There are plenty of reasons to be angry about Flint. The racism, the arrogance, the incredible damage to people, pick one or all. We look at the trajectory of disregard, how State officials brushed off complaints month after month, and it seems incredible. But it confirms what we all really know – all lives matter but some lives don’t matter all that much.
Flint is a Black town. The U.S. Census Bureau tells us that 57% of the population is African American compared to just 14% of the State of Michigan as a whole.
Flint is a poor town. It wasn’t always a poor town. It used to be a heavy duty working class town where the term living wage meant a pretty decent life. Now. the median household income of $24,834 is almost exactly half of the State’s median income of $48,411. (A median income is that point where half of households fall below and half fall above. Think about that.)
But let’s dig deeper. Flint is a really poor town: 42% of Flint’s population lives below the poverty level compared to 17% of Michigan’s population.
So Flint’s Black and it’s poor and it basically has no economy since the automakers pulled up stakes. And the people who are left behind get blamed for the City of Flint falling in on itself because it doesn’t have a pot to piss in. And so the State of Michigan takes over their government. So now the people of Flint are Black, poor and disenfranchised.
It takes no thinking to connect the dots. The water system gets fouled up terribly, the citizens complain and no one cares. Because it doesn’t matter. They don’t matter. Well, they do, of course, because we know all lives matter but we also know that some lives don’t matter all that much and a lot of those lives are being lived, for better or worse, in Flint, Michigan.
So these are good reasons to be upset about Flint, to be disgusted and angry. But I have other reasons. I lived there for five years – 1969-74. Not a long time in the scheme of things but time enough to finish college, have a baby, have picnics in the park, eat lunch at Bill Thomas’ Halo Burgers, go to N.O.W. meetings, register voters, attend public hearings and know people, Black and White, who were intense about their town, angry sometimes, but totally engaged in democracy and making government work. You couldn’t pass a law or make a new policy in Flint back then that didn’t involve a hundred people testifying, debating, organizing. The people meant business when it came to government. They thought the government belonged to them. But that was then. This is now.
The racism of all of this – from one end to the other – is enormous and crude. None of this, none of this would have happened in a White town. That’s sickening beyond words.
So the past several days, I am homesick for a town I knew for just five years. I am rooting for a town where I could barely find my old apartment when I visited a few months ago. I hope the people of Flint get their town back, dust off their local government and own it again. They did good before and they can again. I believe in Flint.
One way to help the people of Flint is to donate to the Flint Child Health & Development Fund at FlintKids.org. This community effort was established to begin efforts right away to address the serious health consequences of lead poisoning for children. Please help if you can.