of stereotypes. One was “Sambo”– a childlike, lazy, shuffling, irresponsible, dishonest, untruthful, and hedonistic male. A second was “mammy”–the overweight, jovial, good-natured, and appreciative nanny and female servant for white folks. Third, another female image–promiscuous, passionate, exotic, seductive and dangerous-the reason so many white men raped black women. Fourth was the lustful, hard-drinking, and criminally inclined black male–a sexual threat to white women and to civilized society- a stereotype that would be a large part of the justification for the lynching of black men in America. Finally, there was the loyal and loving black person (glorified by Hollywood in movies like Gone With the Wind and countless others) who accepted, and even appreciated his/her situation and
would lay down his or her life for the master or mistress or boss–the white fantasy which helped to deny the vicious nature of slavery and Jim Crow. The documentary Ethnic Notions and Director Spike Lee’s recent film Bamboozled, provide detailed evidence of how common and universal the racial stereotypes defining black Americans were and how indelibly they were woven into the fabric of American thinking about race.

Consequently, by the middle and end of the nineteenth century when new immigrant populations entered the United States, black Americans had become the standard for determining ” inferior” races of people. American political leaders in the North and the South, the Supreme Court of the United States, and every important institution in the society participated in the creation of that standard and they would continue to do so for decades. Black Americans became the standard against which the racial inferiority or superiority of all would be measured.

The White “Others”

Other populations labeled “undesirable” by the dominant white culture began to enter the United States in significant numbers around the middle of the nineteenth century. The first of these groups, the Irish, had filtered in during the 17th and 18th centuries. However, between 1815 and 1920 about five and one-half million Irish entered the United States. A people who had been brutally conquered by England, many Irish saw parallels between themselves and enslaved African Americans and the earliest Irish immigrants often supported the abolition of slavery. In 1842 thousands of Irish immigrants signed a petition calling for the Irish to “treat the colored people as your equals”. Once in the United States, however, Irish immigrants found themselves described as “apelike” and “a race of savages” whose intelligence was at the level of blacks. They were often referred to as “Irish niggers”. Irish men and women provided labor for roads, canals, and railroads and worked in factories and domestic service. They found themselves at the bottom of the economic ladder competing for jobs against
enslaved and “free” blacks, and by the 1850’s, Chinese immigrants as well. As they competed with blacks and bristled at the stereotypes linking them with African Americans, the Irish began to emphasize their whiteness. Faced with nativist hatred towards them as foreigners they attempted to become Americans, in part, by claiming membership in the white race. Historian, Ronald Takaki, notes that “the victims of English repression and prejudice in Ireland redirected their rage against the people who were most victimized in the United States”. The once anti-slavery Irish became one of the most pro-slavery populations in America. Over time the Irish worked hard, became citizens, gained the right to vote and the opportunity for education. Slowly, they became integrated into the mainstream American culture. They could do so not because they worked harder than others but because they were white and they were European.

Other white, ethnic, Catholic, immigrant populations mainly from Eastern, Central, and Southern Europe would also face intense hostility in the United States. They too found themselves in competition with enslaved and “free” blacks, as well as Chinese, Japanese and Mexican workers. Jewish immigrants, many from Germany, Poland, and Russia, faced the same hardships and had to deal with a long history of anti-Jewish bigotry as well. Like the Irish, all of these populations were confronted with the fact that the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were times of intense racial identification. Pseudo-scientists were declaring racial distinctions not only between whites and
people of color but among whites. For a time Italians, Poles, Greeks, Jews, and other European populations were perceived as racially inferior and efforts were made to limit their access to the United States for fear that they would “mongrelize” the Anglo-Saxon race. Yet, despite the racist and ethnocentric hysteria that existed in the United States during this period, and despite the major hardships they faced, these white Europeans populations, they too worked hard, made gains, and moved forward. In time, the dominant society would distinguish between them and people of color–particularly African Americans. The negative stereotypes of these white immigrants disappeared
slowly and some did not always disappear but opportunities for political, economic and social advancement increased. They had the same powerful advantages that the Irish claimed–they were European and they were white. If you were white and European you could assimilate. If you were white you immediately had a degree of white privilege and you could aspire to more.

Non-White “Others”

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The experience for non-European immigrants was always different from that of the “undesirable” Europeans. Mexican people, the first Latino population in what had become the United States, were profoundly affected when the boundaries of Mexico and the United States were altered following the United States and Mexican war which ended in 1848. (While in this country we refer to the war as the Mexican-American War, the country that is considered the aggressor should be identified first.) Thousands of Mexicans had land in what became Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California and
chose to stay amid promises that their land would be safe and they would have opportunities to become citizens. Those promises were broken. White Americans already had a low opinion of Mexico and Mexicans prior to the war. Once Mexicans became part of this country the stereotypes hardened into racism. The first of many Hispanic populations that would emigrate to the U.S., Mexicans were characterized as “an idle thriftless people, who. . . lacked the enterprise and calculating mentality” of Anglo Saxons. The fact that Mexicans were a mixture of Indian and Spanish culture and blood (and African as well) was used to justify racist policies, attitudes and actions
directed against them. In 1849 the Anglo legislature in California passed an anti-vagrancy act called the “Greaser Act.” The act defined vagrants as “all persons commonly known as ‘Greasers’ or the issue of Spanish or Indian blood.” In the 1890’s Texas laws deprived Mexican Americans and African Americans of the right to vote by creating poll taxes and white primaries. Other efforts in California and the Southwest denied Mexican Americans their lands. Like white immigrants Mexicans worked hard
on farms, in mines, as domestics, and more. Entry into jobs that required more education and particular training would come far more slowly due to the impact of racism. They organized unions, on occasion with Japanese workers. As did the European immigrants and their children, they contributed in very important ways to the growth of this nation. But unlike white immigrants, Mexicans were linked to blacks and Indians. The negative stereotypes did not diminish. The “Jim Crow” laws that were created to exploit and control black Americans were often used against Mexican Americans. As hard as they worked, as much as they tried to “fit in”, they could not. They were, according to one white grower, “natural farm laborers” just as blacks were “natural slaves.” Other people of color—whether from Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Salvador, or elsewhere in the Caribbean, Central or South America—faced similar degrees of racism and the resulting violence, exploitation, and denial of opportunity. Their Spanish or Portuguese heritage, while European, was viewed negatively in Anglo-Saxon America. The opportunities eventually made available to white, non-Latin Europeans came far more slowly to Latino peoples. Only in recent decades has the prejudice against Latino Americans begun to diminish in
some ways. Yet, by no means have the great majority of Hispanic Americans gained the opportunities and privileges of the great majority of whites.

Asian entry into the United States began in 1849 when Chinese immigrants began to come in fairly large numbers. In part, they came because they were recruited to build the railroads. They also came to escape the harsh military, economic, and political conditions in China which resulted to some degree from Western imperialism. Early on the Chinese found themselves compared to African Americans. They were viewed as a threat to “racial purity.” A common depiction can be found in a cartoon published in a California magazine which depicted the Chinese as having “slanted eyes. . . .a dark skin and thick lips”. They were often described as “morally inferior, savage, childlike and lustful.” The editor of the California Marin Journal claimed that white America had won the West from the “red man”, why should it now be surrendered to a “horde of Chinese”. In 1879 President Rutherford B. Hayes warned Americans about the “Chinese Problem” noting that the American experience with “weaker races–the Negroes and Indians–is not encouraging.” The President favored discouraging the Chinese from coming to the U.S. Despite the fact that the Chinese made up just .002% of the population, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882, and in 1902 it was extended indefinitely.
The Chinese were followed by the Japanese who began to enter the United States in growing numbers in the 1890’s. Japanese immigrants would meet the same level of racial hostility as their Asian predecessors. Like other ethnic or racial minorities Asian Americans made major contributions to this nation through farming, railroad and factory work and later in professions and business. In part, it was the very success of Japanese farmers that helped precipitate the placing of Japanese Americans in detention camps during World War II. In recent decades other Asian peoples have migrated to this
country. All of them to a greater or lesser degree have faced racist attitudes and institutions that would inhibit their success in a way that never impeded white ethnics. For Asians skin color and “alien” culture has made a difference.

Any discussion of racism that doesn’t include the experiences of all people of color cannot fully assess the true nature of American racism–of white supremacy and white privilege. At the same time the discussion must recognize that the hostility towards black Americans in the United States has been unique. While African Americans have worked as hard as any other population in America and have contributed in myriad ways to this nation, when most white Americans hear terms like affirmative action, low test scores, busing, welfare, homelessness, crime, drugs, and more, the first image that comes to mind is still an African American. As the men who participated in the documentary Color of Fear suggest even many people of color from other cultures have come to share some of the stereotypes about African Americans that were created by the dominant white culture.

The history of the United States indicates that as people of color move towards becoming a non-white majority (in a nation that has always equated “white” and “American) it’s inevitable that efforts to confuse, distort, and to “divide and conquer” will continue. Without collective action by all communities of color and white people who are seriously trying to understand and oppose white supremacy, racism in the United States will not be defeated. That collective action requires the use of a history that limits distortion to the greatest degree possible and that rejects the assumption of a “single white narrative”.

*This essay was written in the late 1990’s and reflect terms describing racial/ethnic groups during that period.

(Note: An important source used in this essay was: A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, by Ronald Takaki)