Is racism the problem with Birmingham?

Birmingham during the early '60's

I hear it regularly, “The problem with Birmingham is racism.”

One of my first blogs, Let’s move to the suburbs and attack the city, quickly attracted two comments.  One was from (I assume) an African American blaming Birmingham’s problems on whites, “The racism is so obvious and so thick you can cut it with a knife.”

The other (I assume) was from a white, “I dare say, and can provide proof that racism in Birmingham is most rampant at City Hall and it is racist African Americans hurling the most racist attitudes.”

It’s clear racism in the early ‘60’s set us back. A confluence of unfortunate circumstance put us front and center.  From Bull Conner to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, we became the poster child of everything racism.

However, I don’t think it’s fair to say the average Birminghamian was any more racist than any other Southern city. We did have a few racist superstars, but segregation wasn’t exclusive to us.

But the question is not whether racism was bad fifty years ago. We are asking is racism holding us back today.

Its clear racism does exist in Birmingham. But again, there is racism everywhere.
Why does it seem to be a bigger issue here?

It is our government structure.

Right after Bull Conner’s downfall, the Birmingham region had an opportunity to consolidate cities.  Homewood was the first city to vote, but chose to remain separate which set the tone that ultimately resulted in 37 municipalities in Jefferson County.

And look at our municipalities.  Most are predominantly white or all black.  Compare that to our competing Southern cities.

Nashville and Jacksonville have a unified county-city government but their neighborhoods appear to be every bit as segregated as Birmingham’s.*

When something bad happens in the city of Birmingham,  some whites in Trussville (97% white) or Gardendale (97% white) blame the uneducated crooked blacks in Birmingham.  And when Birmingham (73% black) or Fairfield (90% black) suffer, there are some African Americans who blame the rich and greedy white people in Mt. Brook (99% white) or Vestavia Hills (94% white).

As the black commenter wrote to my earlier blog, “The businesses in Alabama refuse to do business in Birmingham because the city is predominately black.”

Our friends in Nashville or Jacksonville can’t make that same comment, because Nashville and Jacksonville aren’t white or black cities.

Our government structure brings out the worst in us.

*I’ve never lived in Nashville, Jacksonville, or any other Southern city.  Feedback from those of you with first hand experience would be welcome.

David Sher’s goal is to create a conversation on how to fix our fragmented and dysfunctional local government.

David Sher is a partner in Buzz12 Content Marketing and co-CEO of AmSher Receivables Management. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (ONB), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).



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7 Responses to Is racism the problem with Birmingham?

  1. Maurice L. Shevin says:

    David:  I don’t think that the people of the Birmingham metropolitant area are more “racist” than any other people.  I do think that we instinctively “filter” most every decision through the prism of race.  And, that is the tragic story of our lives here, in what is otherwise, the most beautiful geographic area of the USA. 

  2. Henry says:

    Martin Luther King said, I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.  Until every person  regardless of race can live up to this quote there will always be racism. David, I agree with you.  The problem is not racism it is 37 little fiefdoms that want to maintain their own little power center. 
    BTW, racism is not only in the south – it is everywhere. 

    The definition of racism is:
    1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
    2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
    3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

    As long as governments are run by people who believe any of the above definitions there may not be consolidation. Cities like Nashville and Jacksonville have risen above this mentality and have learned how to work together for greater good of all.

    My 2 cents!

  3. Danny Rodgers says:

    Yes, David; I lived in Nashville 30 years (1953-1983): Metro Gov’t is the cornerstone of N’ville’s success!

  4. Yankee down south says:

    *My experiance was overwhelmed when I sat down at the lunch table and asked where “joe” was?… In 2005 racism is alive and seems to be getting worse .. I have lived in L.A , Philadelphia, Michigan, and now Alabama …I have many different filtered friends but now I just keep to my family because of racism… I have literally been told by many black men that the only reason they have this job is because they are black! I at first did not believe this but now in 2012 I’m a believer!!…I have left very good paying jobs for racist issues … To only find them at the next…. Now I just found out I’m at a company that was shut down long ago because of blacks filling law suits… I’m now looking to take my talents to another state that doesn’t live in the past and wants to move forward with the best help, not color! I believe that long ago my people were slaves too!!!  Only Jesus can save you… All this black crap and equal of color in the job force is the weakest link to Birmingham …… If you feed a bum …. He won’t get a job and feed himself….. Get the point

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