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The Tale of One City

The Other Side of the Tracks: A Socially Speaking commentary

June 7, 2011

By Perry Redd


I am witnessing an ethnic cleansing as sure as I am alive.  I’ve read about the native American, the Jews of eastern Europe and apartheid South Africa.    I’ve seen Kosovo, Myanmar and Tibet in my lifetime.  I see the news reports out of Tunisia, Yemen and Libya.  Yet, there’s a cleansing in America, of it’s own citizens.  Its so close to me that I taste the bitterness of its waters in my travels daily.  When our city elected its last mayor, that cleansing came masquerading as “One City.”  Its not Kosovo, Palestine or Haiti, its Washington, DC.  A city as color-separate as a chess board.  The lines are drawn, the cleansing has begun.


Our cities cleansing began during the years following the fall of Marion Barry. Barry served as the second elected mayor of the District of Columbia from 1979 to 1991, and again as the fourth mayor from 1995 to 1999.  He was a leader committed to empowering a constituency disenfranchised by American legacy.  Since Washington, DC—a predominantly black city—is constitutionally overseen by a predominantly white Congress, its resident’s suffer from the superiority-governing model: “we know what’s best for you, boy.”


After the infamous public 1990 fall of Barry, the white congressional overseers of the city saw fit to fiscally back a fiscally conservative chief executive who would commit to the type of governing that hurts poor people and enriches rich ones.  Anthony Williams’ consecutive terms from 1999-2007 set into motion a form of economic cleansing that sent blacks in the heart of the city fleeing for more friendly living conditions.  The influx of whites consummerate with exploding property tax rates spawned a gentrification that brings me to today.


Washington DC is often touted as one of the best cities to live.  We all know Washington as the capital of the United States. This city is also home to the most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States. It has the White House, Smithsonian museums and many more ancient buildings which are filled with rich history and heritage. Washington DC is filled with employment opportunities, entertainment bastions and great neighborhoods. It’s also home to the 11 richest counties of the US.  One of those counties is even predominated by blacks.  But that’s only half the story.


Nearly one out of five DC residents lives at or below the poverty line, a statistic that helps expose a widening gap between the rich and the poor in the nation’s capital.  This is the contradiction of current mayor Vincent Gray’s vision of “One City.”  Last year, the city experienced its biggest single-year increase in poverty since 1995. Yet, that 20% is a significant number among the whole because the vast majority of the impoverished are black.  Based on unemployment rates and other data, it is estimated that the city has 106,500 residents—up 11,000 in a year—living at or below the poverty rate, which in 2009 was $21,800 for a family of four.  $21k isn’t nearly enough to survive in a city that boasts the second highest city council payroll in the nation. And more relevant, the city wants to cut or eliminate essential social services to that constituency.  Falling in line with the national debate, “cutting spending” is the theme.


But doesn’t that raise a question for you, the contradiction between great employment opportunities and a ridiculously high unemployment rate?  Employment is great if you’re a government employee.  Employment is great if you’re a private contractor. Employment is great if you’re a foreign diplomat or a covert operative; but if you’re a hard-working blue-collar American, an unemployed American or simply black American, employment isn’t so great in the nation’s capital.  Most Americans don’t know that…that’s why I’m here to tell you.


If you want to get a sense of what a disparate tall-tale Washington has become in recent years, check out the Virginia suburb of Falls Church City.


Boasting a strong school system and positioned about six miles from the nation’s capital, Falls Church has for years enticed rich families to their burg, making it the nation’s richest county with median annual household income of $113,313.  Compare that with $21,800.  Don’t get me wrong, even wealthy Falls Church isn’t exempt from the kind of tough fiscal realities facing counties and cities across the nation. Fall Church has cut 14% of its workforce over the last three years and raised property taxes.  In DC, we’re having a hell of a time getting our well-to-do city council to raise taxes on the richest residents to maintain those essential city services for the most vulnerable residents.

Although white households had a median income of about $101,000 in 2008, the median income of black households in DC was about $39,000.  And, in 2010, affordable housing was cut by 1/3 and child care by 1/5.  More budget cuts in low income programs, including child care, homeless shelters, affordable housing and TANF were passed for 2011.  On April 1st of this year, Mayor Vincent Gray proposed an additional $130 million in cuts to low income programs.  Yet, those same high-paid legislators and executives play coward when it comes to raising the income tax on DC’s top 5% income bracket.  I’m pissed!


And even more, DC is currently embroiled in a re-districting battle that has drawn whites to show their racist tendencies in council hearings; unfettered efforts to keep blacks in their “traditional” ward districts—and re-draw them out of white ones.


While DC stomps on the poor, they give an estimated $250 million in tax abatements and exemptions to corporations…a virtual well-to-do welfare program.  When you plan your trips to the nation’s capital as your next tourist destination, remember this commentary—better yet, this news report—and change your vacation.  The rhetoric of “One City” is just a tale.  Don’t be fooled; don’t believe the hype.  Race and class make this city an American tale that no child could believe.

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