Sports, Education, and Gentrification

From Rio to Chicago, poor people of color are under attack as local leaders attempt to gentrify the city. Their lives and communities are being upended and destroyed. Displacement and a huge increase in police enforcement in Brazil, making way for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, has made or intends to make refugees out of the residents of the infamous favelas, all in the name of urban renewal and economic development. Chicago is closing public schools that overwhelmingly impact minority students, under the ruse of austerity and education reform, while the taxpayers provide many millions of dollars for a basketball arena.

In preparing to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, Brazil has followed the tradition of international sporting events, displacing poor people of color and cracking down on “criminal activity” in the misguided interests of urban renewal, improvement, and corporate welfare.

Dave Zirin, in his new book Game Over: How Politics Has Turned The Sports World Upside Down, devotes an entire chapter to the horrors surrounding modern world sporting events. In order to host today’s international sporting events, Zirin writes that the host nation must provide “massive deficit spending and a state police infrastructure ready to displace, destroy, or disappear anyone who dares stand in their way.”

The 2012 Olympics in London saw massive debts incurred by the government while austerity policies are forced on the masses during the Great Recession, displacement and crackdowns on whole neighborhoods and groups of people, usually poor people, and a heavy increase in the security and police state, turning residential buildings into weaponized structures. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa saw the typical displacement of poor people and neo-liberal control of the economy and politics of the situation, but also the horrific act of assassinations for those daring to dissent and expose the harsh realities. And of course the 2008 Olympic Games in China reportedly displaced over 500,000 people. Concluding the chapter in his book, Zirin proclaims that “mega sporting events shape the economic, political, and personal destinies of masses of people with zero accountability for their trail of displacement, disruption, and destruction.”

Chicago has just approved the closure of 50 public schools. This racist move was voted on by the appointed school board, under the direction of the Mayor. The students affected by the closures are 88% black, 10% Latino, 94% low income, and 0.7% white, and similar racist results of school closings can be seen in Philadelphia, New York City, and elsewhere. Kids lives will be further endangered as longer routes to school increase the chance of gang related violence. Abandoned houses and buildings already dot these areas, and the closed schools will only add to the problem (let’s wait to see if these closed school facilities get handed over to privately run charter schools). At the same time, Mayor Emanuel has proposed Chicago’s taxpayers generously pay $125 million for a basketball arena for DePaul University, a private institution, under the guise of fostering economic growth.

This reverse robin hood theory, pushed by corporate leaders and put into effect by their conservative and neo-liberal political ilk, in the name of urban renewal, improvement, education reform, or whatever fucking misnomer is being used, is institutional racism in the 21st century, as austerity in government and the privatization of public education and corporate welfare in sports are just two more examples of systemic problems in our collective institutions.

In the words of the recently turned 72 year old Bob Dylan, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Racism is not always overt bigotry, but also when policies and actions disproportionately impact poor minorities.

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