Sunday, January 24, 2010

It's not Racist to Care About your Neighborhood

An article in the New York Times made my blood boil. The headline reads “Housing Battle Reveals Post-Katrina Tensions[i] ,” and the article is little more than a two-page accusation of racism against the people of St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans.

Neighbors are often accused of racism when they fight unwanted development. It happened a few months ago here in Houston, when neighbors fought the Harris County Hospital District’s effort to buy Memorial Hermann Southwest. (Never mind that these neighbors have chosen to live in one of the most diverse, ethnic parts of the City).

The accusations are often raised by advocates who didn’t get their way. (In the case of St. Bernard Parish it was David Jarrell, a lawyer for one of the projects’ supporters.) They are a convenient way to ignore the real issues. Low income and public housing has a long and storied history – including such notable failures as the Cabrini Green and Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago. By accusing St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans of racism, Mr. Jarrell doesn’t have to answer to that history.

It was the same with Memorial Hermann Southwest. Neighbors were at first open-minded to the sale. They hoped for improvements in the hospital. But the Harris County Hospital District never promised improvements, and when the doctors threatened to leave, neighbors feared they would lose the hospital altogether. These concerns were brushed aside with accusations of racism.

The residents of Southwest Houston won their battle against a horrible idea. Time will tell in St. Bernard Parish. But please remember two things. First, we all want the same thing – safe, vibrant neighborhoods in which to live and work. It’s wrong to call that racist. Second, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.


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