The politics of a tornado

“But suppose God is Black? What if we go to Heaven and we, all our lives, have treated the Negro as an inferior, and God is there, and we look up and He is not White? What then is our response?” — John F. Kennedy, Jr.

I pose this to our esteemed elected officials for the North Side: Representative Bobby Champion, Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein, City Council Members Barb Johnson and Don Samuels, and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak:

Elected officials, what do you think God, as Kennedy contemplated Him, would think about you putting the residents of your envisioned “One Minneapolis” into the Drake homeless shelter? 

To say that I am deeply disappointed, to say that my heart is heavy as families still struggle for a roof over their heads, still stuck at the Drake shelter two weeks after the tornado, is the grossest kind of understatement. It also says to me that you are dealing in the politics of the past as it relates to the African Americans living in your “One Minneapolis.” 

Those politics of the past isolated people who told the truth, made payoffs and back-door deals with a well-known few (so-called) leaders of “the Black community,” raised a little uproar at city council meetings. Then the people forgot, they adjusted, and still they have nothing.

Under your leadership we have seen the results of the Empowerment Zone’s (dis)investment in the Black communities of Minneapolis. We need look no further than the Holman Consent Decree to see what our leadership values — gentrification to the detriment of the present residents. As James Baldwin said about America’s mistreatment of Blacks, “This is not only fact, but a matter of historical record.”

Welcome to the present! The people are awake, and we are watching your tornado politics. The movement is building! The people are working in unity, the reality it seems you couldn’t acknowledge before the tornado. 

We are speaking a new language, creating a new narrative for the ways in which we relate to one another and to our elected officials. We are raising Black consciousness, and the learning of our history informs us about the conditions we suffer in the present. 

No more back-door deals crafted in darkness. No more payoffs to a handful of the usual suspects. No more will we accept the NOTHING we have gotten thus far from your leadership. 

Like the Internet, we are developing a long memory as our elders inform us about what went down, and as our young educate us about what will go down if the politics don’t change.

You will need a new strategy to finance your “One Minneapolis.” It won’t any longer be on the backs of the Black communities of this city. I hope the City got what it needed from the Hollman Consent Decree and Empowerment Zone debacles, because the people are on the ground, in the meetings, part of the solution, demanding a strict accounting this time.

We want to know. Council Member Samuels, in a meeting at the Cookie Cart last week, advised the collaborative members of the group that, to date, the City had spent $40,000 for human needs in its tornado response. Seriously? 

The Salvation Army is reporting an investment of $250,000, and the City of Minneapolis spent $40,000? I am almost too shocked to do the math. 

But wait — what will be of real interest to the people will be your application to FEMA. I wonder to myself what number the City will submit for reimbursement. $40,000 plus police, fire and public works? Oh yes, please don’t forget to include the expenses for the family accommodations at the Drake! As Malcolm X said, “Time will tell.” 

I can’t give you a message any better than Freedom Fighter Steve Biko’s in his address to a South African court, before he was killed in his struggle against Apartheid: “My Lord, Blacks are not unaware of the hardships they endure, or what the government is doing to them. We want them to stop accepting these hardships, to confront them. People must not give in to their hardships, they must, even in this environment, find a way to develop hope. Hope for themselves, hope for this country… Now I think that is what Black Consciousness is all about, without any reference to the White man, to try and build up a sense of our own…humanity, our legitimate place in the world.”

The movement is building. The people are on the ground. New day, new politics.

Tell me mayor, council members, commissioners and representatives: If you look up in Heaven and find that God is Black, do tell, what then will be your response?

Lissa Jones welcomes reader responses to