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Monday, October 24, 2016

It was the suddenness that shocked me.

This is one night 22 years ago. I had just moved to Miami and was visiting Coconut Grove for the first time. I remember being charmed. The side streets were lined with cozy bungalows. On the main streets there was light and music and an air of bohemia going upscale that made you want to linger and people-watch as women who looked as if they just stepped from the pages of Vogue were squired to and from nightclubs, restaurants and boutiques by handsome men in guayaberas.

Leaving, I drove west on Grand Avenue and … bang. Just like that, I was in another place. Here, there was less light and no music, nor flocks of date-night couples, nor really anybody except a few guys standing around, silently marking my passage. The buildings rose shadowy and quiet in meager pools of illumination cast by street lights. These were not streets for lingering. These were streets for passing quickly through.

I didn’t know it then, but I was in West Grove, the hardscrabble, historically black area that abuts Coconut Grove. I had driven less than a mile — and ended up on the other side of the world.

Ever since that night, the two Groves have struck me as a vivid illustration of the stark dualities of race and class in a nation that likes to tell itself it has overcome the former and made immaterial the latter. If you’re one of those who still believes that fiction, consider this scenario: Dangerous levels of contaminants have been found in the soil of a residential neighborhood. What happens next?

Turns out — though not to the surprise of anyone who understood the fiction to be just that — that it depends very much upon race and class. Just days after the discovery of toxins in the soil of a park in Coconut Grove, residents were alerted, the park closed, the soil capped. All within the last few weeks.

Down the street on the other side of the world, it was a different story. There, in 2011, soil was found to be contaminated on the site of an incinerator — Old Smokey — that had belched ash into the air from the 1930s until it was closed in 1970.

County environmental officials ordered the city to find out if the contaminants posed a risk and draft a plan for dealing with it. They gave the city a 60-day deadline. The city missed it. They gave the city another deadline. It missed that, too.

Residents were told none of this, knew nothing about it, until the initial finding was unearthed this year — two years later — by a University of Miami researcher. Now we learn that city tests have found this land, which sits next to a park and a community center, to be chock full of poisons, among them arsenic, lead, and benzo(a)pyrene, a carcinogen.

  • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

    And this surprises anyone, really? And, Leonard, it isn’t just when it’s a Black or Hispanic neighborhood either. Check the areas around any coal mine. Check areas where there were chemical plants (anyone else here besides Leonard and myself who are old enough to remember Love Canal?). Check anywhere that the people are not A-listers. White collar, grey collar. blue collar, no collar, Black, White, Hispanic, Native American. It doesn’t matter. As long as their tax brackets aren’t in the top 2% they have a different (and lower) level of attained social justice in this country. However, if the people organize and get their voices collectively heard, that justice can achieve parity.

    • John Pigg

      Very accurate, I agree we have moved past skin color. And these issues are those who have, and those who have not.

  • latebloomingrandma

    It’s quite obvious that poor people don’t have lobbyists on K Street. When they do try to organize, such as ACORN, well, we see what happened to them. The only power a poor person has is their vote, and it seems there is plan for that, also.

    • Independent1

      There sure is a faction in America that seems to be trying to make that happen – Keeping the poor and even more from exercising their right to vote. Hopefully the Justice Department can prevail in its efforts to ensure the rights OF ALL AMERICANS to cast their vote!!!

  • stcroixcarp

    This is a classic example of white privilege and racism, the evil twins of the American dream,

    • progressiveandproud

      No, this is an example of classism pure and simple. I grew up in a small northern Michigan town of all whites and guess what….the wealthy area had better streets (with sidewalks!) and no dumps, etc.

      It’s all about the money, friend.

  • idamag

    My two trips to Miami did not impress me as a city I wanted to spend time in. Racism did not die when the Civil Rights was enacted. It simmers under the facade waiting to erupt in all its ugliness and danger.

  • Allan Richardson

    I remember an animated sitcom titled “The Oblongs” which ran for ONE MONTH on the WB cable channel in 2001, revived for a few months on Adult Swim in late 2002, and all 13 episodes were released on DVD in 2005, which exaggerated this situation for dark humor. It followed a family of people living in the valley where all the pollution had been dumped for decades, and the entire population (except for the rich families living on the hill) was living in poverty and had various deformities from the pollution. The father of this family had no arms or legs and still had a positive attitude, somehow (in animation there was no need to show how he did things) holding down a factory job. And his boss was one of the rich “hill people” who had no idea that their neighbors were suffering from anything.

    I suspect that the cartoonist may have gone too far in portraying the father’s handicap (as somehow not even being a handicap), thus not getting the ratings to stay on the air, but I am sure it also had to do with being too close to the truth of our corporate system. The same thing may have happened to the “Dinosaurs” stop-action sitcom after its story line introduced the We-Say-So corporation that ran the entire dinosaur world.

  • Liberty: Coercion’s Absence

    Since our minds cannot predict their own future, civilization’s advance consists of learning from our mistakes, taking into account the lessons of accidents, and making the most of the fleeting circumstances we are faced with.