Posted 186 days ago
It's terrifying how clearly we can trace poverty to injustices of the past. As a society, we are generally, well-aware of the horrors of slavery. But what we are not good at identifying are the injustices that have remained in our society since its abolition. Many think that the end of slavery marked the end of oppression, or that at least the Civil Rights Movement removed any lingering doubts about discrimination. But the reality (obvious to some but not so obvious so a large portion of the American electorate) is that the social and economic structures that allowed something like slavery, and then the Jim Crow era, have just shifted and changed form over the years.
We know that many who resented the abolition in the South used the criminal justice system to rework their system of opression. But how far this extended into society is hard to see until we get investigations such as Okeowo's. The goal of oppressive systems in the South - and other parts of the county as well - were to force a section of society into labor, extracting the wealth that they produced and distributing that to other parts of society. The increase of wealth and standard of living of White Americans allowed them to do anything from ignoring the reasons for that unearned wealth to actively participating in the system of opression. Imagine, then, the following:
In Lowndes County, at least forty per cent of households have an inadequate septic system or none at all...In Alabama, not having a function spetic system is a criminal misdemeanor. Residents can be fined as much as five hundred dollars per citation, evicted, and even arrested...But installing a new system can cost as much as twenty thousand dollars, which is more than the average person in Lowndes County makes in a year.
This means that there is a cycle that is near impossible to jump out of without additional resources. The article paraphrases Jacquelyn Thomas, the county administrator, saying that "for a county with a low tax base...installing sewers that reached more households would be prohibitevely expensive." Summed up nicely:
"There have been intentional structures put in place, undergirded by racism, to keep the county poor...Not having access to decent housing creates s a lot of other kinds of injustices. It creates health-care disparities. It leads to not having a decent wage."
Today, I think that any "intentional structures" that exist remain from the past; the thing is that there is not enough support to take them away or dedicate money to improving them because they simply don't affect the people who have the money. Lowndes county is 70% Black and with the average salary being less than $20,000 per year, the citizens simply don't have the power to change things.
America is about individual grit and the ability to bootstrap yourself and make something big (at least that's what we are told). In places like Lowndes county, it's very difficult to do this. Federal taxes must flow directly to these communities that can't be blocked by state intervention, such as Governor Kay Ivey refusing to expand Medicaid during the COVID-19 pandemic.