Capital not charity, that’s what people need. It’s an obvious point, but worth making again and again, and it’s one South Bronx native Majora Carter makes well in a new book titled “Reclaiming Your Community: You Don’t Have to Leave Your Neighborhood to Live in a Better One.”
Carter, who has gone from fighting developers in the Bronx, New York to becoming one herself, lost her family’s home after her parents died when her siblings couldn’t agree that the value in their property was much more than they could get from speculators. She lost the home place, but determined to stay in the neighborhood space, and became what she calls “an urban revitalization specialist.”
To her, revitalization starts with talent retention and the preservation of local assets in local hands. Government and foundations spend billions keeping people poor, she contends, investing in homeless shelters and pharmacies and clinics for treating lifestyle illnesses like diabetes and heart conditions instead of changing the conditions of people’s lives and their capacity to change those conditions themselves.
What people under pressure actually need, she says, is help to preserve the assets they have and a leg up to give them a fighting chance to make more, especially coming out of a global crisis.
It’s not as if it hasn’t been done before. Indeed, part of what created the racial wealth gap we have now are the actions taken by government after World War Two, specifically the GI Bill.
When the GI Bill passed with bipartisan support in 1946, it offered free education and low cost housing loans as well as unemployment support to millions of returning GIs. Millions took advantage, opening up a doorway to the middle class for them and their families.
But the 1.2 million returning service people who were African American didn’t benefit so much. For them, Southern colleges were entirely barred. Education was still beyond reach for many who had to work, and the housing market was redlined, excluding African Americans from the most promising neighborhoods. Financial institutions were ruled by Jim Crow. According to the book, When Affirmative Action was White, in New York and New Jersey of the 67,000 mortgages backed by the GI Bill, only 100 went to people of color.
The bill, as it turned out, the GI Bill did more to exacerbate racial disparities than shrink them. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t try again and do it right. The fight against COVID-19 has often been equated to a war. It’s an apt analogy at least to the extent that the actions taken in its aftermath will shape the future for years to come.
So how about another GI Bill, done right this time, perhaps adding hazard pay and job security protections for the people whose communities have fought the hardest and suffered the most? It’s worth thinking about.
You can catch my entire conversation with Majora Carter on public television and community radio stations all week, and on The Laura Flanders Show channel on YouTube. For the station near you, and how to subscribe, visit Lauraflanders.org