Benign Neglect

Benign Neglect

khlaid Photo1cropThis month marks the celebration of a unique and momentous event in the political history of the United States, namely the resignation of Richard Nixon as the 37th president of the United States.

Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974 amid controversy connected to the Watergate scandal during his administration and the subsequent attempted cover-up and obstruction of justice. Faced with the likelihood of a successful congressional impeachment or forced removal from office, Nixon decided on the less excruciating choice of resignation.

As a successor to President Lyndon Johnson, the Nixon administration witnessed the emergence and popularity of various Black Power and Black Liberation formations throughout the Black/New Afrikan community. The Nixon administration also witnessed increased popular support, especially among youth and students, for ending the war in Vietnam.

Many Black/New Afrikan communities were still simmering from the days and nights of riot and rebellion associated with the murder and assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in April of 1968.

Against this backdrop, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of Nixon’s chief advisors on urban affairs suggested that perhaps the most efficient method for dealing with Blacks/New Afrikans, and the international political embarrassment associated with their poverty and brutal oppression was to simply ignore them. Categorically deny their existence, and let them die and wither away. The term used was benign neglect.

Merriam-Webster defines benign neglect as “an attitude or policy of ignoring an often delicate or undesirable situation that one is held to be responsible for.”

And so, for decades since the 1960’s, America has been involved in the unwritten and unofficial policy of benign neglect: basically, the purposeful neglect and marginalization of the Black/New Afrikan community, especially the working poor and low-income. Nameless, faceless persons, constructed images used to facilitate racist notions of white-supremacy and Black inferiority.

Occasionally, the cover is forcefully exposed. For example, the tragedies associated with the victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina and more recently, the police murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Many urban areas, having adapted to decades of Jim Crow and de-facto segregation, were now dealing with the collateral damage experienced as a result of the rebellions of the 1960’s. These communities were subsequently abandoned and red-lined by white business and financial institutions.

More recently, those same inner-city areas and neighborhoods are now being ‘discovered’ and developed by collaborative legions of local public officials, misguided non-profits, financial institutions and land speculators.
This has resulted in the wholesale displacement of entire neighborhoods, school-closings and the dispersion and re-concentration of disproportionate poverty and violence in outlying county areas.

Metropolitan centers such as New York, Detroit, Philadelphia and Chicago have been experiencing this process for several years. More recently, Pittsburgh, PA and Allegheny County can be added to the mix.

This flawed and racist practice has gained undeserved legitimacy and legal protection through the creation and passage of various types of ‘Land Bank’ legislation. These laws make it easier for land speculators and so-called developers to grab entire tracts of properties in a single sweep and bypass any significant overview and sanction by elected officials of those districts.
The new forms of ‘benign neglect’ have greatly contributed to the re-concentration of poverty, educational failure, violence and hyper-gentrification. Let’s stop this madness.

Justice in our Lifetime,
Khalid Raheem
President & CEO
National Council for Urban Peace and Justice (www.ncupj.net)

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