Keeping Score Bigotry Ignores Real War In The Cities

Posted: August 11, 1986

It's amazing how quickly neighborhoods in places like Philadelphia or Cleveland or Detroit or Boston can sprout racist mobs to protest the presence of black or brown or yellow folks.

Maybe it's a throwback to the Old South when the poorest whites had no status but their skin color. There was the belief that not being black somehow atoned for the poverty, illiteracy and hard times that burdened and restricted white lives as severely as the lives of black families.

That's a stupid war to wage in 1986, in the richest, most powerful and technologically advanced nation on the planet - especially when people of every color are living so low, hard and dumb in more and more U.S. cities.

In Philadelphia, groups are organizing to fight some of the pathologies killing young people. Most of the organizing is being done in minority neighborhoods, but the numbers say we're all getting beat with the same stick, and white kids who are poor and dumb need help as badly as anyone else.

Resorting to race hatred and mob antics makes it easier for some folks to ignore real problems like drugs, alcoholism, the demise of the family and the funky distribution of wealth that leaves so many folks so high, dry and out of the ballpark that it seems like a waste of time even to keep score.

But it's important to keep score. One city's scorecard reads like this: 10 million people - one fourth of the population - have died in just 10 years and drunkenness, alcoholism and divorce is widespread among survivors.

Thirty-five percent of newly delivered babies are born physically deformed or retarded because their mothers take tranquilizers, such as Valium, during pregnancy.

Nearly 80 percent of teenagers smoke cigarettes, as opposed to 2 percent before April 1975. Forty-five percent of adolescents regularly use heroin or other hard drugs - a five-fold increase in 10 years.

The city is Beirut, Lebanon, and 11 years of civil war have spawned a generation of children who know only the sights of war, the smell of death and the likelihood they will die violently and senselessly before reaching adulthood.

Lucky ones die quickly from bullets or bombs. Others die slowly, as hopelessness and despair make children forget how to smile, how to trust or how to believe in tomorrow.

That may seem unrelated to what's happening in Fishtown, or Kensington or

sections of North and South Philadelphia - until you check the scorecard.

The number one cause of death for black males in Philadelphia, between 15 and 34, is homicide. As sinister as that may seem, the outlook for infants is just as bad.

A black child born in Cleveland, Detroit or Chicago or Philadelphia is more likely to die before his or her first birthday than a child born in Costa Rica.

In fact, 18.4 of every 1,000 black children born alive in the United States die between the ages of one month and one year. White children die at a rate of 9.3 for every 1,000 live births.

The United States ranks 16th in the world in infant mortality. Philadelphia has the worst infant mortailty rate for white children of any of the 22 largest U.S. cities and the fifth worst U.S. mortality rate for all children. South Dakota is the state with the worst infant mortality rate and the death of Native American infants is the main reason why.

In Strawberry Mansion, in the triangular area bordered by Sedgley, York and Jefferson streets, the infant mortality rate is almost 25 deaths per 1,000 live births. That's higher than Jamaica or Panama.

Two of every 11 children born in that same area - more than 17 percent - are low-birth-weight babies.

Teenage mothers, drug addicts and women who have poor or non-existent prenatal care are the prime candidates for low-birth-weight babies. There are an estimated 8,000 hard-core female drug addicts of child-bearing age in Philadelphia and only 32,000 of an estimated 100,000 poor mothers are on the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program.

And death-peddling dope dealers, inadequate education and unemployment await those who survive the first year of birth and beat the homicide odds.

Christians are fighting Muslims, Muslims are fighting Jews in the Middle East. And in cities like Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Philadelphia, the poor, the young and the castoff are fighting for survival.

Running people out of neighborhoods and taking down street signs have no affect on the real war sapping the lifeblood of U.S. cities. Silly little men and women who hide behind sheets and swastikas have no solutions to the problems of too much wealth in the hands of too few people and too little opportunity for those on the bottom to get to the top.

The scorecard says poor folks are losing, regardless of color. Maybe bigots can't read.

comments powered by Disqus