Poisoning Black Cities
It has taken the poisoning of an entire city of 100,000 people—52 percent of them Black—to draw national attention to the human effects of systematic corporatization of the public sphere under neoliberal U.S. capitalism. Republican Governor Rick Synder promises to “fix” the ruined water infrastructure of Flint, Michigan, now hopelessly corroded and saturated with lead—a repair that could cost as much as $1.5 billion. But, even if Snyder is forced to resign, as demonstrators demand, or is jailed, as filmmaker Michael Moore would prefer, it won’t fix the irreparably damaged brains of the city’s children or prevent a cascade of Flint-like catastrophes from unfolding across the country.
We are experiencing another Katrina moment, a dreadful epiphany in which the nature of the beast that is preying upon us becomes horrifically clear. Michigan’s emergency financial manager system—a weapon of corporate dictatorship imposed selectively on heavily Black and brown cities and school systems—is the lead-tipped point of the spear that is gutting urban Black America. It is not a unique instrument—and certainly not a Republican invention—but part of Wall Street’s tool kit to starve, bulldoze, redline, over-price, oppressively police, and even poison Black people out of the urban centers.
Katrina should have been the wake-up call, a decade ago, but the hegemonic influence of the bankster-infested Democratic Party in Black America muted the warning, that the Lords of Capital were determined to eject Blacks from valuable real estate by any means necessary. After their success in expelling 100,000 Black people from New Orleans under cover of a hurricane, the corporate designers of the New American City stepped up the pace of gentrification, deploying every soft and hard tool available to them. The Black-removal machine was revved up to maximum, erasing Black urban majorities and pluralities with dizzying speed.
Having met little organized resistance, the corporate ethnic cleansers grew bolder. Republicans, like Rick Synder, get elected by trashing Black people; they hardly need an economic motivation for race-baiting. Corporate Democrats are more subtle. Rick Snyder wasn’t the first governor to disenfranchise Black urbanites in Michigan; his Democratic predecessor, Jennifer Granholm, a reputed “liberal,” appointed emergency managers to lord it over mostly Black Benton Harbor, Highland Park, Pontiac, and the Detroit Public Schools (where teachers have been on a sick-out to protest the ghastly conditions wrought by that bipartisan legacy of plantation-like governance.)
The Obama administration was a full partner in the deal that finalized the bankrupting of Detroit, providing federal funds to protect prime city assets necessary for future “revitalization” (to benefit anticipated new residents) but uttering not a word in protest of the disenfranchisement of the current, 83 percent Black population. The U.S. Justice Department failed to file a brief in support of the local NAACP’s appeal to the federal courts, that Michigan’s emergency financial manager law is racially selective, sparing financially troubled “municipalities with majority-white populations” from financial oversight while negating the votes of more than half of the state’s Black citizenry. “You do not throw out the right to vote on the basis of economic distress,” said Detroit NAACP president Reverend Dr. Wendell Anthony.
On the contrary, that’s exactly what corporations do when they set an economic or political goal that cannot be achieved at the local ballot box: they disenfranchise the uncooperative voters. In the United States, Black votes are the easiest to nullify, because huge numbers of whites don’t think Blacks are worthy of full citizenship. They take pleasure in bringing Detroit low, and in the enforced shrinking of Black New Orleans, never considering that the weakening of democratic norms will ultimately expose whites to the whims of Capital, as well. It is the oldest story in the United States.
White racism thus shapes the corporate model for direct rule by moneyed interests. Typically, the urban disenfranchisement process begins with the public schools, which become overwhelmingly Black and brown ahead of the general population. Locally elected inner city school boards are swept away in favor of state or direct mayoral control, while suburbanites retain the old, hands-on democratic model. (The Michigan legislature took over Detroit’s schools in 1999.) Corporate tentacles encroach upon the traditional powers of “too-Black” cities in ways not visible to ordinary citizens—through regional agencies, special industrial and development zones, targeted tax abatements, etc.—until there is little left for the local Black government to tax or administer except its largely impoverished constituents. Black governance is discredited—even though, in the last stages of urban distress, there are few resources with which to govern. The city writhes in protracted pain until “rescued” by the state for the purpose of corporate makeover (“renaissance”) and repopulation.
The corporate rulers and their minions must be held responsible for all of the pain that is inflicted on the people of intentionally distressed cities, whose residents are stripped of the means to defend themselves against the tortures, humiliations and various poisons of the state.
—Black Agenda Report, January 20, 2016