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Though eastern talk show hosts might view Berkeley, California, as a hotbed of diversity, census reports show it be the whitest city in Alameda County.
According to Berkeley’s Health Officer, Dr.Linda Rudolph, it is also a city where life expectancy among whites has increased to 80, while the rate among black citizens of the university town has decreased.
The report blamed some of the problems that blacks experience on eco-racism. Their neighborhoods being located near the freeway, for example, has led to an increase in cases of asthma among black residents. The report also cited “the lack of stores carrying fresh fruit and vegetables in southwest Berkeley.”
A number of reports conclude that toxic dumps are more likely to be found in black neighborhoods. Chester W. Hartman, author of Poverty & Race in America writes, “Studies have documented that hazardous waste landfills are disproportionately placed in African- American communities. . .Race is independent of class in the distribution of air pollution, contaminated fish consumption,location of municipal landfills, and incinerators, abandoned toxic waste dumps, cleanup of Superfund sites, lead poisoning in children and asthma.”
Some of the problems of my inner city neighborhood are also environmental. Residents are fearful of walking exercise, because of a gang that has been operating an open drug market for about three years. The police say that they don’t have the manpower to do anything about it. (See my article, “Assisted Homicide In Oakland,” December, Playboy). I’m sure that the kind of high rate of hypertension among Berkeley blacks exists among my neighbors. One of the causes is noise pollution, in the form of the rumbling bass emanating from the speakers lodged within car trunks of “Boom Cars.” We are exposed to this belligerency masked as music 24 hours per day, loud noise being an instrument of torture in some countries, and when we complain to the police we’re told that noise pollution isn’t their highest priority. While upscale white neighborhoods receive the Paris Hilton treatment, ours is neglected.
Like the black Berkeley residents, we have to motor to the upscale neighborhoods in order to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, and during the recent garbage strike, garbage in black neighborhoods was most likely to remain uncollected.
Given the choices that African Americans have and the environmental issues at the root of their problems, should blacks go green?
I grew up in a Democratic household and have voted for Democrats all of my life, but was I the only African American annoyed when I heard Al From, founder of the Democratic Leadership Council, brag about the Sister Souljah incident, during which former President Clinton embarrassed Jesse Jackson as a way of wooing white voters. Appearing on
C-Span, From said that Clinton’s action represented a rebuff to a powerful interest group. So powerful that blacks were never able to have one of their people included on a presidential ticket.
In California, black Democrats have had to endure Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, a Democrat, who believes that diversity means everybody but blacks. Former Oakland Mayor, Jerry Brown, another Democrat, enhanced his standing among whites by picking fights with blacks, the Giuliani strategy. For his fight against those whom he deemed “dysfunctional,” he received an award from the Manhattan Institute, an outfit that hobnobs with “Race Science,” quacks. Another Democrat, former Governor Gray Davis, was beholden to the scandal plagued powerful California Corrections Industry; he is another Democrat who followed the From formula. He endorsed a bill that would treat juvenile offenders as adults.
Unlike Clinton, these Democrats weren’t able to mask their attitudes toward blacks by posing as their chum. Blacks can’t have a party or a picnic without Clinton showing up unannounced.
Now we have another black presidential candidate whose campaign will probably end with the Democrats providing him with a prime time speech opportunity to endorse the white candidate, after which, the tearful delegates will lock arms, sing and sway.
Barack Obama has sparkle. He’s cool. As a wordsmith he ranks with JFK and Ronald Reagan. But he seems to be emulating the Clinton-From model by preaching personal responsibility to blacks, exclusively, when the white family is in such a state of dysfunction that Andrew Hacker, a contributor to The New York Review of Books, has written that were Daniel Moynihan around today, he’d be writing about the “tangle of pathologies” in the white family. (Nobody has told this to Bob Herbert and Orlando Patterson, who are brought in by The New York Times Op-ed editor to aid the newspaper’s campaign in assigning all blame for the abandonment of family values to black men.) Why no tough love for white, Hispanic and South Asian families? I suspect that Mr. Obama’s ideas were partially formed by African American professors at Harvard University, at least one of whom has become a millionaire by blaming the African slave trade on blacks, charging blacks with Anti-Semitism (even though Senator Joe Lieberman was the first choice for president among blacks in 2003, before Al Sharpton entered the primaries) and scolding “35 year old black grandmothers who live in the projects,” when, statistically, multi-generational welfare recipients are rare, and the rate of out-of-wedlock births among black teenagers has plummeted. When Tim Russert, Don Imus’ buddy, regularly deplores the state of the black family, he never mentions this. In California,for the first time, the traditional nuclear family is in the minority; this can’t be blamed on blacks, since they are only 4% of the population. The Mercury News reported (9/12/07): “As recently as the 2000 Census, about 52 percent of Californians 15 or older were married. But 2006 population data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau says that share of married Californians has slipped to 48.5 percent this decade as the share of adults who have never wed has grown.
“Californians are waiting longer than ever–and longer than people in many other states–to get married, or they’re just skipping it altogether. About three in 10 women in California have never married, a percentage topped by only three other states, according to the new census data. An even higher percentage of men–38 percent–have never married.”
Of course, Democratic candidates are capable of delivering some inspirational applause lines like the ones spoken at the recent Howard University forum. They can express outrage about AIDS and its impact on the African American community, but they dare not offend Reagan Democrats by citing the role that the criminal justice system plays in the spread of the virus. The book Prison Madness by Terry Kupers, M.D., describes how prison officials use rape as punishment and how some inmates become infected with the virus, and when released spread it in the population. If the Democrats addressed that aspect of the AIDS disaster and criticized the prison industrial complex, they would be perceived as weak sisters.
For the same reason, they dare not criticize the gun lobby. While black and Hispanic children have been mowed down in the streets as a result of the National Rifle Association’s intransigence, it took the slaughter of white kids at Virginia Tech to get Congress to act on some modest gun law reform.
Mrs.Clinton is the favorite candidate of the arms industry. It was reported on Democracy Now, Oct.19:
“new figures show Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton has emerged as the candidate most favored by the nation’s leading weapons companies. Clinton has received more than fifty-two thousand dollars from arms industry employees. That’s more than half the amount given to all Democratic candidates and sixty-percent of the total that has gone to Republicans.”
Moreover, Mrs. Clinton won’t mention how her husband’s welfare reform bill has contributed to increased infant mortality in the South and led to hardship among the brown, white and yellow communities. Quoted in Norman Solomon’s Made Love Got War, poverty scholar Gwendolyn Mink says, “ten years after the so-called welfare reform, mothers are being forced into full-time jobs that do not pay wages that allow them to make ends meet. The wage gap for mothers is growing, and economic insecurity for mothers and children gets worse. Indeed, the persistent insecurity enforced by sub-poverty wages-combined with harsh welfare rules and the lack of child care and health provision make families fragile and puts mothers’ custody of children at risk.” And though President Clinton wooed the new black class of Martha’s Vineyard blacks, entrepreneurs and intellectuals, his administration saw the largest rate of black incarceration of in history. The headlines of a press release issued by the Justice Policy Institute on Feb. 19th, 2001 read “More American Were Imprisoned under President Clinton than Under Any Other US President.”
On the other hand, there are members of the Republican Party who still admire Jefferson Davis. Their leading candidate for president had a relationship with New York City blacks that, according to the late Jack Newfield’s The Full Rudy, was less than cordial. This is a man who takes credit for a reduction in a crime rate that was begun under his predecessor, David Dinkens, a fact ignored by the inbed with press, which coddles him the way they do Bush. This is a man who was so concerned about National Security that he suggested a friend with connections to organized crime to become the head of Homeland Security.
One of the reasons for his appeal to white voters is that he gives the impression that he knows how to handle blacks (or as one writer put it euphemistically, “urban chaos”), the kind of reputation that’s gotten presidents elected in the past. In the South they used to call it “running against the niggers.” Though these men are elected to spite blacks, they end up harming the voters who elected them to office. Bush won the presidency by defeating John McCain in South Carolina, Scotland in America. All Rove’s surrogates had to do was spread the rumor that McCain had fathered a black child out-of-wedlock.
So when confronted with a party that takes them for granted and one that doesn’t care whether they go drown, why shouldn’t blacks go green?
The one argument I’ve heard against the idea is that the Green Party is dominated by coffee house liberals. Obviously, blacks have made alliances with worse.
ISHMAEL REED’s new play, “Body Parts,” will open on Oct. 25 at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café, 236, East Third Street, between Aves. B and C. For more info call 212-505-8183.
ISHMAEL REED is a poet, novelist and essayist who lives in Oakland. His widely-accalimed novels include, Mumbo Jumbo, the Freelance Pallbearers and the Last Days of Louisiana Red. He has recently published a fantastic book on Oakland: Blues City: a Walk in Oakland and Carroll and Graf has recently published a thick volume of his poems: New and Collected Poems: 1964-2006.
He is also the editor of the online zine Konch.
Copyright, 2007, ISHMAEL REED.