Monday, August 24, 2009

DeBerry hits it on the head

This column by Jarvis DeBerry is required reading.

The issues of the poor often intersect with those who are racially oppressed, but not always. We see the conflicts between the two groups when black people with money wage campaigns against those who are without.

Eastern New Orleans has often been a battleground for this kind of intra-racial class warfare because that part of the city has included beautiful mansions and huge unsightly apartment complexes -- one of which I used to call home. Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis gave the impression soon after Hurricane Katrina that she spoke for the entire area when she trumpeted the phrase "right to return."

She's fought mightily for homeowners -- that is, those who have already acquired some semblance of wealth. However, she has shown herself to be indifferent -- if not outright opposed -- to the interests of low-wage residents who require affordable-housing options to return to the city.

In leading the opposition against a developer looking to build 36 affordable single-family houses near Lake Carmel at an average cost of $200,000, Willard-Lewis said the interests of current residents are her chief concern. So much for everybody else returning.

The City Planning Commission voted 6-2 to approve the legal subdivision developer Harold Foley needs to start his project. The New Orleans City Council, however, voted 5-2 against the project. The only two members to show Foley support were James Carter and Shelley Midura.

In voting against the project, the City Council isn't showing itself to be any different than the St. Bernard Parish Council, which has twice been scolded by a federal court judge for violating the Fair Housing Act.

The judge found that St. Bernard officials have withheld a routine re-subdivision request for a developer planning to build apartments because parish officials are trying to keep out black people.

See Judge Ginger Berrigan's order.

The City Council is employing the same strategy St. Bernard officials have used. It's difficult to imagine a judge looking any more kindly on the city's blockade of this project. The federal court would be unfairly punishing St. Bernard if it allowed New Orleans to do the same thing.


Anonymous said...

There's a huge difference and Jarvis is saying what white folks want to hear. Now they can say that blacks are just as bad as whites.

The fair housing law only protects people from racial discrimination, like it or not. It does not protect poor people. People in the U.S. have a right to spend money to avoid the poor: gated communities, private clubs, private schools. But St. Bernard wants to keep the Parish white. That's what Lynn Dean, the respected council person said more than once and he knows his neighbors better than we do. They don't want rich or poor blacks out there and the blood rental law proves that race was central. They burned down the house of a middle class black woman who planned to rent her house. That's a moral crime which white people should have been protesting for three years, yet the white blogs have been silent on the court cases against the parish.

Now comes Carmel estates and suddenly we want to talk about housing discrimination. The Carmel folks are not racists violating the law: they live in a black community. Their goal is not to keep blacks or whites out, but to keep poor blacks out. They may be wrong, but they are not violating the law and they are behaving just like the uptown whites who blocked affordable housing in Stacy Head' disrict, which elicited little or no white protests.

We trivialize racism by equating it with class prejudices that all middle class homeowners have. It gives us an excuses to not protest racism in our midst.

Nazis persecuted Jews and wanted them removed from Germany, yet in the U.S. at the same time we locked up the Japanese. Before the war was over, we had released the Japanese, but they had lost their land and wealth. There were no Jews to release in Germany. Which was the greater crime? Were they amoral equivalents? Was Roosevelt the same as Hitler? Tafarro the same as Willard-Lewis? That middle class blacks have paid to live with other middle class blacks does not releive us of our special obligation to protest and uproot racism. "Amoral equivalency" is just an argument deployed to avoid challenging white racism.

What do black people see? That as long as whites are engaged in overt racism, white progressives have little to say. But as soon as blacks engage in class discrimination, it's got our attention. Will they see that has rank hypocricy? Is there any reason for blacks to trust whites when silence is a way of life?

Frolic said...

I often like Jarvis, but he does have a bad habit of believing his personal opinions of right and wrong are the same thing as legal opinions.

mcbrid35 said...

Before weighing in, it help y'all to watch the actual debate on this:

The contractor doing the work (and thus, the developer) has been a less than good neighbor. Take a look at the slides the neighbors present, showing flooded backyards and a crane looming over their houses during Gustav (at around 5:20 on the video). Not good.

Were I living there, I would have strong objections whether the planned homes were million dollar mansions or meant as affordable housing.

New Orleans Ladder said...

I really liked this article.
Indeed, Jarvis is quite the Crucifixion Carpenter again today:

Gilbert said...

If the coucilwoman voted the legal will of her constituents then she did her job. What is not covered in Jarvis' article is the large number of low income housing that is available in New Orleans East already. The lease to own homes are a wonderful idea, if the neighbors in that area choose not to have the subdivision moving in next to them, then the contractor can find another location and/or should have done a better job marketing his plans to the neighbors.

I can't say I'm familiar with this issue, I can say I am familiar with a number of previous New Orleans East developments that were put together and then poorly taken care of by their developers leaving neighbors with near blight like conditions.