In the previousposting on this subject, we noted that despite whatever efforts had been made, St. Louis, Missouri is a city divided along economic, cultural, and racial lines, and it’s not accidental. “There are two reasons St. Louis looks the way it does today,” noted Michael Allen, director of the Preservation Research Office. “There’s been this perpetual, successive fight of whites and middle-class people from the core of the city, and the same relationships tended to reconstitute themselves across a wide swath of geography.”
|St. Charles County, Missouri|
The city’s tensions quickly re-emerged in North County, and the trajectory suggests they will re-emerge in St. Charles County, the next stopover on the flight path. The flashpoint keeps moving further from the center of the city, but it’s still the same flashpoint.
“Blacks and whites are also separated psychologically,” Allen added. “Starting in the days of slave ownership, there was always this white fear of franchise and agency. What would happen if slaves revolted? If they got the right to vote? If thousands came and took our jobs? If they lived next door? If they came to the suburbs, we built to get away from them? Or the suburbs we built to get away from those suburbs?”
“In reaction, St. Louis has spent enormous sums of public money to spatially reinforce human segregation patterns,” Allen said. “We tore out the core of the city around downtown, just north and south and west, and fortified downtown as an island, by removing so-called slum neighborhoods. Then we demolished vacant housing in the Ville [where rocker Chuck Berry and opera singer Grace Bumbry grew up] and other historic black neighborhoods.
These were not accidents. These were inflicted wounds. Many black residents wound up renting, moving often, and never acquiring home equity, or savings to bequeath to their children. The areas where they lived had no tax base, inadequate schools and no appeal to local businesses that could have provided jobs.
“[Descendants of American Slaves] communities in urban areas don’t have Whole Foods. They don’t have Starbucks. They don’t have work,” said Gerald Early, director of African American studies at Washington University. “And that goes back to legalized segregation. They were basically set up to not be able to compete with white communities, to remind people every day that they were inferior to whites.”
Early blamed St. Louis’ geographic fragmentation for exacerbating segregation. ‘The fragmentation tends to go along racial lines. If St. Louis City were 90 percent whites, the county would say, ‘Yea, that’s cool, let’s have a merger.’ But unification is not taking place for racial reasons, and [Descendants of American Slaves] are very aware of that fact. In essence, they are being told by whites, ‘We don’t really want to be with you as citizens.’”
St. Louis might look inclusive. The city has had two black mayors, and the county has had a black chief executive. But “electoral politics promised more than it ultimately delivered, because power is diffused,” Early said. “It’s in the economic realm. It’s in the cultural realm. And in those areas in St. Louis, black people have very little power and very little influence. They have very little presence.”
“St. Louis feels a little Southern, and some of the white people have a kind of Southern, genteel, patrician way about them. If you are part of the white elite, you are saying, ‘We are doing things for you. We are trying to help. We have this or that “special program” for you.’ But clearly, after a while — and I think the blowup in Ferguson is a perfect example — people get angry, and they get fed up, and those things are not enough.” Human dignity and freedom, political democracy, and a just society and the rest are dependent not on fundamental rights, but on jobs, welfare, and charity.
The solution to economic injustice, DAS/ESJ believes, is not to make enemies out of the owners but, by lifting barriers, to make owners out of the non-owners. Political democracy demands economic justice which in turn demands real economic democracy — empowering each person with the means and opportunity to acquire and enjoy the full rights, rewards, and responsibilities of productive capital ownership.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., noted, “You cannot legislate goodness and pass a Law for someone to respect you. The only way to social justice in a capitalist country is through economics and ownership.”