When white people tell black people what to do

Race is the big elephant in Birmingham's room
Race is the big elephant in Birmingham’s room (Photo courtesy of Birmingham Zoo)

If you want to measure the financial vitality of a region–look at job growth.

Our Birmingham seven county metropolitan areahas fewer people employed today than in 2007.

That’s nearly a decade with a net loss of jobs.

Nashville, Charlotte, and Austin have had double digit increases.

According to the Birmingham Business Journal, (Metropolitan) “Birmingham is down about 19,100 jobs from its pre-recession peak.”

Much of the blame belongs to our racial divide–provoked by our fragmented government structure.

Angry blacks rail against white government

At a recent Birmingham Council meeting, angry black citizens railed against what they see as an oppressive white government…

Some comments…

 “We have a state legislature down there which is just as segregated as Jim Crow…They have perpetuated themselves to roll back the clock on black people…It’s the state Republican Party that is all white, lily white, nobody black…”

Is black anger justified?

In February the Birmingham City Council passed a bill to raise the minimum wage.  The State legislature immediately passed legislation to nullify it.

This legislation was proposed by a Mountain Brook Republican.

This gives the appearance that a primarily white state government and a white bedroom community are ruling black Birmingham.

I don’t agree with some of the Birmngham City Council’s decisons and I don’t think a minimum wage increase would be good for Birmingham, but Birmingham should be allowed to manage its own affairs.

This would never happen in Nashville

We have divided Jefferson County into 35+ municipalities defined by race and income. Birmingham is perceived as black and Mountain Brook as white.

The same action by the State of Tennessee would not have the same racial overtones for Nashville because Nashville has a combined county/city government.  Nashville is not a black city or a white city.  It is just Nashville.

Nashville has a Metropolitan Council.  The Council is a 40-member body of elected representatives of which 35 are elected by district and 5 are elected at-large, or county-wide. The presiding officer is the Vice Mayor, who is elected at-large by the citizens of Nashville and Davidson County.

In Nashville everyone, black and white, has a seat at the grown up table.

In Birmingham we have 35 separate tables all competing against one another.

St. Louis (Ferguson) is more fragmented than Birmingham

If you think our Birmingham region has racial problems, St. Louis puts us to shame.

St. Louis is more fragmented than Birmingham and has much worse racial issues.

St. Louis City is actually not in St. Louis County and St. Louis County is composed of 92 separate cities.  Also, St. Louis is on the border of Illinois-Missouri—so it is governed by two state legislatures.

St. Louis and Ferguson (a suburb) prove that government segmentation can result in racial chaos.

Our outdated racially motivated state constitution denies power to local governments

Our 1901 state constitution was written primarily to control blacks and poor whites and is still doing its job.

Through the powers given to the state legislature through that constitution, local governments are ruled from Montgomery.

Our State Legislature has enough on its plate to solve Alabama’s problems—so how does it have the bandwidth and capability to micromanage Birmingham?

Birmingham should be allowed to make it’s own decisions and then live with the rewards or the consequences.

We need to come together as a community

We can’t be satisfied with fewer jobs, less financial opportunities, and a lower standard of living.

Race is the big elephant in Birmingham’s room and until we acknowledge and organize ourselves to work together we will remain muddled in mediocrity.

*Metropolitan Birmingham: Bibb, Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, St. Clair, Shelby, and Walker Counties)

Let’s turn Birmingham around.  Click here to sign up for our newsletter.  There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)

David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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5 thoughts on “When white people tell black people what to do”

  1. *Sigh… The reason the Birmingham metro has fewer jobs than in 2007 can largely be attributed to one thing – The Birmingham Business Alliance. The number of horror stories regarding the BBA from businesses attempting to expand in, start in, or relocate to Birmingham is mindboggling. All the while, the BBA whistles quietly in a corner, with nary a comment, a defense of itself, or a shred of pride to do its job. No, the BBA sits, swindles businesses of their money in membership dues, swindles the city of Birmingham taxpayers, and receives gluttonous salaries to do absolutely nothing. Since Brian Hilson became dictator of the BBA, he has infested its ranks with other Huntsvillians, who ostensibly generate business for the Birmingham region, but Huntsville constantly lands massive manufacturing plants. Makes one go ‘HHHMMM….’

  2. No truer words were ever written. Our next door neighbor, Atlanta is years ahead of us in growth and opportunity. We cannot continue to be at the bottom of everything and think that is ok.

  3. *David – I agree with your concept of a combined municipal government as ideal but it also isn’t as easy as pointing to Nashville or Memphis or Atlanta as the solution.  I know many people that live in all of those cities but I do not know a single person that sends their children to public schools.  Nashville has over 30 (30!) private high schools and multiple more elementary and middle schools.  Not only is it expensive but it is exclusive. I have heard many people from Nashville brag or lament that their child was not accepted at MBA or Ensworth or Harding Academy.  I had a conversation with a guy in Memphis that was boasting on how much more integrated and progressive Memphis is compared to Birmingham and he denigrated the Over The Mountain communities as part of the problem but he also sheepishly admitted to sending his own children to the most prestigious private school in Memphis.  

    It is first and foremost about the schools and from good schools flow increased property values and improved quality of life.  We need to fix the Birmingham Schools.  We need to create a school system that provides exceptional educational opportunities.  That is where we should we focus our resources.  Every parent wants their child to get a good education regardless of race or income.  With a better school system and better schools, we will attract more jobs, retain more jobs and improve the quality of life for all of Birmingham.

    1. James, always good to hear from you. You are assuming that a city/county consolidation would require combining school systems. When Indianapolis did its consolidation (which turned Indianapolis around), as a comprimise, it left the school systems separate. I would never propose we combine school systems–because it would never happen here. From what I understand, Nashville has as a poor school system, but it has three times as many students as Birmingham. If poor public education was the problem, then Nashville wouldn’t be thriving. Yes, Mountain Brook and Vestavia have great school systems. I sent my children there and I saved the cost of private schools. This worked out great for me and the small portion of our population who have the economic resources to afford to live over the mountain. The suggestion that we all work together to have great public education for Birmingham city is noble–but it is perceived by many in the black community as “You don’t want to have your children attend schools with our children so this is how you rationalize it.

  4. *i can remember when Birmingham and Atlanta were roughly the same size. 
    The weather profile for a major regional airport is much better in
    Birmingham.  But that airport is in Atlanta.  I don’t particularly want
    to live in Atlanta (too big, unbelievable traffic) but there are things
    we could learn.

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