One of the themes within my book is race’s role in economic and political power. Each part of the series is a first person perspective with worldview that differs dramatically based upon their historical consciousness and the desires they wish to fulfill.
In Book 1, Jesses displays what I and other philosophers of race would call racial ignorance. What does this mean? Pulling from concepts explicated by Frantz Fanon’s in his book Black Skin, White Masks, we learn that whites often lack the experience of systematic prejudice and thus there is a knowing and unknowing of race. Whites can conceptualize race, but have only the experience of the privileged “norm” rather than the racialized Other and thus are unable (or unwilling) to perceive, understand, acknowledge, or relate to the general condition and experiences of non-whites.
Given the widely-touted multi-racial nature of Miami this seems to not fit with normal expectations. However the below maps and history are an attempt to give greater contextualization to how Jesse came to this worldview and also gives background to other characters perspectives on the role of race to their worldview.
Unfortunately this ethnic map of Miami doesn’t also show the history of legislation and settlement to the many cities and townships that make up Miami, Miami Beach and it’s surrounding areas. Including this sort of data we would begin to get a larger understanding of why the composition of the region is that way that it is.
As you can see here, in areas that are the poorest people are living in the densest arrangements. While there is little statistical breakdown by the City of Miami of what the percentages relate to in material conditions, from this data and that elsewhere we can see that two bedrooms apartments housing five or more people is normal. If this were the case we would find many of the circumstances described by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Case for Reparations. From the founding of the City of Miami and Miami Beach the patterns of habitations were guided by racial segregationist legislation that was enforced through a combination of policing and intermittent mob actions.
White politicians consistently sought to and successfully deprived black entrepreneurs from accumulating capital in white areas as well as their enterprises in black towns, rabidly fought unionization and collective bargaining campaigns and targeted social justice activists for harassment and assassination. While expanding along the beachfront to the east, whites captured formerly black areas through eminent domain and corrupt housing practices that pushed black west into higher density housing areas.
This and the patterns of public transportation directly informed the type of labor available to black-American and Caribbean populations (and later Latin American groups) as well as their ability to demand political change, their ability to use public goods and services as well as their housing options.
Justifications for an inflated police state and greater surveillance of the population at first stemmed from the second World War and the fear of destabilizing acts by foreigners. The work pass system, started in the 1930s, mandated that black and white workers in the tourist sector wear passes, for instance.
This theme would pop up again in various forms in order to legitimize greater oversight of black bodies and delegitimize political opposition to such acts by the government. Jim Crow, in a word, formed thoroughly enmeshed the patterns of habitation, political power and labor in the nascent Miami, which as late as 1953 was, according to Robe Carson, was a “Tropical Frontier” that had not yet been fully conquered by the white race. How so? Well even after 1943, when this threat was no longer credible, and into the 1960’s these passes served to reinforce an apartheid style urban geography.
Various counties created and enforced curfews to keep blacks out of white areas both through their police departments and white vigilantes. Later political upheavals were blamed by foreign agitators from northern Florida and New York to prevent the granting of political demands. The worldview promulgated by local papers was that local blacks were happy with their conditions and it was only because of outside influence that civic unrest occasionally erupted. Racism in the police forces in these and other areas continues to this day.
As the shows, the high rate of poverty in Miami communities of color was not caused by cultural character flaws but by a sustained and systematic assault by the local white and even Federal government policies towards maintaining segregation, preventing communities of color from having access to beachfront property on the larger scale keeping trade going with Caribbean dictatorships that were able to extract higher rates of surplus capital from their investments due to authoritarian practices.
The later success of Cuban communities is often cited as a reason as to why it is a cultural character flaw, however this belies the capital and advanced educational degrees that many first wave migrants were able to bring with, the federal assistance that they were given, the longer history of successful political mobilization they’d experienced and accrued as sociopolitical capital as well as the notion of the first wave as “white people”.
Miamians continues to suffer as a result of it’s past. It’s continuously named as one of the worst places to live, it lacks a comprehensive plan to combat global climatic change due to the interests of land developers – the most powerful political lobby in Florida – it’s politicians and police are recurrently in the press for corruption and illegal acts and as anyone who’s familiar with it knows it’s vast area could be greatly reorganized for more rational and equitable land usage. This is all intimately tied to municipal government development and the influence of predominantly white capital on the areas political economy.
Jesse, however, isn’t aware of any of this. He hasn’t learned this data in his history class. His parents are, like many others living in South Florida, are not natives nor are they aware of it’s history so cannot pass this information along. The private high school he previously attended was predominantly white, as is par for South Florida Private Schools, so he’s not interacted with many black people until last year when he entered a public school. As a result of his growing recognition of the nature of political power and through the course of his increased interaction with black people, however, Jesse comes to have greater awareness of the racial environment of Miami and, in his later book, the surrounding regions. Jesse’s epistemological development is thus not aptly described by calling his views in the beginning racist but ignorant. Furthermore this is not an active ignorance that seeks to maintain privilege but one that seeks ruthlessness to understand and critique how power operates. At each step of his epistemological development Jesse comes to a state of greater empathy, understanding and recognizes a greater duty towards, to bring it back to Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth.
A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida by N. D. B. Connolly
Old South, New South, or Down South?: Florida and the Modern Civil Rights Movement by Irvin D. S. Winsboro
Take Back the Land by Max Rameau