During the short, hectic days of affirmative action, one of the core Republican talking points, especially during the Reagan years, was how hardworking middle Americans (catchphrase for “white people”) are paying their taxes and the poor, inner-city people were just living off of them. This statement was said as though the poor people receiving benefits were not contributing at all to the system that was feeding them.
Now, we should know the truth: The poor pay far more of a percentage of their income in taxes than the rich, and the rich get a far bigger share of those tax revenues than the poor.
From an African-American perspective, this is especially important because the unsaid premise of Initiative 200, whose passage abolished affirmative action in Washington, was that the state was somehow unfairly giving resources to minorities and nothing should be distributed by race. This just locked in the old racial structure to assure that the same companies that were always getting the majority of the state revenue would not need to share it with minority groups.
The reason that I-200 should be overturned as a racist piece of legislation is that more than 97 percent of all of the state resources are now going to primarily white-owned companies and denies minority groups from getting back a fair share of the state and local revenues they pay into the system.
African Americans have always received back less than 10 percent of all of the taxes we have paid in federal, state and local taxes. Our request for funding has always been treated as though we were being given something that we did not deserve and we were stealing from real hardworking Americans.
That is why the City of Seattle, King County and the state of Washington have put so few resources into African-American communities. We were painted as lazy welfare recipients who did not want to work, while, at the same time, being denied training and employment when trained.
No help for us
Unfortunately in Seattle, it was a man I will always admire who laid the groundwork for our current dilemma.
Former state legislator and Seattle City Councilmember Sam Smith was a dedicated integrationist who believed that giving money specifically to black people was a separatist philosophy. That was why the state did not have an African American Affairs Commission while the other racial groups had similar commissions.
A group of us, led by former Rep. Jesse Wineberry had to petition the governor to form a group for us. That is also the reason that the City of Seattle and Martin Luther King Jr. County have included all of the racial groups into their budget on a yearly basis, except the African-American community.
The only things that the progressive City of Seattle funds for African Americans are the Northwest African American Museum and Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center. Also, no counseling and referrals, community development funds or social-service money is given to groups that are supposed to serve us.
Now, the majority of the crime and unemployment is in my community, and the funds to do anything about them are elsewhere. Now, the municipalities have tight budgets and they say that any new expenditures to us must come from someplace else.
Yet, we do have a line item for African Americans in the budget: Every time we expand our jail system or hire more police to combat crime, 75 percent or more of these funds are aimed at or near my community.
Political, social suicide
African Americans make up nearly 40 percent of the country’s police force and 40 percent of the military. You will never find an African American selling state secrets or doing anything that directly harms the nation. Our fight has been for fairness in America, not to destroy America.
We need to stop playing games when it comes to dealing with this extraordinary group of Americans and realize that the only way to lift the nation is to lift the bottom half first.
If this nation is attacked by outside forces, the main issue, according to Russia, is how the black people in the inner cities will respond. A nation that leaves an important group like this in the cold is a nation committing political and social suicide.
We need to realize that America’s safety is literally in the hands of its most wounded citizens. How you treat us now will severely impact how we respond in a crisis later — either as dedicated patriots with something to fight for or a wounded, disillusioned people.
CHARLIE JAMES has been an African-American-community activist for more than 35 years. He is co-founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. County Institute (mlkci.org). To comment on this column, write to MPTimes@nwlink.com.