One issue generally overlooked in economic redevelopment efforts is the problem of whitewashing. The plans to revitalize the El Paso downtown to bolster the city’s economy pits community leaders intent on growing the city’s economic base against those wishing to keep its culture alive. El Paso is not unique in the friction between those wishing to preserve culture with those wishing to grow the economy by erasing history, often at the expense of the culture of the minorities in the community.
Although racism and discrimination play a part in the controversy, oftentimes the friction is simply not understanding the cultural implications of redevelopment.
The Washington Post published an article by Tracy Jan on January 18, 2021. It details how “Black entrepreneurs feel threatened with erasure yet again.” The article’s depiction of what is happening to Tulsa’s historic Greenwood district shows what can happen to the Duranguito neighborhood that continues to face the threat of erasure to make way for a sports arena.
The ongoing development of the Greenwood district includes a $20 million museum dedicated to a century-old massacre that obliterated the Black community of that neighborhood. The Washington Post article shows how some $42 million in tax incentives and the museum are supposed to be preparing the neighborhood for the 1921 bloodshed centennial.
Instead of helping the Black members of the community recover, the revitalization programs are shutting out the Black community from their neighborhood. “Black entrepreneurs say they are being threatened with erasure yet again,” according to the paper’s report.
Although city officials are opening more land for redevelopment to address the concerns of the Black community, the efforts are too late for the “desirable part of Greenwood.”
“Black entrepreneurs say they have been reduced to renters where African Americans once owned land and built a thriving community,” wrote Tracy Jan in her news report.
There in lies the danger to the Duranguito community.
Developing the Duranguito community displaces those that built it. This has been demonstrated by other development efforts with Tulsa’s Greenwood the most recent example of what happens when redevelopment efforts ignore the unintended consequences of building without regard to culture.
Erasure comes about not only from cultural displacement but also by the lack of “generational wealth.” Without the ability to establish Black businesses to give Black families the ability to cement their culture in their neighborhood, the result is that the Black community scatters, first diminishing their Black historical roots and ultimately erasing their culture.
Displacing minority communities through economic development is a form of whitewashing.
By not allowing cultural roots to take hold, the culture is diminished to the point that it is eventually erased to be replaced by the culture benefiting from the redevelopment efforts.
Tulsa’s Greenwood is the example of what can happed when economic development, including an arena, is allowed to displace minority neighborhoods for economic growth. The problem is less about racism and more about the lack of capital to compete with well-funded White businessmen.
Like Greenwood is currently experiencing, if Duranguito is erased to make way for a proposed arena, the result will be Hispanics becoming renters in a neighborhood they once owned and built. As renters, their cultural history will erode and overtime it will be erased only to be replaced by those who have the financial wherewithal to redevelop the Latino community into their vision of prosperity.
The similarities between Duranguito do not end in what awaits the neighborhood. Greenwood, like Duranguito has been labeled as a “cesspool” by newspaper editorials and individuals looking to capitalize on the erasure of a long-time neighborhood for redevelopment.
Urban renewal programs decimated the Black community in Greenwood. “What most folks know as urban renewal, I call Negro removal,” Bobby Eaton, Sr., an 85-year-old Black entrepreneur was quoted by the Post article.
Today, Greenwood with its high-rises has a White face while the original Black community have been pushed out. As the date for the massacre Centennial approaches, it is the White population that stands to benefit from the tourism of the occasion, not the Black community that suffered.
“I do not believe this generation of Tulsans should be financially punished for the illegal acts of criminals a century ago,” the paper quoted Mayor, G.T. Bynum, a White Republican. Another Tulsan, Tyron Walker, is quoted as stating that he “wishes folks would stop focusing on the past.”
Walker argues that the past “keeps people divided.”
But the past is the roots that cement future prosperity for the communities that built the neighborhoods being gentrified for economic development. That is what whitehwashing is.