Monday, October 02, 2006

Underside of Black Income Gains in Queens

I know something is serious when my brother forwards me an article about it, which is the case with the article from Sunday’s New York Times discussing how Queens has become the first county in the country where Blacks have a higher median income than Whites have. On the surface, this article appears fairly innocent and the statistical information that it offers is relatively tame. However, once the author begins delving into possible explanations for this phenomenon the article becomes unsettling.

One of the reasons given for the shift in median incomes is the increase in West Indian and other Afro-immigrant populations into Queens. Implied is that these immigrants bring in a better work ethic and a more determined effort to overcoming the obstacles that have impeded the progress of African-Americans. What this line of argument always fails to consider however, is that West Indians and natives of other parts of the African Diaspora have always been present in the United States. There have been waves of immigration from the Caribbean and Africa for well over two hundred years. In the twentieth-century these waves of immigration have also been concurrent with African-American migrations in and out of this country.

For example, while the wave of immigrants from the Caribbean in the mid to late 1970s may have firmly entrenched themselves in neighborhoods like Laurelton, Cambria Heights and Rosedale, many African-Americans of the same age have now repatriated to southern states like Georgia, North and South Carolina, where they can get more for their dollars. There are also those Caribbean immigrants who have left Queens for the warmer climes of Florida. Thus, many of the homes who the people in Roberts’ article are proudly proclaiming have increased three times in value have also undoubtedly paid for homes three-times their size in other parts of this country.

As a person who grew up in the area discussed in this article, I also found the piece troubling because while the residents and scholars are quick to tout the income achievements, no one is discussing that the public schools, particularly at the high school level in these districts have suffered considerably during the last fifteen years. Three of the main high schools in charge of preparing students from these districts for college, Jamaica, Hillcrest and Thomas Edison, have had to overcome massive cutbacks to academic and extra-curricular programs as the white residents of these residents gave way to African-American, and now as African-American residents give way to Caribbean, African, South-Asian, and South-and-Central-American immigrants. In addition, with the passage of the Immigrant Reform and Responsibility Act in 1996, navigating the legal process has become increasingly precarious for immigrants who face expulsion from this country for minor offenses. It’s great to have a home triple in value, but what is that really worth when you’re stuck between dealing with a public education that fails to serve your children at an alarming rate, and a prison system that appears much to eager for their presence.

Therefore, when placed in this dour context the gains that this article suggests have been made by Blacks in Queens are arguably yet another pyrrhic victory.