Short Take: Blame The Liberals

Maybe this is a lesson learned. Maybe this is her confession of guilt. Either way, Betsy Hodges condemns the true enemy of black people.

Democrats have largely led big and midsize cities for much of the past half-century. Yet the gaps in socioeconomic outcomes between white people and people of color are by several measures at their worst in the richest, bluest cities of the United States.

How could this be?

Is that meant as a rhetorical question? Nope. She’s going to answer it.

As the mayor of Minneapolis from 2014 to 2018, as a Minneapolis City Council member from 2006 until 2014 and as a white Democrat, I can say this: White liberals, despite believing we are saying and doing the right things, have resisted the systemic changes our cities have needed for decades. We have mostly settled for illusions of change, like testing pilot programs and funding volunteer opportunities.

She’s got a point. Many of the ideas promoted or even effectuated by Democratic mayors and governors were tepid palliatives, feel-good measures that were cautiously designed to perhaps help, even if only a little, while not pissing off the majority of the electorate so they didn’t get voted out of office. Hey, they are elected, you know, and they can’t cure cancer if they’re not re-elected.

On the other hand, initiatives are crafted by committee, which might be very popular these days as collaboration is all the rage, but almost invariably produces nothing of value because they’re all about compromise.

And on the third hand, ideas are only brilliant until put into effect, whereupon they’re either going to work or fail. They test pilot programs because it might seem like a good idea, but that’s not going to mean it’s as ineffective as Rocky’s drug laws. So does that explain it?

These efforts make us feel better about racism, but fundamentally change little for the communities of color whose disadvantages often come from the hoarding of advantage by mostly white neighborhoods.

“Hoarding advantage” sounds even worse than white privilege. White privilege is passive. After all, we can’t help being white, even if it means we get to sit in bed all day eating bon bons while our trust fund checks are direct deposited. But “hoarding privilege” is an affirmative evil. We have to put in effort to keep the riches to ourselves and out of the hands of black people.

This, apparently, is what liberals have been up to all these years since LBJ passed the illusory Civil Rights Act of 1964. How so?

In Minneapolis, the white liberals I represented as a Council member and mayor were very supportive of summer jobs programs that benefited young people of color. I also saw them fight every proposal to fundamentally change how we provide education to those same young people. They applauded restoring funding for the rental assistance hotline. They also signed petitions and brought lawsuits against sweeping reform to zoning laws that would promote housing affordability and integration.

But that’s not all. As Phil Ochs reminded us, “and besides we’ve got the cops.”

Nowhere is this dynamic of preserving white comfort at the expense of others more visible than in policing. Whether we know it or not, white liberal people in blue cities implicitly ask police officers to politely stand guard in predominantly white parts of town (where the downside of bad policing is usually inconvenience) and to aggressively patrol the parts of town where people of color live — where the consequences of bad policing are fear, violent abuse, mass incarceration and, far too often, death.

Hodges has a point. But that doesn’t mean she has the right “solution.”

Whatever the result, a sustainable transformation of policing will require that white people of means disinvest in the comfort of our status quo.

If a black family moved in next door to me (as a family “of color” has behind me), it would be no different than if a white family moved in. As long as they don’t screw with my quiet enjoyment, it’s none of my business. And if they turn out to be fun, we’ll enjoy dinner together.

The question is whether to “disinvest in the comfort” or spread the opportunity for comfort to everyone. Will it serve the interests of equality to make white people miserable rather than make black people happier? But based on my experience hanging around with black folks, I suspect they would rather be able to buy a house with two acre zoning than have a white family live next door to them in the projects.

How would I know? I’m a liberal.

8 thoughts on “Short Take: Blame The Liberals

  1. B. McLeod

    Notably, most of the cities where police have been beating the shit out of peaceful protesters are also bastions of blueness.

  2. Bob

    I’ve heard it said many times that the worst thing about being poor in America is having to live next to other poor Americans.

  3. KP

    But…but.. that’s what Socialism means! We will ALL be poor in the gutter together. I’ve never found an example of it turning out otherwise.
    As to confuse it with racism, she’s just one of those pinch-faced women who hate people owning what she doesn’t have, or even just enjoying themselves in life. Any example can be stretched to make us feel guilty about being happy.

  4. Rxc

    All those big 5 BR houses need to be rezoned into multiple family housing, with rent control imposed on the owners who are hoarding their privileges. Set the rent at $50/month for each 4 member family, with full access to the kitchen with the well stocked Sub Zero fridge, and the pool. That would be a good start on establishing equity.


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