America’s Race Hustle

I flew down to Alabama this past weekend to cover a story that, of course, is getting no national coverage.

The Alabama state legislature—which is unsurprisingly predominately old and white—voted in less than 24 hours to block 74% black Birmingham’s bill to raise the minimum wage from the starvation wage of $7.25 to the still unlivable $10.10 an hour.

Birmingham, the biggest city in Alabama, had a groundswell of progressive mobilization to pass the modest increase, which would have helped an estimated 40,000 citizens.

I spoke with one of those people in front of a fast food restaurant.

“It means a whole lot,” Michelle, a 28-year-old African American working at Burger King told me about what a wage increase would mean to her.

“I would be able to afford so many things that I need, such as making the amount of payments for my rent, the electricity bill, the gas, the water, car insurance, the maintenance for the car, the gas for the car; it helps when we have a living wage—$7.25 is not enough because sometimes we have to work 2 or 3 jobs.”

Like many, Michelle also has a health condition, which adds additional bills she can’t afford (and Burger King, like many, takes their sweet ass time granting workers healthcare).

So, when Michelle and thousands of other African American citizens in Birmingham were set to see a crucial wage increase, what did the legislature do?

71 white lawmakers voted to block the minimum wage increase while 31 voted for it. Of the 31 voting for the minimum wage increase, 27 were African American while four courageous white lawmakers joined them.

What’s incredible about this is the timing: whether on the federal or state level, lawmakers NEVER do anything in one to two days. Yet, when a predominately black city in the deep south was about to raise its minimum wage, a brigade of white politicians stepped in to squash them.

“Then miraculously, out of nowhere, like Superman, a speeding bullet, the state legislature, for the first time in its history, passed a law that prohibited any city in the state from passing a minimum wage increase and a mandatory minimum wage increase,” Johnathan Austin, president of Birmingham’s City Council, told me.

“It was the first time the state has moved on any piece of legislation where they went through both houses and the Governor signed it a day after the city of Birmingham, basically two days after the city of Birmingham, passed the ordinance.”

So a predominately black city passes a minimum wage gain and a white state legislature steps in and stops it in the span of 48 hours.

If that’s not white supremacy of the highest order, I don’t know what is.

And I know, I know: the trolls are already chomping at the bit: “Jordan, stop making it about race! White folks are going to be affected too.”

Yes, 26% of Birmingham is white. And as I’ve reported across the country, poor white people are getting screwed by the United Corporations of America too.

But, this is about ALABAMA, which has a horrific history of lynching, murder, and dehumanization of African Americans.

And what do you call it when ONLY white lawmakers (71) vote to block a predominately black city from higher wages—racial progress?

What’s really appalling here is the hustle of it all: many of these same white lawmakers have walked across the same Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma I did on Sunday, showing their remembrance and vigilance of Bloody Sunday; even more so, to the African American oppression and genocide this county was built on.

Many send out flowery statements written by their underpaid aides to commemorate Black History Month or Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

But, when the rubber meets the road, these lawmakers—and others like them in Mississippi, Louisiana, and other predominately black states, don’t give a damn about their black citizens.

Take Alabama State Senator Trip Pittman as an example of these profiles in courage.

“I’m not for government really establishing the minimum wage, and I do encourage people to get all of their worth and if they are hired at the minimum wage, that they show the people who they are working for that they are worth more than that,” he said on blocking the minimum wage bill.

Yes, because the CEOs and managers at the all black-employees Burger King where Michelle works are very concerned about her or her colleagues’ worth!

This type of racial discrimination is happening all over the U.S.—to blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, and other minorities whose wallet size is being dictated by out-of-touch, privileged white Republicans (and many Democratic lawmakers too).

They use the same bullshit, Chamber-of-Commerce-issued talking points that raising the minimum wage will destroy local economies, disregarding the overwhelming amount of data and case studies showing the exact opposite.

Then they go home to their comfy homes and have a heart meal as millions struggle simple to eat and house a roof over their heads.

The truth is that, until we come together as a progressive movement, and a broader coalition of good-hearted people, to vote these scummy politicians out but also INFORM the deep-south, white Republicans voting for them on why they too are being screwed, nothing is going to change.

After all, white Republicans join other citizens in subsidizing Burger King, Wall-Mart, and the rest of the minimum wage abusers who get to pay their workers next to nothing, therefore exploding the Medicaid, food stamp, and welfare rolls.

The rolls WE as a middle and working poor class pay for.

Another part of this starts with outlets like Truth Against The Machine. Sure, a story on a local Alabama city being racially suppressed by the state legislature will rarely go viral like a Donald Trump’s tweets gone wild story (are you as sick as that shit as I am?)

But, story by story, brick by brick, this outlet will build a house of stories like this one, reaching not just progressives—but all people.

And ideally, inspiring activism as a result.

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