Column lacked understanding of racism

Updated 8/1/2020 11:06 AM

As state senator for the 57th District, which encompasses East St. Louis, and as a proud product of the East St. Louis School District 189, It is my contention that the views espoused by Jim Nowlan in a recent op-ed lack depth, empathy and an overall understanding relative to why cities like East St. Louis are mired in the vast desert of economic despair.

I contend, the "us versus them" syndrome put forth as the premise of Mr. Nowlan's argument undervalues and depreciates the roles racism and discrimination play as the chief architects in the current structure of East St. Louis.


His tale of spending three weeks in the city 40 years ago reeks of the typical futility this community has become all-too accustomed with from white bureaucrats dispatched from afar to "save" our city, only to wring their hands on the way out of town and blame the economic hardship on the residents of color.

Please note, East St. Louis was home to one of the most notorious and bloodiest race riots in the history of this country -- the 1917 race riots. Racism and discrimination have nearly choked all the economic opportunity out of this city.

East St. Louis was once a bustling industrial center in the 1950s and was the fourth largest city in Illinois, with a population of 82,366. It is a city built and then abandoned by "great capitalists."

Between 1960 and 1970, the city lost 70 percent of its businesses, soon followed by its residents.

As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 27,006. This precipitous population decrease was caused by job loss and white flight. In lieu of jobs and citizens, the city found itself crippled by public and private discriminatory policies, programs and practices, such as redlining. These practices gave birth to environmental racism and poverty.

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Lastly, I take issue with Mr. Nowlan's assertion that the citizens of East St. Louis suffer from a "poverty of spirit." While abject poverty, is often accompanied by the ills of society, crime, hunger, illness and death, I would argue it is the local residents' indefatigable spirit that keeps them hopeful that "weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."

It is this unwavering spirit that earned East St. Louis the sobriquet, The City of Champions.

State Sen. Christopher Belt


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