U.S. Politics and the Economy

Ethnic Cleansing

The ultimate environmental racism

By Glen Ford

It is imperative that the atrocity unfolding in Flint, Michigan sharpen the discussion of the true nature of the blitzkrieg that has been launched against Black America—as should have occurred a decade ago when Katrina laid bare the grand scheme to remove and disperse poor Blacks from the inner cities by any means necessary. The poisoning of Flint’s water supply is not simply a lethal by-product of some generalized, endemic white racism in the United States. And, although state and federal authorities surely displayed contempt for the welfare of Flint’s predominantly Black and deeply impoverished population, this was not a crime of indifference. Rather, the poisoning of the 100,000 residents of Flint—like the dispersal of 100,000 Black New Orleanians—is the logical result of a nationwide campaign by organized capital to boost the value of urban real estate through Black removal. The governor of Michigan, in the service of corporations and banksters, sought to rid Flint and other Michigan cities of Black and poor people, and deputized his emergency financial managers to act accordingly.

There is a profound difference between damage that is done through contempt or indifference to the harmed persons’ plight—acts of callous oblivion, such as whites not caring what happens on the Black side of town—and harms that occur as the predictable result of a deliberate course of action, a plan. Polluting industries purposely place their plants in Black neighborhoods because they know African Americans lack the political power to protect themselves from pollution, and that some are desperate for employment despite the risk to their health. This is an example of environmental racism. The industry’s motive is to profit from the operations of the plant. The owner’s aim is not necessarily to harm his Black neighbors, but that is an acceptable (to him) by-product of his business model.

The ethnic cleansing of the cities, now sweeping the nation at a dizzying, near-frantic pace, is a far higher order of threat than your garden (or landfill) variety of environmental racism. Indeed, it is an existential threat to Black America. Unlike the industrial environmental racists, whose relationship to Black communities is, in some ways, perversely symbiotic (a place to park their foul facilities near metropolitan centers, and to hire cheap labor), the urban ethnic cleansers want Black people gone—period. Their purpose is to make life unbearable for the Black poor, to uproot them by creating as hostile an environment as possible, in order to clear the way for new, whiter, more affluent populations. The logic of the “marketplace” in racist, capitalist America dictates that the Black presence depresses land and housing values, impeding the artificial inflation of property assets that is the imperative of finance capital. Hegemonic capital—Wall Street—which is in command of both political parties, seeks an urban “renaissance” that is non-Black by design.

That’s why the Obama administration was an eager partner to the bankrupting of Detroit and did nothing to deter the disenfranchisement of half of Michigan’s Black population through installation of emergency financial managers like the one that switched Flint’s water source from lake Huron to the septic Flint River. That’s why emergency managers have trashed Detroit’s schools, so that no public institutional basis remains for anchoring the Black presence in the city—a theft of democratic and educational rights that has been perpetrated in Democrat-controlled cities for the past two decades, and is almost always accompanied by gentrification. Activists against police lawlessness now understand the role that cops play in creating a hostile (and often fatal) environment for Blacks in neighborhoods targeted for gentrification by the banks.

They trash the schools, they trash public housing, and in Flint, they trashed the water—they are capable of anything to drive out those who would forestall the “renaissance.” And since, as Bruce Dixon reminds us, the capitalists have ensured that the only urban renewal idea allowed in America is Black removal, the ethnic cleansers have had the active support of the Black political (misleadership) class in all their destructive endeavors.

The events of Katrina told us where this leads: mass Black expulsion, to...where? Hitler’s original program for the Jews was expulsion from a German-dominated Europe. We know where that led. Which is why it is so urgent that the Black political conversation be centered on ethnic cleansing, the highest and most dangerous stage of contemporary U.S. environmental racism: the creation of an environment in which Blacks have been made to disappear.

Black Agenda Report, January 27, 2016