Category Archives: racism

More on Poverty in Our City Centers

I sent an email to the editor of the local paper, The Post-Standard, telling them about the study by The Century Foundation entitled “Architecture of Segregation” which I had read on The Daily Beast website.

The study points out, the article in The Post-Standard states, that

“Syracuse has the highest rate of extreme poverty concentrated among blacks and Hispanics out of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, according to a new study of poverty in America.

The study is the latest to examine a decades-long trend in Syracuse, where the city has consistently ranked as having one of the highest poverty rates in the nation.

The analysis of census data by a Rutgers University professor shows that extreme poverty continues to spread unabated out of Syracuse’s core to the city’s Near South, Near Southwest and North Side.

In 2000, Syracuse had nine “extreme poverty” neighborhoods, defined as census tracts where more than 40 percent of residents live in poverty.

By 2010, Syracuse had 19 such neighborhoods, according to a 2011 study by the Brookings Institution.

Now the number of high-poverty tracts in Syracuse totals 30, according to Paul Jargowsky the Rutgers University-Camden professor who published the study with The Century Foundation.

“The general trend is that there is a spreading out of poverty,” Jargowsky said in an interview. “That is happening all over the place. But I didn’t know Syracuse was going to stand out the way it did.” “

You can read the entire article here:

The original article and The Post-Standard article both talk about the fact that when neighborhoods became diverse, white people moved further away and suburban sprawl got further and further from the city center. People in these increasingly distant suburbs wanted the convenience of public infrastructure like city water and being connected to the same sewage grid used by city dwellers (although the infrastructure was clearly much newer). These folks had good salaries and could pay enough taxes to make government responsive to their needs. As more and more tax dollars were spent further from the city center and as the city center emptied out infrastructure in the center of the city was neglected and deteriorated from age and use. When folks left behind in the center city tried to follow white people to the suburbs they found themselves locked out (or locked in). Partly this was because they were poorer than those who left for the suburbs, and partly it was due to actual exclusionary practices.

For these and similar reasons, The Century Foundation study under the direction of Paul Jargowsky (Rutgers) is pointing out this information so that we can find ways to change this paralysis in our center cities. Syracuse is not alone in this situation, although we may be No. 1, perhaps because we are not a rich city, but I believe that we also share in all of the other ways that white people have found to pretend that they are not racist. If you want to see what I mean register on so you can read the comments of my fellow Syracuse residents who appear to have been brainwashed by Fox News et al and who are Exhibit A in what passes for extreme right wing logic which says that the liberals and the victims are to blame and that this city poverty trap is the result of liberal programs that support the poor and allow them to survive without working. I apologize in advance for their ignorance and their inability to hold an original thought.

The problems with writing off this study as delineating a condition that is ‘someone else’s problem’, is that there are and will be repercussions if this situation continues. It is wrong and we need to tackle the beast and find a way to make America better. Here’s what one of our city officials had to say:

‘Paul Driscoll, Syracuse’s commissioner of neighborhood and business development, said city officials are disturbed by the study’s findings. But he said officials cannot explain why the city seems to be lagging the rest of the nation in reducing its poverty.

“We are all struggling to understand why Syracuse is getting hit worse than other cities,” Driscoll said in an interview. “We’re just looking to address what cities can do to address poverty. We’re finding we’re pretty limited in what we can do. We deal with the consequences at the local level, but a lot of these problems have to be dealt with at the state and federal level.” ‘

I hope this will not be our only response to the information in this study. We live in a city that is home to an important private university. We are a city full of architects (award-winning) and engineers. Certainly a committee could be formed to look for some creative ways to address this stubborn inequality in our community. If it was caused mainly by housing issues and unwillingness to live in mixed race communities then people who deal with housing issues might be exactly the people who can find a way out of this. Once some professional approaches have been discussed and designs produced, perhaps community people (those stuck in poverty) could be invited into the group to go over the plans and offer input. I hope this study does not just plop down with a big thud on our doorsteps and then disappear.

We have all been getting glimpses of what will happen if we do not tackle this now. I do not think that our stranded, poor, neighbors are about to accept much more of being overlooked and over-prosecuted and being deprived of opportunities to succeed. These issues falls into the category of “pay now or pay later” and if we wait until later the price will only get higher. Pretend you are so intimidated by poor minority people that you will do almost anything to defuse the situation. Perhaps that is the only way these folks will get their due.

The New York Times also had an article about this topic. Here’s the link:

Think, everyone, think!

By Nancy Brisson

Can Understanding History Help People Change?

I have learned quite a bit from Rachel Maddow about the historical underpinnings of the streaks of rebellion, racial hate, and anti-government sentiment which run beneath the mainstream of American life. I heard from Rachel about the Posse Comitatus when we were watching the self-appointed militias threaten to off the Feds in support of the rights of local sheriffs to rule over Federal law. The Posse Comitatus was a movement that arose during Reconstruction after the Civil War and wounds were still too raw to make a point of overturning these groups. And although Posse Comitatus rules were later repealed many acted as if they were still in use.

I don’t have a historical view of these modern events and that is why I love the political geeks at MSNBC. They show me that we did not arrive at this current moment out of the blue. The Civil War has left indelible marks on our nation and we have ignored the remnants of bad feeling for far too long. We no longer allow the blatant expressions of hate and rancor (at least since 1964), but the more we have tried to put a lid on these strong emotions, the more they have squished out sideways.

After Dylann Roof’s deplorable killings Rachel told me (and all her viewers) about the White Citizen’s Councils and the Council of Conservative Citizens formed in cities throughout the South. These “political entities” are where the Ku Klux Klan went to “repackage” themselves as concerned citizens doing their political duty which included an entire slate of activities designed to shore up racial separation.

Does Rachel Maddow just know this stuff; does she carry it around in that analytical brain of hers, or does she just have great research resources/people? Doesn’t matter. She is always teaching me something and for that I thank her.

When slavery began in America it was not at all new to the world. At the time, when Africa was being divided up as spoils among European nations, Africans and other native peoples whose cultures differed from Western culture were regarded as savages. This view should not have persisted but for some it has. What’s so crazy is that the very people who ripped Africans from their native lands now want to walk away from the problems that were created when their ancestors imprisoned African people and brought them to America as slaves, and that these same Southerners continue to nurture an outdated attitude and to exploit it in order to form a “pure white” city, state, or nation. Are they just the ultimate sore losers?

Our forefathers were very clear about the ideals included in the American founding documents, after all they wrote them. They were obviously clearer than we are at this late date. The only way they could justify their treatment of African slaves was by making a cultural decision that they were animals – savages, not real people. This was actually the prevalent view in the 18th century and as such Southern Plantation owners were just creatures of the culture they swam in. Northerners were not blameless either. Slavery began in 1620 and no great disavowal was forthcoming until the Civil War in 1860. So, Northerners must at least accept guilt by omission or by association.

Are we guilty for the bad cultural decisions of a less enlightened age? Perhaps not, but we are guilty for having kept those poor cultural ideas alive and for acting on them in the present. There is, sadly, no skin-color –“ectomy” that we can perform to rid us of our prejudices. It is and always has been our minds we must change.

Rachel’s historical perspective and a study, that I also heard from Rachel, or read somewhere, traced the groups who entered America in the 1800’s and who immediately moved west. This study concluded or postulated that those who moved west tended to be folks who liked a lot of autonomy and that the descendants of these almost anarchistic immigrants may be exhibiting attitudes passed down through generations that may account for that rebellious streak previously discussed; the rebellious streak that continues as the state’s rights movement, militias, survivalists, hate groups, gun activists and perhaps even those who stock-pile of weapons in case of a need to defend against their own government.

History gives us perspective. It traces things back to their roots. Will knowing how these trends began offer any insight into how we can heal all this stored anger and pain? Well it seems better than just believing this stuff is made up or just appeared out of thin air. How can we teach people who have kept their rancor close and regularly relived the injustice and unfairness of it all, that we are not trying to fight with them, we are trying to win them back?

By Nancy Brisson

Cliches and Analogies/Hope and Change


Late last week Stuart Stevens, a Conservative, wrote an article criticizing Obama for failing to fulfill the promises of “hope” that he made before his election. Republicans seems to enjoy doing this every once in a while because they apparently “hope” that we will fall for this twisted line of reasoning. They like to blame others for the things they do and their special “whipping boy” is Barack Obama (how racist is that?). We have heard Sarah Palin mock Obama for his inability to fulfill his promise of “hope and change” and Michelle Bachmann has, beyond all sense, made this a key item in her limited repertoire of political tidbits. Now we have this Stevens guy in the Daily Beast going over, once again, in case we missed it the first one hundred and fifty times, his supreme disappointment with Obama’s ineffectiveness .

Of course we know that extreme Republicans killed the “Hope” that Obama promised and now they want to use this argument, which has almost become a cliché, this insistence that Obama has not been able to “change” anything as their message to elect Republicans in 2014 and 2016.  I just don’t think that you get to kick our first African American President to the curb, to force him to try borderline Constitutional strategies in order to get anything done – to basically act like a bunch of white thugs – and then turn the obstructionism on its head and blame the “big empty” that is Washington politics on the person you have hog-tied. The South rises? It’s embarrassing to America and Americans. Notice that Obama did not offer hope and change in his second term. He just grimly raised a flag that insisted Forward (period). So we slog forward, but we would rather be going by high speed rail.

There is an astonishing similarity between what the GOP has done to Obama and what George Zimmerman did to Trayvon. In their hearts, I’m sure, the GOP feels they are just acting in self-defense. I think we can be pretty sure that Obama is defending himself too, but he is also defending the American people.

Don’t vote for bullies – vote for Democrats in 2014 and in 2016.

Here’s the link for that article that sums up Obama’s “failures” in case you want to read about this old, tired subject once again.



Why We Need a Do-Over

I want to talk a bit more about racism, because I know many people scoff at this accusation and want to totally discount it as an active factor in Washington. However, I don’t think we’re there yet, in that place where we’re completely color-blind. African-Americans and Caucasian Americans do not all grow up in the same America, even in the 21st century, and, racism in America cuts both ways, if we are completely honest. We even have terms created to describe the phenomenon: racism and reverse racism. These terms are not equal but opposite terms. African-American resentment against white Americans is justified by years of inequality. White “hate” is justified by years of imagined domination and culturally nurtured feelings of superiority. Slack must be cut at least in the case of the former.

I do believe that both racism and reverse racism have lessened and will someday disappear (perhaps I should call that hope). But for now that situation does not pertain. So we have to do that exercise of standing in someone else’s shoes. We have to imagine an American government where African-Americans hold a majority and there are only a few elected Caucasians. Imagine that our President has always been “black” and now a “white” man is elected. Would this President be accepted with open arms and find it possible to “fit right in”; maybe or maybe not? Add to that the huge partisan divide that we have had in America for the past 5 years and you double the chance for shutting out this “new man” who comes hoping to be able to “change” a government, which is perhaps the very thing those who have been in the majority for so long have been most afraid of experiencing. Will this person, whose people have been oppressed for so long, want revenge? Will this person deliberately sabotage the government? Or between the racial divide and the ideological divide is rapprochement just too difficult? A lot of this can be quite subtle or even unconscious, although the ideological divide has been anything but subtle.

It’s quite sad to me that we wasted our opportunity to welcome our first African-American President, who is a very decent and erudite man, and that we made his lovely family uncomfortable in this house of the people. So I say shame on us all. I understand these were hard times but with a bit of trying and a bit of cooperation we might all be in a better place right now. I hope we reelect Barack Obama because I would like to think that we all deserve a “do-over”.


I am saddened by the way Congress has treated our 44th President. Is it possible that what is happening here is intentional or unintentional racism? This stonewalling that is going on in Congress I blame mostly on the Republicans. They have produced a lot of bills in the House, but they plant a little Democrat “bomb” in each bill which makes it impossible to pass it. This then allows them to accuse the Democrats of being the obstacles to progress, the “do-nothings” and they believe they waltz (never hip hop) away unscathed. We are not stupid though and the rubber-glue trick is getting really old. Still the trick you can see through is better than the one you haven’t figured out yet.
Of course things did not get off to a good start and we will not be allowed to forget this even though I wish you would put yourself in Obama’s place for a bit. He was just elected, he had made promises to the American people and we were quite enthusiastic about the promises he made. Then woosh the economy deflates like a bad soufflé; people are in foreclosure left and right; the economy which has been bleeding jobs looks like it will bleed out (OK, it’s a mixed metaphor, get over it); and he is faced with an angry and mean Republican minority. What would you have done if you were in his shoes? Would you have tried to solve the problems coming at you (like the guy with the tennis racket batting away the bat), would you have tried to get some of the agenda you promised the America people accomplished? Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh were out there and their attacks were dialed up, the Tea Party was out there, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann were everywhere. All anyone seemed to want was to get rid of Obama.
I sort of thought of Obama as our first “nerd” president, and I mean that in the kindest, nerds-are-very-successful-people sort of way. Sometimes, however, nerds don’t put their people skills first. Maybe Obama, tucked into the middle of his cronies, didn’t schmooz enough. But I do also believe that there were some people who were not happy that America had an African-American President. White men have had a lock on the presidency forever.
Whatever the reasons, Obama seems so lonely at the top. He has some great advisors and Leon Panetta seems to like him, but he seems to feel more comfortable out of Washington than in it and I don’t blame him. I am constantly embarrassed by the way he has been treated. If he was a bit inexperienced he could have been schooled instead of derided. I believe some people in Congress have acted very badly and they should be held accountable rather than rewarded for their behavior and I’m not talking about the Democrats, although some of them probably were less than helpful also. I further believe that under scrutiny we will admit that these “men” have been acting like playground bullies and that some of their motives stink (with a faint whiff of racism). These guys have been so nasty to Obama that I cannot imagine why he would agree to be our President for four more years. If he is elected, which I hope he will be, it would be interesting if people would make an effort to work with our first African-American President to solve some of the problems we have in our nation through a spirit of compromise and capability. Be your better selves!

Zimmerman/Martin – No Happy Ending

George Zimmerman turned himself in to the police. This occurred after 46 days of strangeness with a prosecutor’s office which could not decide if any charges should be filed and 46 days of protests and marches and 46 bizarre days of limbo with George Zimmerman hiding himself away from the world because he supposedly feared bodily harm. The world just gets stranger and stranger.
People argue that George Zimmerman is not a racist, that suspecting, following, and reporting Trayvon Martin was not a racist incident, but their arguments don’t hold up. While it is true that NBC edited the 911 tapes in such a way that George Zimmerman’s racism possibly seemed more blatant than it was, it appears so far that every time George Zimmerman reported anyone “suspicious” in his neighborhood they ended up being African-American. This certainly suggests that Mr. Zimmerman focused his fears on black men and he identified black men as having criminal intentions almost all of the time. This is sort of the definition of racism. The argument that George Zimmerman was a black man himself also does not hold up. It doesn’t matter how the American culture defines him, what matters is how he defines himself.
George Zimmerman has supporters who argue that he is a good person and this is to his credit. He may have begun as a concerned citizen with a desire for justice and security, and then perhaps he got a bit obsessed with his “superhero” role and got a permit and started carrying a concealed weapon. This may be perfectly legal in Florida but it still suggests a rising level of paranoia in Mr. Zimmerman and perhaps a heightened belief that he really was becoming an enforcer.
But a 17 year old who just left his Dad’s home on a February evening to go to the convenience store to get some Skittles and a soda and perhaps some fresh air and privacy so he could talk with his girlfriend on his cell phone is dead. Young people go to convenience stores all the time in America and they do not end up losing their lives. Trayvon was not doing anything wrong. It could be argued that Mr. Zimmerman was doing something wrong. He was basically stalking someone. He had no official capacity; he was not wearing any badge or uniform. We know what he was doing that night but I doubt if Trayvon knew what Mr. Zimmerman was doing.
Now Mr. Zimmerman has finally been arrested and charged with 2nd degree murder. This could be a bad thing disguised as a good thing. It may not be possible to prove 2nd degree murder – we still have to get through this “stand your ground” nonsense – and the case may be lost or dismissed. Was this charge deliberately chosen to give the appearance of justice without having to worry about any actual conviction? I believe people will wonder about this if Zimmerman is acquitted. Why didn’t the prosecutor chose to go with a charge of manslaughter which would probably have been easier to prove? We will have to wait and see what happens. We will have to wait and see if Trayvon’s parents end up feeling some justice has been done. We will have to wait and see if the people of America feel that some justice has been done. Regardless of what happens, there is no way this case can have any happy ending.