Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Integration vs Cultural Autonomy

So I'm really annoyed lately with the way this conversation is going between my Urban Poverty teacher (white female) and I both outside of and during class. We are talking about the concentration of poverty and racial segragation. To her, the only two solutions is to either move people with higher income into the low income neighborhoods and/or move poor folx into the high income suburbs. The whole conversation seems to be centered around the fact that brown and black folx living in their own communities is a bad idea. Of course she uses numbers to show that places that have been integrated have had higher employment rates and better academic achievement than when they were in racially segregated neighborhoods. What's my beef?

This issue as I see it is that communities of color are constantly targeted for budget cuts and cutbacks in services, historically. It is the LACK OF RESOURCES and economic marginalization that causes concentrated poverty, not "too many black/brown folx in one neighborhood." I make the argument that integration produces cultural genocide as the assimilation and removal acts did for American Indians. Same shit. I see it happen, comming from Harlem. Gentrification: move the white yuppies in and the character of the community changes, the grocery store that had collard greens closed down, platanoes cost more and you have to go further to do grocery shoppin, you get looks for kickin it on your own stoop on hot summer days, all the mom and pop spots that have been trying to survive are wiped out ect. ect.. So of course if you live in a "white" neighborhood and go to a "white" school and become assimilated to speaking "white" and thinking "white" you're gonna become successful in a white-value dominated society...(of course though they wont let too many non-white whites get too many crumbs). What the numbers DON'T tell you is the cultural affect of moving into a white suburb or having your neighborhood gentrified... Who's perspective are we looking at when we say that integration has been "successful"? My nephews who relocated into Orlando don't speak a lick of spanish and eat microwaved macaroni and cheese more often than rice and beans. I don't get to see them often and I haven't had a chance to be a part of their lives. How can moving people away from their homes be a good thing if it separates families and weakens community ties? Why should we buy into the american-way individualistic way of living? Should we not have the choice to live in healthy communities of our own? Call me a separatist, sure, but there's nothing about being a separatist that means we can't work in solidarity with other groups who share a common history, so there ain't nothing wrong with being one. My point though is that our cultural autonomy is being challenged with conversations about "culture of poverty" or more like victim blaming instead of looking at the structural flaws.

So what do other folx think? Integration or Cultural Autonomy/Separatism
Should we not decide within our own communities how economics should function, what kind of schooling our youngsters recieve, what kinds of employment will be available to us (meaningful shit, like entreprenuerial work, culturally appropriate and mind stimulating work, not factory or copymachine housekeeping corporate work), how the physical structure of our communities should fit our lifestyles, and what kinds of policies will benefit us most?


brownfemipower said...

i am all for cultural autonomy. i grew up in a working class poor mexican community--and i never ever suffered from the feeling that being mexican wasn't "good enough". i *did* suffer from "i'm not brown enough, therefor i'm not mexican enough" tho--i have been proud to be who i am since i can remember--and i attribute that 100% to being surrounded by other little mexicans growing up. we didn't know we were supposed to be ashamed or feel horrible about ourselves you know?

Tigera Consciente said...

If we controled the messages that are sent out to our kids through our communities, perhaps we would have less interalized oppression issues and an even tighter leadership, verdad??

nubian said...

To her, the only two solutions is to either move people with higher income into the low income neighborhoods

hmm, gentrification? how is that a good idea.

Tigera Consciente said...

Its the new manifest destiny!

with my nappy headed ass said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. I liked reading this because it really sort of put some things out that I've been thinking about.

The problem is that numbers don't explain why people in integrated neighborhoods are often richer. It's not because they are integrated based on race, it's that they're integrated based on class. Which means the people who are wealthy and "upwardly mobile", still have all the class power. Really all that does is shift poor people into poorer situations.

As a black person who is not part of the middle class, I understand this first hand. The first thing I did when I got out of the ghetto is made a vow to never go back (and I think this is what happens to a lot of the black/latino middle class). What they experience along the lines of violence and poverty become things that they're always running from. The better life obviously seems to be one in which there is no poverty to be seen in their own neighborhoods which robs black and latino communities of the middle class chance.

If poor people just moved into richer neighborhoods it would cause white and class flight. Just because we as a people move ahead, onward, and upward, doesn't mean we have the best interests of our communities at hand. That's what I think you were getting to.

At what cost do we succeed? If we give up our families and our identities for a piece of the pie, without realizing the damn pie is poison.. then what have we really accomplished..

I think you're right about this being where we are right now as black and latino people become more class mobile. We are severing the ties, that if we had kept in our own communities we could produce thriving communities with. Would it not be better to retain our cultures, make sure our communities and especially the people in them have good role models, and retain our communities? It would.

But the question is, how do we stop a type of middle class who may hate the communities they grew up in so much that they never want to live in them again? As in they love the people, love their cultures, but hate how the memories they have growing up. I have a friend who has theorized that it is like a sort of post-traumatic-stress disorder.

I have since gotten over not wanting to go back to the ghetto. I've gotten over my own class issues, and I think that is what it will really take getting over our own internalized class and race issues, before this can happen.

Thanks for giving me more to think about, Tigera.

brownfemipower said...

As in they love the people, love their cultures, but hate how the memories they have growing up. I have a friend who has theorized that it is like a sort of post-traumatic-stress disorder.

that's a really really good point nappy...a *really* good point. I spent my "becoming a woman" years (about 17-29 years old) in flint michigan, and you know what, i love that place, but i love it from afar. it brings a very real pain to my heart when we have to go back for christmas or thanksgiving--I mean, it literally makes my body ache with sadness. there are so many people dead, so many people starving, such hate from white folks in the suburbs surrounding flint directed at those living in flint...every year they shut down more schools--theres a street corner i can't even go on because my friends were carjacked and visciously beaten on it, and one of the girls they kidnapped and tortured--there is such an unholy pain in every crack on the road, every sidewalk, every dilapitated house, every tired factory workers face--i vowed when i got pregnant with my baby that i would never ever let her grow up in such defeated surroundings, so i moved. but i met up with a girl from detroit--and there was this one time when the two of us hung out and we talked about being from the east side of detroit and the bad part of flint and then moving into the relative saftey of our new homes--and we both sat and cried and cried together because goddamn it, no woman should ever have to leave her people to protect her children. the saftey of suburbia should be an fucking *right* for all people everywhere.
it should be a *right*.

Tigera Consciente said...

It is a tough descision to make yall. I moved away from home @ 20y.o. to leave the hood too. Moved to the SF Bay Area, became politicized, and now I want to move back. Its funny how things work full circle sometimes.. Being away has been kind of like a journey or a rite of passage of some kind. Helped me see the condition of ma people in perspective. Like Nappy stated, I wuz dealin wit some SERIOUS internalized racism issues, for a long time i was ashamed of being who I wuz. Its crazy how society teached us how to hate ourselves.. I think it comes as part of the PTSD.. I know it will be even more painful, knowing the things I know, to move back to da hood (Harlem) esp with all the gentrification goin on..

There's a battle fo me to fight there, and the battle is very personal. I have everything to gain and loose from it. And I know this is easier said than done, but I intend to raise a family in the midst of all this, and yes, bring my future children through the fucked up public school system I intend to revolutionize.. I want my kids to know how to survive and become soldiers within all of this.. I don't know how I will do it, because I never recieved that kind of training really commin up (parents sheltered me through catholic school, which was still kind of ghetto at the time, but nothing compared to public school where folx are getting shanked and raped). But I hope to instill in them the tools necessary to understand what's really going on and make choices that stem from awareness. Brownfem, yes, we ALL have a *right* to saftey (and cultural autonomy).. and I intend to demand and instill that right fo ma peeps as much as I can and know how... Its not easy though, I know its not easy.. and there will be alot of pain involved, alot of work, and through it all though I think there will be some rewards too...

Tigera Consciente said...

BTW BrownFemPower, thanks for sharing your story..i need to be reminded of the realities that lay ahead...

spiral said...

I feel like some weird kind of voyeur if I just read your posts and don't say that I've been here, reading and thinking, thinking and reading. So, just so you know, I'm here, processing.

P.S. Dig the pictures.

dg said...

My point though is that our cultural autonomy is being challenged with conversations about "culture of poverty" or more like victim blaming instead of looking at the structural flaws.

Exactly. Every time I hear about "integration" as the answer to poverty I feel like it is a way for white liberal academics to brush over the structural issues that keep POC in poverty. It allows policy makers and such to gloss over the fact that as soon as a neighborhood gets too brown, the services start leaving and quality of life goes down for those who live there.
I worked as a community organizer in Allentown PA for a few years, and many of the neighborhoods are a case study of this. The white families who have been in the area forever are complaining about the "porta rickans" moving in and the dirt, bad schools, etc. But the truth is the city has stopped cleaning the streets in n'hoods with high concentrations of latinos, the schools are overcrowded and they aren't building new ones in the poorer, browner n'hoods. These things have NOTHING to do with latino culture, or lifestyle or any of that, and EVERYTHING to do with choices that city council and developers and all are making that disadvantage POC and poor people.
Personally, I don't have a strong feeling about integragtion vs. separatism, but I do feel strongly about changing the way these decisions are made. Bottom line to me is that the people who are most affected by any given policy should have the most input into making it.