Barack Obama is A Classist Neo-Colonialist

“Communities (have) to be created, fought for, tended like gardens.” -Barack Obama in Dreams from my Father. picture copyright- Chicago Tribune Nuccio DiNuzzo

Obama is getting ready to fuck over the (poor, black) residents of Jackson Park, South Shore, Woodlawn, and Washington Park in Chicago, and he’s thriving on the political and historical ignorance, and illusion of black inclusion in this country to do it.

I am a resident of Jackson Park, and I live about four blocks north of the proposed site of the Obama Presidential Center, which he is promoting as a “hub” for “training of future leaders” to “bring economic activity” to the south side, with which he has a personal connection. I was present at his foundation’s community center’s meeting last night, as a concerned resident of the neighborhood that will be affected by the construction and impact of this center… and I was disgusted by what I heard.

For context- the South East side of Chicago has been the ONE place in the city that someone could get CONSISTENTLY affordable rent and not have to live in a shoe box, have roommates, or need welfare via a housing voucher or subsidization to do it for the last thirty years. It is a place with a lot of multi-unit buildings, so the majority of the people that live here do not own their homes, they are renting.

Chicago is still a VERY racially segregated city.

Not legally of course- but segregated, nonetheless. The areas of the city of Chicago that were closest to the lake, highways, and the major parks were still subjects of blatant racial discrimination to the point where Dr Martin Luther King staged protests and marches here in 1966 to make the city’s real estate industry abide by the fair housing ordinances. As a result- many white families fled the city for the safety and whiteness of the surrounding suburbs. White flight changed the demographics of many neighborhoods and left opening for black families to move in and settle; and they did. You can see a gif of the changing racial demographics of the city here.

Over time in the areas where black families settled, the local businesses packed up and moved (factories, railroads, small businesses), mostly due to the high cost of conducting a business in the city due to taxes. Many of the larger factories fled for the north side of the city (where many white people settled), the northwest and southwest suburbs, or out of the country altogether in favor of the cheaper operating costs associated with outsourcing and lower taxes outside of the city.

This is a trend that is continuing, with the recent outsourcing of Mondelez in Chicago, the company that manufactures Oreos.

As a result, economic depression began to set in these neighborhoods. Many residents lost jobs and with no jobs able to replace them, the local small businesses suffered due to residents having less money to spend on non-necessities. Specific to the South East side- a shopping center on 71st and Jeffrey has been successful in staying open and providing jobs- until the closing of Dominic’s stores nationwide took a large number of local jobs from the community. Where poverty is bred, so are crimes of opportunity. As the jobs started fleeing in the 80s- and the drugs rushed in as a means to make money and to escape the realities of poverty, and gangs came as a way to sell them and earn money- crime became much common in these neighborhoods.

In the last decade or so- white people have been gentrifying parts of the city as a means to “take it back” from the narratives of crime and increase tourism revenue. They call it “urban renewal”. It started with the closing down of housing projects like Cabrini Green, The Ickes, and Ida B wells and has spread to parts of the city closest to the highways, the lake, downtown, and major Chicago universities like The University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago have been annexing and attracting gentrification in the neighborhoods closest to them. And the results are evident in demographical statistics. Tens of thousands of black families have been forced to move from Chicagoland all together. Red lining and predatory mortgage loans are also a major factor in addition to loss of job opportunities. Many black residents of the south and west sides of Chicago have to choose between accepting minimum wage jobs with easy accessibility to their homes, or a factory job with up to a two hour commute on public trans to the burbs.

In 2013, the assault on poor black families in Chicago picked up when the city closed 45 schools in (almost exclusively) black and Latino neighborhoods. 25 of those schools are in the immediate area of the proposed Obama Center. Rahm Emmanuel (Obama’s pick for Chicago mayor) has been inefficient and criticized for his lack of action on the issues of economic devolvement and police brutality.

So- for context we have communities that are under resourced, ignored by local politicians, over policed, communities in Chicago already being gentrified and causing black families to have to leave the Chicago area altogether, and now we have Obama bringing this center to the south side. His comments on what he’s going to do to prevent further displacement of poor, black people in this city is honestly a vicious, violent, and incredibly unfunny joke.

Now that you have Chicagoan context surrounding the context of this center- lets address the things that Obama said when DIRECTLY asked what he’s going to do to prevent the displacement of the existing residents of the communities surrounding the center- the short answer is “Not a damn thing because gentrification is good economically”. Some comments made by Obama in response to this question are dripping with anti-blackness and purposeful non-addressing of the context of the worry. Some of the points that Obama made were

· He plans to “preserve” affordable housing- however, the CHA wait list is already 15+ years long.

· He says that the plan is to create jobs so that WHEN the rent increases- the residents can afford it, however more minimum wage jobs in the area won’t support a rent increase.

· He says that there will be better schools as a result of the tax revenue that is increased- but 25 schools in the area were recently closed… why is that not a fucking priority here.

· He mockingly stated that “too much development has not been a problem for the south side”… because we should be grateful for anything that we get considering that the city has purposefully and willfully ignored the needs of these communities for decades. You can’t under resource a community then mock them for it. What the fuck?

· He says that we shouldn’t worry about new residents because “There are plenty of abandoned buildings and vacant lots”- mocking the people that have been pushed out of their homes because of predatory mortgage loans, and lack of economic opportunities in their neighborhood, or people who moved out to other places, but those interested in the neighborhood couldn’t afford to salvage.

· He says that there is a “long way to go” before gentrification is a worry- however since the mere ANNOUNCEMENT of his center- asking prices for homes in the surrounding communities have already increased. 25% increase in Washington Park alone.

· The MOST anti-black and classist statement that Obama made last night was that the people of the community needed to be more worried with “trash, broken curbs” and abandoned buildings than being pushed out of their fucking homes.

· He also mocked grassroots organizers that are pushing back against this center without having some form of agreement or protection for current residents by claiming that these community meetings were the only chance to be heard.

In all- I am disgusted by these liberal dog-whistles that are dripping with victim blaming, classism, and anti-blackness. I am tired of folks claiming that they are going to improve neighborhoods by displacing the current residents and making space for elitism.

If you want to improve south side neighborhoods here is a list of things that you can do that will save billions of dollars and create more impact for the actual residents:

· Talk to your buddy Rahm about actually supporting Chicago Public schools and the teachers union.

· Move into and develop an existing building and provide economic development courses, like entrepreneurial training

· Create grants for residents who want to own a home in the neighborhood but have obstacles to get there

· Use your political leverage to protect the current residents via property tax increase freezes and non CHA income based housing structures for those who can prove residency in the area prior to your center being built

· Create several smaller centers in several economic enfranchised communities instead of one large gentrification hub

· Require that new businesses hire from within the community

· Strengthen and support existing businesses in the area

· Create business loan grants specifically for those within the area to develop there

· Use his political sway to re-attract the factories that have moved

These are all things that Obama could do in a quarter of the time with a lot less money that would ACTUALLY benefit the actual residents of the community and not displace them- but I can bet that he won’t. Obama is not an unintelligent man. He knows exactly what he is doing, the exact ways that it is going to affect the poor residents in that area, and he is complicit in neo-colonialism and ethnic cleaning in the city of Chicago. And because he is white supremacy in black face- most everyone is fooled.