Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Three Thoughts on the (Sub?)Urban Crisis

1. Ever wondering how downtown Memphis got its groove back? Turns out, the renewal involved reducing violent crime in the downtown area by dispersing it, and the structural factors associated with it, to the periphery. A rather compelling and depressing and lengthy Atlantic Monthly article has the details for all the Washav Memphis ex-pats. A friend of mine who alerted me to the piece I think summed up the sentiment nicely: it's just politically disappointing.

2. Matt Yglesias alerts us that Shelby Steele is back at it again telling Americans the big dangerous idea that no one is quite ready to swallow: that white people aren't so bad, and that the problems of this country stem from them being just too benevolent to their former slaves and underclass. On the one hand, I think it's entirely justifiable to maintain that exclusively placing emphasis on policies like affirmative action and certain forms of welfare only mask the much more substantive and comprehensive policies that are actually necessary for solving the chronic problems associated with black America. Where I begin to get annoyed is when conservatives blame liberals for not actually caring about these problems because they are for policies like affirmative action and certain forms of welfare. My understanding has been that places like universities and people like academics are by and large for affirmative, certain forms of welfare, and substantially more local, state, and federal investment in black communities than are conservatives. When did support for the former two preclude support of the latter two except when various reactionary white folks decided that they would sort-of-kind-of-but-not-really support affirmative action and certain forms of welfare but absolutely not substantially more local, state, and federal investment in black communities. But then again, what am I saying? I momentarily forgot that liberal "white guilt" is the enemy here and not a history of structural inequality and racism.

3. The Atlantic piece (particularly the embedded video) also explores the question as to why the urban crisis is no longer a part of our national conversation. One would hope that an Obama victory would at least help matter a little. He would, after all, be the first truly urban President (who has worked on urban problems) since ... Kennedy (Ford might also possibly count). In addition, one would presume the continued trickle of folks back into the city would jump-start a sustained discussion of urban problems. The problem with this logic is that it assumes urban problems will stay urban rather than being outsourced to the suburbs as the Memphis article shows. With the urban crisis evenly dispersed into suburbia, I'm not sure whether we get silence or La Haine.


Blogger Scantron said...

1. I must read this. Get back to you once I do.

2. Yeah, I saw the Steele thing. The instantly recognizable fallacy of his statement about "white people making more moral progress in the past 40 years" (if we are going to take the bait and speak about "white people" per se making progress) is that such progress is *relative* and largely meaningless when placed in the context of the history of racism, segregation, and persecution. The fact of "white people" now openly oppressing blacks (or enabling such oppression) much less than they used to is not to be commended so much as demanded as a matter of basic decency (not to mention reparation). Simply put, if "white America's" "progress point" has moved from -30 to 30, that net progress of 60 pts, while perhaps representing more "total progress," still started out dismally.

If the political scientist Larry Bartels is right, then ironically the main reason a right-winger like Shelby Steele even has a platform from which to proclaim this sort of stuff is that the GOP derives its power from the Southern bloc thanks to tacit appeals to white racism:


6:32 PM  

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