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The Mechanics
« Persons, Inc. Broken Promises Remain as Whittier Sit-in Ends »

Race Thu Jul 21 2011

A Black Class Divide and a Generation of Rage?

In These Times senior editor Salim Muwakkil, as part of a series called "The Other Chicago", has published a piece, "Black Chicago Divided" looking into how the recession has sharpened a class division among black Chicagoans, and in particular is starting to turn many young black Chicagoans against institutional leadership. Muwakkil sees growing discontent and rage among a generation that has even fewer opportunities than their parents had, with little to no help coming from elites. In his piece he highlights the variety of opinions about the efficacy of current leadership, their goals and practices. In general, Muwakkil identifies a failure of elite leadership in Chicago to work for greater prosperity.

Muwakkil opens his piece by quoting Martavius "Mark" Carter, a fairly well known figure in Chicago's activist circles. Carter's frustration is palpable: "We are living in an emergency situation and time is out for the kind of quiet diplomacy that has been so ineffective."

Carter walks that walk, that's for sure; he garnered some press attention in 2010 when he made this flier:

raciststrogerflyers.jpg

In it, he refers to House Speaker Mike Madigan and then-Mayor Daley as "Massa," Congressman Danny Davis as a "Negro Overseer," and calls now-Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle "Aunt Je'Mamie." Hardly quiet diplomacy indeed. This particular instance of confrontational politics was done, it should be noted, in service of Todd Stroger's campaign for the Cook County Presidency--a Presidency originally supported by this man:


Muwakkil's story points out something that should be taken for granted, but too often is not: that Chicago's black community, like every community on the planet, has all sorts of divisions and shouldn't be considered monolithic. Muwakkil characterizes this as escalating because of a worsening economy, providing this quote from Harvard University Professor William Julius Wilson:

"Disadvantaged blacks have really been hard hit by changes in the economy. Meanwhile, trained and educated blacks are benefiting from changes in the economy....Take a look at black income today. If you divide black income into quintiles, the top quintile has now secured almost 50 percent of the total black income, which is a record."

Which is telling, but this quote is from 1998. The youth of today were toddlers then, and income disparity has only worsened since. Muwakkil isn't pointing out some new phenomenon, but acknowledging something that has always existed: as with the general population, wealth has accumulated at the top, without trickling down to everybody else. Muwakkil's look at intensifying disagreements within Chicago's black political and social institutions is just the type needed to force elites to face this class imbalance and the stubborn persistence of segregation, poverty, and at least the sense of powerlessness.

 
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