This is the second part of a longer conversation we had in May 2016, discussing the differences and similarities in contexts and issues between Niddrie, a housing scheme in Scotland, and the hood in West Atlanta, GA, USA. If you missed it, check out part 1 here.
In this video, Mez chats with John Onwuchekwa and some of his church members at Cornerstone Church in Atlanta, GA, about the relationship between poverty and skin colour in both a scheme and a hood context.
Mez: So I’m interested in this black and white thing. You have poor white folk in America, right? And, you know, I know you were saying you came over here, you were quite surprised it happens to white people too, and I’m like… Ok, but it happens to white people in America too, right? So just explain, cause I don’t understand your context, I just want to be…
John: Ok, I’ll let J.P. ok.
J.P.: So the idea is, so you have, the only time you really hear about poor whites in America is like trailer parks, and they call them trailer trash, or the Appalachian mountain range, where you have, like, people that have lived in his mountain range for hundreds of years, but you don’t hear about them much, like they don’t exist because they’re out of sight. But the American context is you have like Reagan in the eighties with the welfare mothers, these black women with all these kids that just sucking up the resources from the United States from taxpayers, right? And so that’s the narrative that gets carried out over and over and over and over…
Mez: Which is the narrative here as well, which is generally white, particularly in Scotland.
J.P.: Yeah, so it seems, whatever this plan is that they came up with… big propaganda, right? And so, you don’t hear about white poverty being the issue that’s causing everyone issues, but when black folks are poor, you know, they’re sucking up the resources, they’re dealing drugs, they’re killing people, you know, and it just becomes this: ‘I have to be afraid of you because of all these different things’ and so we don’t… I got taught to hate myself and hate people that look like me because I’m a problem in the United States and white folks are just victims or they were just, you know, some other reason why they didn’t make it.
Mez: So white poor would be viewed more favourably and black poor, is that what you…?
John: Yeah, yeah I think so. Yeah, I think that there’s a way to dress it up and a way to hide it I’m not saying that the disadvantages that they had in the past, or better or worse, but it can be dressed up and it can be hidden. Yeah, yeah you can’t hide the fact that you’re black, right? You can’t dress it up.[bctt tweet=”‘You can’t hide the fact that you’re black. You can’t dress it up.’ (@JawnO) #poverty #race #CiHP”]J.P.: Yeah and I think part of it too is the intention design like we’ve been talking about, like US history right, so in order for poor white folks, the issue is, at least I’m not black, right. So at the end of the day I, hey, as long as I’m not black I’m winning, I could be dirt poor, I can have other problems, I can have poor health, but if I’m not black the game is still rigged in my favour right. And so however that that message gets gained, the bigger issue becomes now how can I be better than these black people and what issues can I fight for or against to “make America great again” to make me feel better about my situation and it’s just one of those things where we just, whatever it is time and time again since emancipation and before emancipation, um… Do you all know about emancipation?
Mez: We know a little bit.
J.P.: Well Lincoln freed the slaves, quote, unquote, there’s been this black problem and it’s like how do we deal with these black folks, you know, when originally Lincoln, you know, first initial drafts of addressing the South, he’s like, man I not really care about the slaves I just want to make this country whole. And he wrote letters saying hey black people America is a mono cultural society you guys need to figure out what your next steps are, like, well do we need to put you back on boats? Whatever we need to do because it’s going to be rough for you here and I advise you to find your way back to Africa. But you know, that’s the stuff that gets buried in history books.
Mez: And so, for us, history of the scheme’s is similar. And again I’ve said before, I’m not saying we have the same problems, but for us, prior to the industrial revolution in our country, most of the poor lived in what are now city centres, they lived in squalid, terrible, just disgusting conditions, in basic slums. And when industrial revolution came and the rich landlords wanted to establish manufacturing centres – what we have now is business centres – the poor, schemes, were built specifically to house the poor, to deal with the problem. And so when you look at a map of our city, all the poor communities go in a circle away from the centre, you see? And so we were all historically farmed out to these communities. Now they would have been historically quite nice. They’d have been working-class guys, guys who’d worked down the mines, the pits we’d call them, or worked in the manufacturing, the poor working-class but, like, over the last few hundred years they’ve just increasingly become worse and worse and worse and obviously some of them are now doing this cycle of gentrification. In the next 50 years it’ll happen again. And so for us, that’s how we, sort of, came to be put in these communities.
John Onwuchekwa is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Church in Atlanta, GA. He’s originally from Houston, TX. He’s married to Shawndra. John O visited Scotland in May 2016 to check out the work of 20schemes as part of a 20schemes vision trip.