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Letter to the Editor: Race influences downtown debate

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Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Rocky Mount City Council meeting on 7-8-2019 was packed to the gills for the public hearing on the proposed hotel/condo/parking lot to be constructed near the newly finished Event Center.

It became clear that the pros and the antis were sharply divided along racial lines. Black folks who lived in the surrounding neighborhoods saw this as an overdue positive action in the segregated communities on the Edgecombe County side of the city, long ignored and marginalized by disinvestments, white flight and unemployment. Accompanying housing deterioration and increased crime rates are the lot of poor communities all over the world.

The uniformly white folks who opposed the proposed construction also included the three white members of council. Their excuse was “fiscal responsibility,” and those in favor were accused of engaging in “voodoo economics,” which in itself is another racial slur.

“Fiscal responsibility,” on the surface, seemed to be a good reason to reject the proposed project. Yet when one scratched deeper, it opposed the prospects of uplifting a previously under-served and poor community. However, as pointed out by another speaker, no one raised fiscal irresponsibility to the extraordinarily high utility rates we are all paying because of previous council mismanagement which only benefitted Duke Energy by the sum of $2.3 billion, putting our city in debt of more than $49 million. It is also no coincidence that the poorest are the hardest hit as the insulation in their homes is probably not adequate. It is the same specious argument used by the Supreme Court to not strike down an obviously racist gerrymandering move by the state legislature because it was “partisan and not racial.” Anyone could see the redrawn map would significantly weaken the electoral power of people of color.

The same argument was used in the late ’50s when Prince Edward County in Virginia closed its public schools in defiance of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the Supreme Court outlawing racial segregation in public schools. The excuse was “protecting their children,” thus depriving black children of education and splitting up families as parents had to send their kids away to other counties or states where they had kinfolk.

We do not seem to have made much progress on the question of overcoming white supremacy, conscious or unconscious. It rears its ugly head in the most unexpected situations.

Kim E. Koo

Rocky Mount