Thanksgiving Day and sickened and angry about the physical, cultural, economic violence being perpetrated by Energy Transfer Partners against the #StandingRock Sioux Tribe and the more than 300 Indigenous tribes and other peoples standing with them as they prevent the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Thinking about the organizing against DAPL in relation to the Hill District takes me to when the Hill District and folks like Ms. Alma Speed Fox organized to say “no further” in response to the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s forced removal of residents and businesses from the Lower Hill. The removal and redevelopment stopped and thank goodness, if it hadn’t been stopped I might not even be here writing this post. 50 years later the entire effort delivered almost nothing on its promises and had to be “fixed” by having its development rights essentially given to the Pittsburgh Penguins, so that they would not leave. About ten years later there’s still really no development on the Melody Tent site in the Lower Hill. To make a contribution to support the protesters, here is a link to support those at the Sacred Stone camp. They have been there since April. #NoDAPL
In 2012, after the 2nd election of President Obama, I posted he had lost Hill District votes since 2008 and in reviewing Hill District voting data from the Allegheny County Elections Division, the trend of fewer people voting in the Hill District continues. Here is the raw data I’ve been compiling and there are some other interesting things here. The Hill District, as we Black people generally do, overwhelmingly votes for the Democratic Party. This past election the Hill gave Hillary Clinton almost the same % of our vote as we gave Obama in 2012, 92% vs 94%, and 70% of us voted straight Democratic and by this I mean hit the button to autofill the Democratic Party. However, alternative choices have crawled up a bit, and by this I mean Green, Libertarian or write-ins, with this number tripling its very small number since ’08 to go from less than 1% of total ballots cast to about 3% total. I am one of those who can be counted in that number (Green), and, yes, I still feel I made the right decision.
But, the big news is the large drop in registered voters over the last eight years in the Hill District. In 2008, there were 10,507 registered voters, but in 2016 there were just 8,878 registered voters. That is a loss of 1600 registered voters in 8 years. 16%. Not good for Hill District power. How did this show up for Hillary? Well, Obama got 6,071 votes in ’08 and HRC got 4,786 this time. More than 1,200 fewer votes. My guess is that this is the result of all of the public housing that has been removed from the Hill District, but public housing has been taken down all across the city and country. What effect will this have on Black urban power over the next decade.
This is why my wife, Dr. Bonnie Young Laing and others have advocated for Build First anti-displacement policies that make sure people are found housing in the neighborhood before they have to vacate their house so that the housing can be replaced. Democratic President and a Democratic city, but somehow there is weakened electoral power for this community. Is there a neighborhood that has contributed more or been more loyal for the Democratic Party than the Hill District. When those voters come back, who will they be racially, economically, politically. The continued drop in Hill District registered voters represents one of the important indicators, although not the most important, to take away from Election 2016.
I wrote this piece in response to a NYTimes article which examines a current Supreme Court case which argues Detroit Public Schools are unconstitutional. If you have not read
the article, the link is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/21/opinion/are-detroits-most-terrible-schools-unconstitutional.html?_r=0. This article highlights a current Michigan Supreme Court case in which the plaintiff asserts that Michigan is not providing Detroit (Black) students enrolled in public education with an adequate education. The article argues the basis of this case revolves around the question “is it constitutional to provide the majority of the students with adequate education and a minority of students with an inadequate education?” In short, there is nothing in American history to suggest that this is unconstitutional – and that is the problem.
Of course, the catch 22 for Black people and justice in the U.S. is that the document that we must rely on for the highest order of justice, i.e the Constitution, was also the document that enshrined our oppression with the description of us as 3/5s of human beings. The document has never been overhauled to include ideas of restorative justice and so it is not equipped to then really deal with justice when questions such as those raised by the Detroit school system are brought to it. Of course its not just for huge swaths of students to not get an education, but even the premise of the case, that students should get a modicum of education is not just. Actually, Black students should get a wholly different and more deeply invested in education to make up for the intentional under investment, but the Constitution shows no awareness of this idea and so of course that can’t be argued.
The challenge of proving that this is unconstitutional is two-fold. First, the lawyers of the plaintiffs must force a document that has been used to promote and defend the disenfranchisement of Black people to protect Black people. Secondly, in the process of forcing an inherently racist document to for once, not be racist, the lawyers of the plaintiffs must show that the state is intentionally disenfranchising Black children. White supremacy’s most powerful weapon is its disguise and forcing people to prove its existence using tools that were created to disguise it. Regardless of the outcome of this case, the Constitution has repeatedly protected the state and its refusal to educate Black children. So, NYT, let’s not confuse the arguments and “complex” debates of constitutionality with something much more simple, justice.
Digging this view coming down Wylie Ave. Bomani Howze was the person I knew who really campaigned to connect Wylie Ave to downtown for the Hill’s economic benefits. I hadn’t thought about the aesthetic benefits. The reports that this connection has now been made are greatly exaggerated , but the plans are to get it to Washington Place, so I am good with this first connection to Fullerton. I get a relaxing breath just going down this street. A piece of the Greater Hill District Master Plan that is coming to pass.
Glad I decided to walk to work and that the guy turning up Roberts didn’t run me over as I type on this phone! Just met Chef Hassan Davis, owner of Affordable Elegance Catering/Cafe/Bakery who has opened up a pop up cafe in conjunction with the Hill Community Development Corporation’s business incubator program. Affordable Elegance has sandwiches and pastries available three days a week in the storefront through November 9th. You can find him 9-4, Monday, Wednesday & Friday in the Hill CDC building, 2015 Centre Ave. Sooooooo beautiful. Mr. Davis is now looking at spaces to open up a full service cafe, catering business with an accompanying banquet hall and space for music. And the icing on the cake? Born Hill Disticter feeding the culture. Shouts to the Hill CDC for its partnership with Mr Davis and shouts to Mr. Davis for adding this and his commitment to the neighborhood. Super dope.
To reach Affordable Elegance, email email@example.com or give a call to 412.224.0653.
(reposted from my LinkedIn page)
Writing or thinking about some question on equity recently that involved the need to think about history, the “equality/equity” slide above flashed to my mind. If you are a follower of conversations on equity, the image is likely familiar to you: three people of three different heights are all positioned at a fence, standing on a box and watching a baseball game. The two taller figures on the left are able to see over the fence to see the game, but the one on the right is stuck looking directly into the fence because the height of the box is not enough to get his head above the top of the fence. The idea in this frame is that they are all being treated equally, in that they are each standing on a box, but they are having disparate outcomes in that one of them is not able to see the game, even with the help of the box. In the 2nd frame, the shortest of the three is now standing on two boxes and this allows them to see, the middle person is still standing on one and can still see and the tallest is now not standing on a box, but can still see because of how tall they are. The difference between the first frame and the second frame is in the outcome. Now all can see over the fence because the shortest person is standing on the box that the tallest did not need in order to see the game. How that transaction of box giving happened, we are not sure, although I always assume that the tallest person gave his box to the slump shouldered shortest person, particularly since I’ve seen this image as one of descending ages aligned with descending heights.
The image is very popular as an explanation of how treating people equally can still lead to inequitable outcomes and that equity is about assuring equal outcomes not equal treatment. It was recently redone by the Interaction Institute and artist Angus Maguire (I tweeted about this recently without giving the artist or organization credit. Apologies!) and in the two years since the original was first created by Craig Froehle, it has had quite the evolution. Of course, there are only two words “Equality” and “Equity” embedded in this picture and so much must be inferred, but this is the intent, right? Make us think. Now, that’s some background on the image, but what I want to reflect on is what is not in the image and how this missing information is emblematic of our racial equity conversation: We don’t see any representation of history that has lead to inequity and we don’t see the tension that is all over these conversations of redistribution. As I work in the non-profit arts sector, I will look at this image through the lens of the arts, but the arts touch everything and I think these ideas apply to other sectors as well.
As, I say above, what is not in the image is a frame or two or three about how our arts landscape came to be inequitable in the first place. Whether a report from the Devos Institute, Diversity and the Arts, Grantmakers in the Arts’ Racial Equity in Philanthropy Statement of Purpose or even the rationale for the program we fund with The Pittsburgh Foundation, Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh, it is clearly established that we have an inequitable, and by this I mean unfair, arts landscape when it comes to ALAANA artists, organizations, audiences and communities having the financial means to create and experience art as compared to white artists, organizations, audiences and communities. If we look at the image initially created by Froehle, and apply it to the arts landscape, we would understand this inequity to mean white arts organizations were simply naturally at a larger scale because of their DNA, or maybe they were just born earlier (although Froehle says that his image was designed to show youth of different heights). However, we know from reports such as the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s Fusing Art, Culture and Social Change that in the late 19th century arts philanthropy began supporting art of the white western canon and did not begin supporting “community” arts until the 1960s, which is about the same time philanthropy began capitalizing orchestras in many large U.S cities. Around the same time the National Endowment for the Arts was born as was the state arts agency model and government arts funding priorities looked much like philanthropy’s. I serve on the PA Council on the Arts and when I look at the 100 largest budget organizations in the state, I see 4 that would be considered ALAANA led. The National Large Western canon organizations and art forms are not simply taller. They were cultivated for ‘height’. ALAANA arts organizations are not simply shorter. They were not given access to the same resources to grow.
Staying with this image, and moving beyond how the larger predominantly white arts organizations got tall to the boxes they are standing on, what would it be to take one box away from them? What is this thing that can be taken away and causes them no less of a “view” and simultaneously provides a full view for the ALAANA arts organization? This is where the “Equality/Equity” slide greatly oversimplifies the problem we face, because as I think about the conversations I am involved in, this unneeded box doesn’t exist on the side of the predominantly white arts organization, and one box isn’t tall enough to get the heads of “shorter” ALAANA organizations over the fence. Of course, this issue is only compounded by the fact that many of the predominantly white arts organizations may not really have their heads over the fence either and that is a whole other issue that is not limited to the non- profit arts sector. The image does not reflect the issue of how competition for scarce resources is fundamental to the capitalist economic mode. So, feel like we need an image that shows on one end the history that has lead to inequity, the negotiation among the various “box providers”, the process of redistribution & the discomfort that is a part of this process and then more equitable outcome. Then we need some symbol for lather, rinse, repeat. We know from the history of racial inequity that this will not be done in one neat step and so don’t we need symbols that when it gets rocky and tense that remind us this is how it is supposed to happen and will need to keep happening if we are going to really build a fair or equitable landscape?
I was invited by Sue Kerr, author of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents blog found at http://www.pghlesbian.org to present with her and archivist & librarian, Megan Massanelli at Pittsburgh Pod Camp and we did our thing this morning. The subject was “How (and why) Your Blog is History”. The central idea was archiving your blog and thinking about preserving Pgh voices for the future. The archiving process is still a little over my head technically, but the idea of preserving my voice and conversations about the Hill District and other tropics for an audience in the year 2116 is kinda cool (hello there). She has formed a fb group to talk about the issue, which you can join, so look for it as “Your Blog Is History”.
Sue hipped me to the fact that my posts could be 1 sentence long, so we’re done here.