port of harlem magazine
ivan brown realty
White Space, Black Hood
Jul 28 – Aug 10, 2022
Our Space

The hood persists through classic processes of anti-Black caste: boundary maintenance, opportunity hoarding, and stereotype-driven surveillance. Today, government at all levels overinvests in affluent white space and disinvests in Blackness, with the exception of excessive spending on policing and incarceration. Segregation is at the heart of structural racism in America. In theory, the US Constitution and civil rights laws demand equal protection and treatment of Black Americans. In practice, American law and public policies have encouraged rather than discouraged segregation. Horizontal competition between communities of abundance and communities of need sets up a budgetary politics in which affluent spaces and people usually win. Politicians and non-descendants of all colors have participated in ghetto myths to justify containing descendants in high-poverty environs, or prisons, and to justify shrinking government, except the military and law enforcement. Fortunately, a revolutionary awakening has begun to disrupt this tired politics. A growing, multiracial coalition believes that Black Lives Matter. But the structures and policies that undermine Black lives, and divide the American house against itself, endure.

Segregation and its mechanics of racialized favor and disfavor undermine opportunity for everyone. The American system of residential caste works only for the few who can buy their way into gold-standard neighborhoods that enjoy the best of everything. Everyone participates in this racialized system of opportunity for the few. The American way means trying to get into “good” neighborhoods and schools and avoid “bad” ones. Movers know, though they may not say it out loud, that what is really going on is avoidance of poor Black people in large numbers. Extreme segregation persists in metropolitan areas where large numbers of great migrants landed.

The processes of residential caste and structural racism also operate, though perhaps less visibly, in less overtly segregated places. Poverty-free havens and poverty-dense hoods would not exist if the state had not designed, constructed, and maintained this physical racial order. Intentional state action to create and maintain the racialized order included government-encouraged racially restrictive covenants, exclusionary zoning, Negro-cleansing “urban renewal,” intentionally segregated public housing, an interstate highway program laid to create racial barriers, endemic redlining, and intentionally disinvesting in basic services for Black neighborhoods. Individuals making choices about where to live may not recognize or acknowledge how much the state, through investment and disinvestment, shapes racial patterns and perceptions.

Residents of affluent white space hoard and receive more than their fair share of public and private treasure. They and the state also engage in boundary maintenance. Policing, surveillance, exclusionary zoning, and predatory nuisance laws protect affluent white interests and keep descendants at bay. Hoary stereotypes apply to descendants wherever they are. An insidious, unhealthy relationship persists between the state and descendants trapped in concentrated poverty. An unhealthy relationship also persists between people in the hood and those who fear and dehumanize them.

I suggest three critical pillars to guide state action: (1) change the relationship of the state with descendants from punitive to caring, (2) see descendants as potential assets and empower them to be change agents, and (3) invest resources and transfer assets to support descendants and respected community institutions in the process of repair. Here is the crux: dismantling unjust budgetary habits and reducing systemic racism will require sacrifices from white communities that have disproportionately benefited from anti-Black policies for decades. After a revolutionary moment where 96 percent of Americans have acknowledged that Black Americans face discrimination, are we finally ready to readjust our spending priorities?

A critical point bears repeating. Applying a humane lens to descendants frees policymakers to innovate and focus on evidence-based strategies that might be cheaper and certainly more effective than punitive policies borne of racial dogma. At the local level, details of what to cut and where to reallocate should be forged by multiracial coalitions that are constantly gathering political power, led by indigenous Black voices with expert knowledge of what their neighborhoods need. In this way, the processes of abolition and repair will also repair democracy. Beyond repairing the state’s relationship with high-poverty Black neighborhoods and the people who live there, transformative strategies might begin to repair our broken race relations. As street violence is reduced and descendants humanized, nondescendants might avoid and surveil Black people less. Perhaps they would support investments in public institutions and participate in them more. Out of the ashes of the COVID pandemic and a five-decade cultural war about the hood, a reinvigorated public sphere and social contract might emerge.
POH Publisher Wayne Young interviews Sheryll Cashin on Port Of Harlem Talk Radio
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