Churches should teach Black economics to save our communities (FCN, 10/10/2003)
(FinalCall.com) – What started as a strong, progressive plan by Detroit’s City Council July 14 to create a Black Business district to right the historical and present day wrongs facing the city’s majority underserved Black population has been weakened by a new resolution that bowed to pressure from opponents calling it “racist” and “reverse discrimination.”
“Incompetent leaders and naÃ¯ve elected officials have allowed this plan to be weakened,” explained Dr. Claud Anderson to The Final Call. Dr. Anderson was commissioned by the Detroit City Council to prepare the report, “A PowerNomics Economic Development Plan for Detroit’s Under-Served Majority Population.”
“Blacks are locked in Detroit as a permanent underclass. These city council members pretend to be interested, but they help maintain the economic inequities. They would rather see the pain on Black people’s faces than be called a racist. They hide behind the myth of being colorblind and serving everybody rather than serving the people who elected them.”
The original resolution was vetoed by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and that veto was overturned by the City Council. It received a 7-2 vote. The proposed district, to be called African Town, was to be financed with $30 million from three casinos. All that was left was for land to be allocated by the mayor.
Before the ink had dried, the plan had received criticism from immigrant groups and the dissenting members of the City Council, Sheila Cockrel and Kay Everett, for being “racist and reverse discrimination.” It was also called illegal and lawsuits were threatened.
When you make it Black versus another group, you lose sight of the real problem of Black economic development. Other groups have taken advantage of what we have failed to do, and that is to do for self.
–Minister Dawud Muhammad, Muhammad’s Mosque No.1
According to the executive summary of the plan, “the centerpiece of the plan is the proposal to build a Black business district in the inner city, modeled after Mexicantown, Chinatown and Dearborn’s Arabtown. This new district would have industries and businesses built specifically upon identified competitive advantages and would be owned by the majority underserved population.”
Councilmember Everett immediately condemned the plan. She wrote in The Detroit Free Press, Sept. 30, “The African Town proposal is racist in that it excludes other races to the perceived benefit of Detroit African Americans. The proposal is detrimental to the interests of Detroit and southeast Michigan. The rationale for this ill-conceived plan is rooted in a form of victim hood justifications that scapegoats those of other ethnicities that we should be coalescing with, not separating ourselves from, such as our Hispanic, Arab, Asian, Chaldean and White neighbors.”
“We fought too hard, were beaten and jailed too much and died too often fighting the ugliness of segregation to now embrace the same ugliness of neo-segregation as we wallow in victim-hood. I will not wallow in victim-hood. I will not marginalize the people I represent with neo-segregationist policies that only satisfy hooded nightriders.”
However, according to Dr. Anderson, the plan was not about segregation, but rather recommendations to correct the wrongs which result from the racial, ethnic and economic disparities within Detroit’s inner city.
“I looked at how Black people were on the bottom. Their per capita income is only $14,700 versus other groups. Many not in the country more than a year have five times the per capita of Blacks at $85,000. Blacks are just barely above the poverty line. What’s keeping them down?
“The historical structure of inequalities has never been resolved. Integration didn’t resolve the structural inequalities, it only worsened it. Calling Blacks minorities in a city where they are the majority underserved has compounded the injustice. Blacks are the majority and they should not be suffering.”
He explained further, “Blacks control half of one percent of the businesses in Detroit, .15 percent of the wealth; they comprise 45 percent of the adult unemployment and over 70 percent of the youth unemployment. They are almost 50 percent of the poverty rate, over 51 percent of the imprisonment rate and 55-65 percent of the first graders will drop out before they graduate.
“Yet, no one has addressed these problems. If you have a majority underserved population, then someone is over-served. Who is the over-served? The over-served are the Whites and the immigrants.”
Dollars and sense
While many were excited about the plan to develop manufacturing plants, increased business ownership, business investments and jobs for Detroit citizens in a similar manner to economic programs designed to create Greektown and Mexicantown, critics were concerned that city dollars would be used for one specific group to the exclusion of another.
“It is important to note that when the Greek town and Mexican town projects were launched with the City of Detroit pension fund and empowerment zone dollars, they were never greeted with charges of racism. Further, Greek town and Mexicantown are patronized and subsidized by all citizens, including significant support from Detroit’s African American community,” wrote City Councilwoman Joann Watson in The Detroit Free Press Sept. 28.
“More important, African Town offers the opportunity to provide incentives to promote small businesses and fair trade polices within the city. Black Detroiters generate approximately $11 billion annually, with 95 percent of those dollars being exported outside of Detroit’s commerce and retail markets.”
She added, “If Black Detroiters’ dollars began to circulate eight to 10 times within the Detroit community as a result of entrepreneurial and retailing opportunities, those $11 billion could grow to $80 billion to $100 billion.”
So what’s the problem with Black Detroiters having their piece of the economic pie?
Opponents saw the plan, in addition to being “racist, reverse discrimination and illegal,” as opposing immigrants.
“Black American resentment of immigrants is not new, neither is it unfounded,” wrote Margaret Kimberly for The Black Commentator on alternet.com. “The group most subject to oppression and the resulting inability to build wealth, watches again and again as people from every corner of the globe move into their neighborhoods and accomplish what they have been prevented from doing. To add insult to injury, they are then told that the newcomers’ success is proof of their own worthlessness.”
“Needless to say, the immigrants in question are not happy about taking the blame for all of Detroits deeply entrenched problems. Asian, Latino and Arab groups rallied against the proposal and demanded an apology from the City Council. The anti-immigrant sentiment in the report begs another question. Would Black Americans in Detroit and elsewhere be better off if immigrants left? Would their businesses suddenly become owned by Black people?” she asks.
Dr. Anderson concludes that it’s unfair to equate immigrants with Blacks in America.
“This program is to erase the vestiges of slavery and racism. How can the others classified as minorities, the handicapped, Spanish, gay and women be equal to Black folks? Show their common experience with Blacks. It can’t be done. The city council resolution defines Blacks as a majority that is entitled to certain rights and privileges to correct the injustices of the past.”
“Integration didn’t help Black folks. It further stripped them of their resources. We lost our businesses, schools, colleges, heritage, history, culture and religion, as well as group identity. We’re stripped with nothing to work with and called racist and reverse discriminators when we try to get it back. The other groups haven’t integrated. They felt free to build Pole- town, Little Havana, Little Saigon, Koreatown and Chinatown. They are classified as White and get all the benefits of being White, immigrant and minority.”
The future of African Town
The racial war of words has settled and the plan has gone back to the drawing board. City Council President Pro Tem Kenneth Cockrel and council member Alberta Tinsley-Talabi prepared a new resolution and explained their rationale in a released statement.
“The fact is, had City Council attempted to move forward with development of such a plan, the Council and the City would inevitably have faced a lawsuit. That would have forced the city to spend tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and would have only put this plan on hold,” the statement said. “However, it is also clear that earlier resolutions spoke to a real and critical issue that cannot be ignored–the economic disenfranchisement of African Americans who represent 80 percent of Detroit’s populace. While other ethnic groups, such as Mexicans and Greeks, have thriving business districts within our borders, Detroit doesn’t have even one successful African American business district.”
The new resolution calls on the City Planning Commission, which operates under City Council’s authority, and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation to prepare a plan that conforms to existing laws, that does not “discriminate against other ethnic groups.”
James Clingman, an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati’s African American Studies Department, is also a columnist for the San Francisco Bay View. He wrote in favor of Detroit’s original proposition. He told The Final Call, “Some people got convinced to change their opinion on this plan. I don’t know why. We get bought off in so many ways. It’s up to the people of Detroit who own the government to say this is unacceptable if, in fact, this is something they want.”
Muhammad’s Mosque No. 1 Minister Dawud Muhammad felt the proposal was sound. “Many felt the language of the proposal is what shot it in the foot. It’s a sad thing. Other ethnic groups were manipulated to be against it, but other groups are making a living off of a majority Black population,” he said. “When you make it Black versus another group, you lose sight of the real problem of Black economic development. Other groups have taken advantage of what we have failed to do, and that is to do for self. I don’t fault the forward-looking council members for ensuring that Blacks have their piece of the pie, not just jobs, but setting up manufacturing also.”