By Barney Blakeney
I read with a giggle a recent news report of Charleston and North Charleston being among the nation’s most prosperous cities. A lot of folks here are enjoying ‘the good life’.
I’m one of ‘em. For me, life is good. I ain’t got no money, but I’ve learned one can’t measure the quality on one’s life in dollars and cents. Of course money matters, but I l know a lot of mugs with plenty of money who are as unhappy as a motherjumper. I laughingly think about the joke that goes “I’d rather be rich and unhappy than broke and unhappy”. I guess it’s all about perspective.
But ya’ll know me. I giggled reading that article because it made me think of all my folks who don’t know the prosperity so many others enjoy. Some see the glass as half full, others see it as half empty. Okay, that’s being optimistic, but the reality is it’s both – for each of us who has, there’s another who has not.
When it comes to prosperity, I’m a little out of sync. I’m materialistic, but not so materialistic. I like things, but value immaterial stuff just as much. I mean what good is having a golden toilet if you’re constipated? Lemme make you laugh – I had a friend who boasted about having a wooden toilet seat. It was so much more comfortable than plastic ones, he said. Hell a wooden sweat was what we sat on in the outhouse at my uncle’s farm out in the country! Prosperity – it’s all relative.
It’s those experiences I draw on when I think about prosperity in our community. I is po’ people’s churn. My parents were working people. My mom, a nurse by profession, once ironed white folks’ laundry to help feed us. That white lady, whose name I don’t know and lived in a trailer around the corner from us, gave us Bopeep our cat – one of the best friends I had as a boy. I didn’t know we were poor because our parents spoiled us with so much other stuff.
I’ll let you in on a secret – I’m still poor. The per capita income in Charleston County is about $30,000 annually. The median family income is about $60,000 annually. I know a lot of folks who don’t make that much. And if they do, I’ll betcha they mama and daddy didn’t make that much! As the old folks say, it ain’t how much you make; it’s what you do with what you make. How is it that Black folks whose parents cleaned floors to send them to college can’t get by on $20-G per year?
Yeah I laugh at stuff like that, but it ain’t funny. Two months ago I read North Charleston, ranked the nation’s fifth most prosperous city, had the nation’s highest eviction rate. I guess that means nothing to many of us. Some stick their chests out boasting they’ve never been evicted from their home – and that’s a good thing! But for those who have experienced it, getting kicked out of your house is no joke. I’m thinking of one family that experienced eviction as the oldest child graduated from college. The child has gone on to become one of our most prominent and prosperous native sons.
One of the indicators used to gauge a city’s prosperity was housing costs. For a recent news story I found the median sales price for the 119 homes that sold in Jan.-Feb. on Johns Island was about $300,000. On Wadmalaw Island the median price of the five homes that sold during that period also was about $300,000.
Affordable housing for those who are not as prosperous is critically unattainable. The City of Charleston last week broke ground on the construction of seven new homes in the Ashleyville community priced around $140,000. That’s a great opportunity for those seven families. But what about the rest of us – us 70 times seven?
Prosperity is a good thing for those who get to enjoy it. But in North Charleston where 35 people were murdered last year, prosperity means nothing to the deceased. Just last week after receiving North Charleston’s report of the city’s seventh homicide I asked police spokesman Spencer Pryor what was the rate of murder in the city for this same time of the year in 2017. By this time last year the city had experienced 15 homicides. With eight homicides so far this year, maybe there’s a potential to cut last year’s total in half. Can that be considered prosperous?
The signs of prosperity can be seen all around the twin cities. Construction is booming and retail sales in North Charleston is among the highest in the state. In Charleston natives are trying to keep newcomers out even as they build new hotels and apartments on every corner. Downtown Charleston is transforming into something unfamiliar to even those as young as 35! Last week I saw a new Family Dollar store on Spruill Avenue – a sign of the economic prosperity that’s coming with the new port terminal.
Where are Black folks in the midst of all this prosperity? You tell me. I’ve been called a racist and more recently, a sellout. So it’s not hard for me to understand how one thing can be so many other things at the same time. According to the report titled “The State of Racial Disparities in Charleston County, South Carolina 2000-2015” racial disparities in poverty remain unchanged since the 1940s. For example the median income for Blacks in Charleston County is less than half that of whites in the county. The unemployment rate for Blacks in the county doubles that of whites.
And in education, although Charleston County residents generally have a higher level or education achievement compared to other counties in the state, that distinction stops at the color line. While white students graduate high school at a rate of about 90 percent, Black students graduate at only about 75 percent.
All said, I think prosperity is a relative term that doesn’t always apply the same across the board. That’s why I had to giggle reading the article about prosperity in our community. Maybe one day, it won’t be so ridiculously funny.