May 25, 2021


How Small Government Supporters Can Talk About Race

By: Zuri Davis

The time to join the conversation about racism in politics is now. It is no longer enough for supporters of small government to sit on the sidelines. Going on the defensive simply as a last resort is no longer okay. In my personal experience as a Black conservative-turned-libertarian, the hesitancy to acknowledge historical differences in treatment between white Americans and minority Americans is ever-present. If they are acknowledged, many incorrectly claim that the injustice died after the Civil Rights Act, and then died again with the election of the first Black president. Contrary to popular belief in these circles, the harm of the past and the inequalities that still exist cannot be absolved with ignorance.

Supporters of small government can stay relevant and influence policy in the changing times, if they start learning about and fighting government-sponsored racism. Infrastructure and the criminal justice system would both be good places to start as they continue to affect Black communities in 2021.

Let’s look at Jefferson Street in North Nashville. A historically Black community in Tennessee’s state capital, represents government-sponsored racism that destroyed many Black American communities. As I reported in this thread last summer, Jefferson Street spent 100 years  becoming a hub for the local Black community after the Civil War. And like many corners of Music City, the Golden Age of Jefferson Street from the 1930s to the 1960s made great contributions to the American music scene. For example, the Black-owned music venue, Del Morocco, employed a young Jimi Hendrix. 

But, urban renewal and heavy-handed city planning destroyed the wealth in North Nashville for good. In the 1960s, planners chose to construct I-40 in the middle of Jefferson Street and North Nashville. Many routes were discussed and subsequently dropped as they threatened the economic vitality of all-white communities. Not only was Jefferson Street seen as expendable, but there is a consensus that the route was chosen in an effort to slow down school desegregation efforts.

The community’s pleas to change the route were ignored, and businesses like Del Morocco were either destroyed or forced to shutter for construction. Hundreds of homes, apartments, and several churches were also destroyed in the process.

The irresponsible decisions made in the 1960s didn’t just affect one generation of North Nashvillians. One in seven North Nashvillians born between 1980 and 1986 were incarcerated in their 30s. As the War on Drugs ramped up, it was disproportionately waged against Black and brown communities, and biological stressors associated with poverty can more than account for the high incarceration rate.

And this same story played out in Jacksonville’s Sugar Hill, a community of Black professionals and millionaires that thrived until the construction of I-95. Not to mention, under the cruel direction of racist urban planner, Robert Moses, New York City constructed overpasses too low to keep Black New Yorkers from accessing the beach on buses. If you aren’t convinced yet, look to Philadelphia, St. Paul, and Portland.

Urban planning is not the only offender. Zoning laws that targeted specific minorities, redlining, and other assaults on minority private property—a natural right—destroyed communities and stripped away individual attempts to create generational wealth.

Similarly, disproportionate modes of enforcement in the criminal justice system have also contributed to inequality.

First, racial disparities are present in the application of the death penalty, where 80 percent of death sentences involve white victims despite white Americans making up half of the murder victim rate.

As I reported last Juneteenth, the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act created a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine, despite the similarity in the substances’ chemical makeups. And though Black defendants only accounted for one-third of crack cocaine users, they made up over 80 percent of convictions for crack cocaine convictions within 10 years of the act. And the disparity, though significantly lowered, still exists. The EQUAL Act seeks to get rid of  the disparity for good and help Americans who have been incarcerated for far longer than is necessary in a civil society. 

One theme is constant: local, state, and federal government has significantly contributed to racial inequalities in this country. Inequalities that affect the life, liberty, and property of generations. And if anyone should be on the front lines of these issues, it should be those who are cautious about government intervention in our lives

Educating one’s self on racism is important. So when, say, the Department of Transportation says racism was “physically built” into some American highways, one can avoid the blunder of trying to make fun of a true statement while inadvertently painting themselves as ill-prepared to be part of the solution.