Politicizing our memories: Have we forgotten the history of Middle East Baltimore?

 

Our memory is also a struggle for memory against forgetting…The struggle for memory against forgetting requires the politicization of memory, distinguishing nostalgia from remembering that serve to illuminate and transform the present” bell hooks

This morning was overcast, clouds suggesting it may rain at any moment. There was a lot of activity on the 900 block of N. Wolfe street, extending down the 1100 block to Chase Street. The activities being planned were part of the newest addition to the re-branding of the neighborhood. The 7-acre park opening today is part of the 88-acre redevelopment of the Johns Hopkins Biotech Park that started in 2001. This is Middle East Baltimore, slowly being rebranded by the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and its sister non-profits of the ‘non-profit industrial complex’, the city of Baltimore, the state of Maryland, and the new inhabitants who are slowly moving into the neighborhood. ‘Eager Park’ is the new brand. This re-branding is nothing atypical in a developing area. And it’s not atypical either that the name is chosen, or ‘suggested’ by the developers and their proxies-in this case Forest City and East Baltimore Development Inc. (EBDI). But the rebranding this morning is something that we must remember. The remembering that bell hooks talks about. Because if we forget again, we will re-live this process of displacement of another neighborhood again. This remembering is a politicization because it recognizes the power of a continuous exploitation of one group to benefit another and resultant  inequity that exists today.

The new 7-acre, $14 million park in Middle East Baltimore, ‘Eager Park’

The flyers touting the parks’ opening celebrations from 8:30am until 5:00pm included a parade, ribbon cutting, and a festival; a DJ and dancing, several marching bands, and the children from the new school-also part of the 88-acre redevelopment. There would be dance and musical performances and fitness demonstrations in the brand new amphitheater in the park. The name of the park was decided by the developers and their design contractors, ‘Eager Park’.  The hope was that the $14 million park would usher in the re-branding of the area. There was no mention of the history of the naming of the area that the new parks’ name was attempting to erase, forget.

Why forget? It is important for the powerful developers of this 88-acre development assure that we forget that more than 750 Black families were displaced to make room for this 7-acre park and everything else being developed. The initial master plan made no mention that residents were being forced off their land to make room for a park. The rhetoric in 2001 was that displacement had to occur to demolish the almost 2000 homes in this ‘blighted’ and abandoned area. In order to use eminent domain to take private land and pass on to a private developer, the city government partnered with the university, like it did in the 1950s. That time the government policy that subsidized this private developer’s wealth gain was urban renewal. The first master plan in 2001 justified the development using eminent domain to acquire resident’s homes through the rhetoric of public benefit via 8000 new jobs in the 5 biotech parks and the various amenities.  Sixteen years later the project has provided less than 1500 new jobs. The plan made no mention of how the displaced residents would be able to return: it was a one-way ticket out of the area to make room for the new race and class that the powerbrokers felt could ‘renew’ the area. For the prestigious medical institutions and its partners it’s important for those moving in to forget this history or never know it.

The ribbon cutting ceremony in the amphitheater of the new park, with different stakeholders in attendance, including the president of Johns Hopkins University, Ron Daniels, the mayor of Baltimore, Catherine Pugh, City Council president Bernard Jack Young, Senator Nathaniel McFadden

The ribbon cutting ceremony with different stakeholders in attendance, including the president of Johns Hopkins University, Ron Daniels, the mayor of Baltimore, Catherine Pugh, City Council president Bernard Jack Young, Senator Nathaniel McFadden

Why is it important to remember this history? This development happening today is the same type of development that happened in the 1950s. We have mostly forgotten about the 1950s urban renewal project -Broadway Redevelopment Project- where 59 acres was acquired by Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and its partners for expansion. It was remarkably similar to this current redevelopment-displacement of more than 1000 majority Black families. There was housing for students and staff, professional buildings (now we call these biotech buildings), a hotel, retail and amenities to support the needs of the new inhabitants. This memory is political and is required if we are to ‘illuminate and transform the present’. If we (SMEAC, Save Middle East Action Committee, Inc, the community organization that changed the way the development occurred) had remembered during our struggle for equity during the early years of this current development, we would have leveraged this history. But we didn’t know and those who knew at some point, those who were actually involved in the struggle in the 1950s and 1960s either forgot or felt overwhelmed by the challenge before us. Our collective memory of this history would have confirmed that the political powers of majority White institutions, in Baltimore the Johns Hopkins University and Medical systems, continue to take what they want without regard for their neighbors. We would have confirmed how this continuous exploitation of land on the backs of poor and Black communities is another part of the history of serial forced displacement. We would have affirmed that yet again, the white powerful elite and the government had partnered to segregate those different from themselves by displacing them. Like this current development, the 1950s developers had no intention of assuring that existing residents could return-none did because the new housing was unaffordable for them. Had we known of this history, we would have used this information in our organizing campaign. We would have proposed policy and legislation that would delineate how development must occur: in partnership and with control from the historic residents currently occupying the space. We would have assured that the legislation to build affordable housing was built had more teeth. Because 16 years later, of the 1200 new housing units planned, there remains no affordable housing for ownership.

Today there is a petition by two different community members to rename the park, in line with the history of the area. One of the names suggested is ‘The Lucille Gorham Park’. Recently deceased, Ms. Gorham (who named the community ‘Middle East Baltimore’) was a long-time community activist who lived her adult life attempting to increase public support for renewing her neighborhood, without displacement of her neighbors. Much of her work focused on engaging with different members of the institution to stop the continuous encroachment and gentrification by the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. In the 1980s she received a commitment from the then president of the university that the institution would not expand beyond Madison street. She had participated in a development project in the 1960s –Gay Street 1 Project- where this continuous encroachment was not the only way to change a neighborhood. The Gay Street 1 developed an area of less than 50 acres with a grassroots emphasis, residents made the decisions and participated directly in the master plan and the development. After her years of struggle to stop the university from swallowing up her neighborhood she was eventually displaced for this 88-acre Biotech Park. ‘Eager Park’; the park rolled over the previous commitment by the university not to expand northward beyond Madison. The outcome of forgetting.

Groundbreaking for a new hotel in the 1950s Broadway Redevelopment Project

Groundbreaking for a new hotel in the 1950s-1960s Broadway Redevelopment Project

This morning I chatted with several residents, new and historic. Two of them were residents displaced for this new park; both actually lived on the ground that is now being used for a park. Their comments: “why did we have to move for a park, a park?’; ‘this is a sore spot for me, can’t talk about it”. The new residents felt differently, they saw hope: “ I think the kids will benefit from seeing something different than all those abandoned houses that were here before”. Everyone is speaking from their experiences, what they lived and are living. There is no doubt that the development and its amenities will bring benefit. The questions of ‘who must be sacrificed for the benefit of others’ and ‘why must the  same group of people be sacrificed’ remains unanswered. The question of process and outcome remains unanswered. These are not impossible questions to answer but they are questions that beg us to look into the root of the way we have built our society. Our history can benefit us in looking into these roots. Why were these neighborhoods segregated and disinvested in the first place? Why do we continue to feel justified in segregating those who are most affected by this history of segregation and disinvestment. Memory is political because it reminds us of a history that requires attending to, so we don’t keep doing the same things today and in the future.

Reference: Race, Class, Power and Organizing in East Baltimore: Rebuilding Abandoned Communities in America . Lexington Books, 2012.  Text is available free here. Click on book content.

Port Covington or Port Covet-a-ton

Wow, the drama of exploitation does not seem to end here in Baltimore. This most recent one shows billionaire developer Kevin Plank coveting-a-ton of our tax dollars in the guise of Port Covington. This time it’s 535 (or 660, the directors have not quite settled on a nice round figure yet) million dollars in tax increment financing (TIF) to develop a 7,500-unit housing complex, retail and office space. Wish as it may the city can’t afford to lavish such benefit on Mr. Plank-owner of Under Armour-, whose wealth accumulation is championed by Sagamore Development in this drama. So the state has stepped up to accommodate his continued accumulation of asset, by guaranteeing the bonds on the backs of the people. Oh yes, and exempting him from city law requiring affordable housing. Port Covet-a-ton

Never mind we’re still recovering from the exploitive drama (in laywoman’s term, recent injustice) that occurred in 2013 in and outside of city hall when City Council member Carl Stoke’s Taxation and Finance Committee attempted to stop this coveting-of-a ton by millionaire, Michael Beatty. But the committee’s hearing and decision was usurped by private dollars and government cronies to grant Mr. Beatty subsidies for his Harbor Point Development. This one granted subsidies in the amount of 120 million dollars. Harbor PointIt followed on the heals of Paterakis’s development in Harbor East, also heavily subsidized (with TIFs and PILOTs) by the government. This continued ‘theater of exploitation’ (in layman’s term, neoliberalization- or letting the market determine what’s best for the citizens- of urban spaces) of Baltimore by private developer’s greed for wealth accumulation, whether in the form of universities-Johns Hopkins – or individuals, seems unstoppable. Harbor East

Our destiny?

Many thought this macabre theater would end with the killing of Freddie Gray and the uprising by Baltimore citizens calling for an end to the roots of systemic racism and systematic economic exploitation-uneven development. But the wheels of capitalism, set in motion the development of Baltimore, and didn’t ever decide that black and poor lives matter. So while lip service about acknowledging the history of disinvestment of the poor and wealth accumulation of the rich trended for a moment, the movement from above continued. This is the movement of continued exploitation-carried out by public and private partnerships.

This has been the pattern with development in our city: inequitable and unsustainable. In the 1960s when the the city exempted developer’s of the Charles Center and Inner Harbor from a competitive bidding process amidst black residents protesting their lack of black employees, the justification was that it would serve the public. Charles CenterIn the 1950s the city and state granted subsidies to Johns Hopkins university and hospital for expansion into 59 acres in East Baltimore, displacing more than 1000 mostly black families. It served itself while the surrounding community continued on a road of poverty and neglect.
1960

But large scale uneven development seems to have been put on fast forward starting in 2002 when the Johns Hopkins university and hospital targeted another 88-acres in Middle East Baltimore for a Science and Technology Park. The city, state, and federal government again stepped in to assist this private developer with bonds, subsidies, and grants, using eminent domain to uproot another 700 black families and acquire the land. Like Port Covet-a-ton, Hopkins’ expansion also announced it would benefit the public, with jobs and affordable housing. Fifteen years later, and in light of legislation demanding 1/3 affordable housing (both rental and ownership), no affordable ownership housing has been built. Instead, luxury townhomes for upward of $250,000 will be constructed next and more government subsidy was recently granted for building out a pizza restaurant in the first floor of Johns Hopkins student housing-(you ask, is this theatre or reality?)2016 Hopkins

This may all seem like a really bad mafia movie, one in which greed, wealth, and corruption rules the land in the form of a development gang gone awry (Mad Max gone corporate? comes to mind) and the poor remain hidden in bombed-out spaces, disinvested by the state. Unfortunately it is not a bad drama, or temporary theater of the macabre. It is life in Baltimore.Mad Max

What to do?

Well we voted a couple weeks ago, but for whom? Some changes on the city council and we’ll wait and see if they have any substantial action to support the words that got them into office. It looks like a new democratic mayor will be voted in in the fall, what will she do? In light of the lack of support by the city council for more equal sharing of economic power between the executive and legislative branch, it’s not clear that much will change with this new mayor. It’s like holding tickets for a show that had good and bad reviews: will we be happy with the performances?

We have been waiting on government for too long, even as they continuously neglect the most vulnerable amongst us, in favor of the rich. The surest path seems to be in our own two hands. When we organize and demand change and accountability and transparency to the people, when we protest and have sit-ins, when we “shut things down” we send a message: enough is enough. All that’s good but something is even more near, something we can do to send a strong message to Mr. Plank’s new Port Covet-a-ton deal before the city and state. Each of you advocating for change, send him a polite and personal message: ask him how much wealth is enough; AND stop wearing Under Armour clothing and buying the paraphernalia that sends the message that you support his continued exploitation of our city dollars.That’s right, boycott with your money and insist that the exploitation of the vulnerable and growing gap between the rich and the poor will not happen on our watch. Those of you who are U of Maryland-College Park student/staff/faculty and alumni (Mr. Plank’s alma mater) ask the university why someone who is willing to exploit our state and city would be invited to address graduating students at a commencement ceremony. And do smile as you stand up for justice!
________________

Draft of a letter to Mr. Plank:

Kevin Plank
kevin@underarmour.com
Sagamore Develoment
1000 E. Key Highway
Baltimore, MD 21230

Dear Mr. Plank,

We are happy that your headquarters for Under Armour is in Baltimore. We hope that your assets are sufficient to comfortably take care of your family and friends. In an attempt to prevent continued exploitation of our public assets, we politely request that you reconsider demanding such large tax breaks from our city. As you are aware, such public subsidies exploit the citizens of Baltimore by re-directing the funds that could serve our most vulnerable communities and widens the gap between the rich and the poor. Addressing the legacy of uneven development requires that we reconsider “business as usual” which grants the rich access to continued wealth accumulation while the needs of the less well-off are ignored. Growing the city toward sustainability and equity will assure everyone benefits, not just a few.

Sincerely,

Your Charm City sister/brother

“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.

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)

Social health, neoliberalism, and gentrification

What is meant by social health? And what does neoliberalism and gentrification have to do with health? In rebuilding communities through neoliberal practices that result in displacement, homelessness, and gentrification the health of the community is affected (1). The fact is that the social, political, and economic systems in a society such as the US affect the health of individuals and populations. These systems separate and place economic, social, and political values on populations according to categories of race/ethnicity, income level, education level, gender, immigrant status, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, place of birth, dominant language, physical and mental ability, and age. The socioeconomic and political economic systems use these hierarchies to determine our place in society which in turn determines our health.

Using race and class identity as examples, individuals who discriminate based on these two factors will negatively affect the psychological and physical health of low income people of color through the stress experienced daily by the effects of their implicit bias (2, Implicit Attitude Test, Experience of Discrimination). On an institutional level, the health outcomes of low income communities of color during redevelopment is partially determined by the discriminatory neoliberal policies and practices-a norm of the socioeconomic and political economic systems of the US. Such practices/policies include: policies which allowed disinvestment of low-income neighborhoods, mayoral-governments partnered with private developers, legislators passing and funding racist laws, lack of policies/laws which demand affordable housing and local hiring, city and state officials enacting education, housing, transportation policies and practices which benefit wealthy developers and displace community residents, developers building only market-rate housing in low and moderate-income communities, planning boards lacking community participation, corporate university and philanthropic boards who approve cleansing of low income and of color communities. Besides the collective stress experienced from being forced to move, the lack of affordable housing and products, the fear of eventual displacement, lack of ability to have decision-making in your community, displacement to other under-resourced communities (in school, livable employment, access to healthy and affordable food, infrastructure that allows physical activities, safety) are risk factors for poor health outcomes. Such neoliberal rebuilding practices which lead to displacement and gentrification can only occur in societies where the political economic and socioeconomic systems support them. This is the concept and action of social health, neoliberalism, and gentrification.

The mechanisms of neoliberal processes in community rebuilding such as tax subsidies and exemptions, rezoning, lack of transparency and accountability, ‘shadow governments’ of developers and corporate foundations navigated through public:private partnerships, state redistribution of land to private entities, propaganda media, greed, devaluing of non-productive members of society, non-participatory planning in community rebuilding and its social health impacts must be identified, reported, challenged, prevented-again and again. Such practices unleashed in communities of low and moderate income and color find little resistance due to the political economy of development capital and state politics. This process of community rebuilding is supported by strong ties between the developer and government which overwhelms the power of the local community to demand equitable development and community participation-there are minimal ties between the local community and government (3). Newly organized communities are displaced to different parts of the city, some county, loosing the growing power-base and social capital which could challenge the powerful developers and public partners. Because of the unfair advantage of such public:private partnerships social capital/economic and political benefit is accumulated disproportionately by the powerful developers.

For example, displacement of communities of low-income and color disinvested by government and neighboring institutions, for expansion of a prestigious institution like Johns Hopkins results in stress for residents and poor health outcomes: gentrification and health. The disruption of social networks, root shock, results in acute and chronic trauma to residents as they loose their familiar base and try to anchor themselves in new neighborhoods (4). Such continued serial displacement is a major social determinant of continued poor health outcomes. Children are particularly susceptible to these changes and have difficulty establishing new peer groups (5). In this example, neoliberal practices through public:private partnerships of the university, Annie E. Casey Foundation and others, and the city planned and carried out displacement, demolition, and construction of a new place/community unaffordable to previous residents and the peripheral communities. After more than 800 households were displaced less than 10% low income and minority families have been allowed back to inhabit the more than 700 units rehabbed or newly constructed to date. Construction of a new contract school, managed by JHU and supervised by a board of directors led by Hopkins assures that the neoliberal agenda of dispossession of education occurs-another risk factor for health (6, 7). This new school which selectively engineers a ratio of white and non-white, poor and non-poor for their neoliberal formula of experimental ‘urban’ education continues. The right of existing residents to attend the school is ignored, preference is offered to the powerful university and affiliates, while the department of education requires no meetings for transparency or accountability, and the wealthy developer and corporate philanthropists of Casey and other foundations continue on unimpeded. The school is a magnet for gentrification, attracting the race and class of people comfortable to the powerful Johns Hopkins University. Whether the children of the surrounding neighborhood have access to this new school is a determinant of health. Access to early childhood development resources and education is a determining factor for health of children as they grow to adulthood. Neoliberalism, gentrification, and the new urban education are factors determining the social health of East Baltimore and Baltimore because the neighborhoods displaced residents are forced to move into may be similarly disinvested, contributing to diminished health. Residents must be able to stay in the neighborhoods undergoing revitalization and participate in all the amenities (education, parks, housing, health, employment, transportation): this is a more participatory model of community rebuilding-one which emphasizes community participation before development to ensure that participation continues during and after, and does not result in gentrification, displacement, segregation and poor health. How do we do that?

Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD) along with Causa Justa:Just Cause’s (CJJC) recent report shows the negative health effects on communities in the Bay Area undergoing gentrification (8). Among others, they recommend Health Impact Assessments (HIA) before development occurs to determine potential negative health outcomes caused by gentrification and displacement; their recommendations emphasize the necessity of community participation in all processes of development. In 2009 similar recommendations were made by the Association of Bay Area Governments and Policy Link. However the current recommendations by ACPHD and CJJC is the first to directly show quantitative changes in population health during all stages of gentrification processes, clarifying the health consequences of displacement. HIAs can also be used to substantiate the need for community-driven rebuilding processes as done by the Los Angeles Community Action Network. They used a HIA to leverage a commitment for more than $20 million to limit displacement through affordable housing, local hiring, support for tenant rights and preventive health programs.

In 2003, Save Middle East Action Committee, Inc. requested that Hopkins/East Baltimore Development Inc. conduct a HIA before demolition and rebuilding began. This was particularly important because the majority of the housing stock was built during the period of lead-based paint and because previous studies of demolition by the university showed contamination of the surrounding air with lead. Even with this evidence, the timeline of the university’s first Biotech building was more important than the health of low income and African American residents. This type of public:private development project ignored the health of residents then just as a current development project in Los Angeles targeting public housing conversion into a mixed-income development is attempting to ignore the health of low income people of color (9). Such racism and classism driving neoliberal community rebuilding chooses to ignore existing communities where the majority of residents are people of color with little resources and the lowest life expectancy. These and previous examples confirm that the value placed on low income and racial/ethnic minority communities are minimal compared to that of higher income and white communities, and that the growth of inequitable power in majority white and higher income communities will continue to drive these unhealthy socioeconomic and political economic practices.

Gentrification and its neoliberal agenda has arrived in full force in the 21st century. New York’s Brooklyn and the Bronx, Sommerville, Portland, Chicago, Denver, and DC are facing the effects of gentrification and unaffordable housing, all risk factors and outcomes of displacement and negative health outcomes (10-16). Cities implementing new transportation systems face similar risk of gentrification and displacement as reported by a 2010 report: Maintaining Diversity in America’s Transit-rich neighborhoods: Tools for equitable neighborhood change (17). Neoliberalism’s new attire of greater public:private partnerships with the propaganda of equitable public benefit supported by the media drives gentrification through accumulation of land by the wealthy and dispossession of civil rights of the disenfranchised- in the US and abroad (18). Such inequitable societies lead to inequitable health of individuals and populations as seen with life expectancy differences between the rich and the poor of up to 19 years (19). Confronting and ending these violations of human rights through coalition building across struggles for equity of race, income, housing, food, education, environment and all other social factors is necessary and possible. It may be the only possible way to reclaim a collective right to occupy the city, making it balanced, healthy, and whole.

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1.Gomez M. Poverty of health. In Race, class, power, and organizing in East Baltimore: Rebuilding abandoned communities in America. Lexington 2012.
2.Implicit Attitude Test
Experience of Discrimination Test
3. Public:private partnerships and rebuilding communities
4. Fullilove MT. 2001. Root shock: how tearing up American neighborhoods
5. The Importance of Evaluating the Population Health Impact of Public Housing Demolition and Displacement
6. Harvey D. 2005. A brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford University.
7. Lipman P. The new political economy of urban education: neoliberalism, race, and the right to the city. 2011 New York and London. Routledge.
8. Development without displacement: Causa Justa:Just Cause
9. Gentrification in Los Angeles, LA Community Action Network
10. Gentrification in NY
11. Gentrification in Bronx, NY
12. Gentrification in Sommerville, MA
13. Gentrification in Portland, OR
14. McMillen DP, McDonald J. 2004. Reaction of House Prices to a New Rapid Transit Line: Chicago’s Midway Line, 1983–1999. Real Estate Economics
15. Gentrification in Denver, CO
16. Gentrification in DC
17. Transportation and gentrification
18. Gentrification in London
19. Life expectancy between rich and poor

Salvador Allene and East Baltimore

¿Qué tiene Salvador Allene y East Baltimore en común? Los determinantes de la mala salud de madre de la pobreza y el racismo creado y propagado por aquellos en el poder, el crecimiento de las grandes instituciones, en colaboración con el gobierno. Ven y únete a la conversación el 3 de mayo de 2013, 16:30. Tu voz es importante!

What does Salvador Allene and East Baltimore have in common? The determinants of poor health stem from poverty and racism created and propagated by those in power-growth of big institutions in partnership with government. Come join the conversation on May 3, 2013, 4:30 pm. Your voice is important!

Conversatorio con Marisela B =?ISO-8859-1?Q?G=F3mez=2Epdf?=-1