Thursday, June 16, 2011

Why aren't more African-Americans engaged in local civic debates?

This is a question that I have often contemplated. I have had the pleasure of being a part of the bridges debate, the failed attempt to save the Brinkley-Hardy buildings on East Main, and several other worthy civic causes. I have been to several hundred meetings and many more gatherings of like minded individuals around these  and other various causes.  The one constant about all of these meetings and organizations is that I am usually just 1 of a handful of black folks in the room. Why is that?

I think part of the problem is the segregated city in which we live. Usually when you start an organization around a cause or topic the first people you invite are the people you know. Once that group has been exhausted you start to expand. The problem with Louisville is that there isn't a lot of mixing  between groups of people. That's why an organization started in the Highlands tends to attract people around the Highlands. Very rarely would you find somebody from either West or South Louisville represented. The same can be said of an organization started in West Louisville. Segregation also makes it hard for these groups to expand outside of their comfort zones and build coalitions. Often times they don't know the mover or shakers in another part of town to connect with or how to connect with them. However, segregation leads to another problem.

The segregation that I am referring to is economic segregation. In order to start or be apart of an organization you have to have your basic needs meet. If you don't have a constant source of food, shelter, and clothing the odds of you staying up late and donating your time to a cause is pretty slim.  Unless of course that cause is about getting those needs met. Even then it's tough.

Most importantly I think middle class black folks (those who have the economic means to donate time and treasure) are in general worried that being active may hurt their already slim job prospects. Let's be honest. If you're young, black and in the middle class in Louisville you don't have a ton of well paying jobs that you can jump to. If your employer doesn't approve of your "activities" and your job may be in peril because of said activities, you are pretty much stuck. The flip side of the coin is that, we as a people, are 100% dependent on the current power structure for our economic well-being. The ones that could/should rock the boat can't. There are just a handful of well paying that jobs that are set aside for us. If we are considered "unsafe" then  we will never be considered for those few positions. This is a city that you have to go along to get along.

Lastly I think a lot of us have just given up hope and no longer see our futures intertwined with those of a different economic class. We feel that we have come about as far as we can and now its time to see how far I can go." I'm not the same as those folks who live in the West End." "I'm just trying to do me." We have lost our sense of community and unity. Therefore when we are engaged or try to build movements it's hard to get any sort of consensus.

There is hope. There are a bunch of young, progressive black folks who are tired and want to see change, but it's going to be an uphill struggle, and like Frederick Douglass said "If there is no struggle, there is no progress."

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