The Walking Middle Finger

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Matt is amazed by Marion Barry's rather spurious proposal to increase black home-ownership by banning the construction of new apartment buildings:


Not only is this a flawed strategy for promoting economic well-being among African-Americans, but the policy he has in mind clearly won't accomplish the goal. There's just no way that zoning policy in Ward 8 of Washington, DC could possibly influence black people's ability to own homes. It doesn't make any sense, at all. Banning apartment buildings will reduce the supply of affordable housing and reduce construction jobs. That's it.

Likely true. 

But there's something else. I balked, last year, when Adam Serwer compared the white populism of Tea Partiers with the black populism that drove Adrian Fenty from office. But there's likely more to that than I initially was able to see.

One of my old editors once called Barry, in his last mayoral term, "a walking middle finger to white people." I'm very curious as to whether Marion Barry would oppose apartment buildings in his ward, if the District weren't undergoing a demographic shift.  think that's about right. Here's a guy who once helped pioneer the most progressive gay rights legislation in the country, now turned toward anti-gay bigotry. Barry also wants a residency requirement to prevent black people from moving to Prince George's County. Many of these black people are home-buyers, but if they can't vote for Barry, they're worthless to him. (We can debate the merits of a residency requirement, but I find Barry's motives spurious.)

Gay rights were fine when Barry controlled the city. It's not homophobic pastors in the District are new. But when gay rights were embraced by the alleged interloper they became a problem. I doubt that Barry much cares that black people are moving to "Ward 9"--a trend that stretches back to the 80s. He cares that the other black people like him aren't replacing them. 

This is only poor policy thinking in the sense that the Flag-burning amendment is poor policy thinking. It's not even so much an idea, as it is a tribal call to black nostalgics and romantic conservatives. To paraphrase Jigga, The policy's really worthless\He's pissing you off on purpose.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/07/the-walking-middle-finger/241820/