THE PITTSBURGH PARADOX
July 15, 2021
The 2019 University of Pittsburgh Equity report exposed the city of Pittsburgh as being among the worst in the country for Black women to live. Despite this fact, many surveys have the city listed as one of the most "livable" cities in the country. In such a context, the term "livable" implies comfortability, security, and opportunity, the very things that comprise the ever-elusive American dream. One must inquire as to how this paradox is able to exist?" The answer: Racial Capitalism.
Racial capitalism uses differences such as race and gender to execute exploitation. The elite class controls natural resources and commodities and therefore controls the labor market. In order to prevent unification of the working class it is divided into hierarchies of gender, race, ethnicity, and nationality with white skinned males at its top and Black women at its bottom.
If this hierarchy were a physically constructed from top to bottom it would be structured as follows: white male, white female, black male, black female (with all the various shades and ethnicities of brown fitting between). Within these patriarchal hierarchies the same maleness that imperils the Black man also provides privilege. Therefore, the evidence of well executed racist capitalism is found in a city such as Pittsburgh where the Black woman is put thoroughly in her place—at the bottom.
In order to affix the Black woman to the bottom there must be systems and structures in place to restrict her mobility. For example, the Black woman's upward mobility is restricted by failing to pay her appropriately: In 2018 the median income for black households in Pittsburgh was $22,010 as compared to $55,671 for white households. Still, another way to control her mobility is to oppress her by using tactics learned during slavery—surveillance, policing and captivity.
For many it is impossible to see the link between policing and the oppression of Black women. For such people it is difficult to understand the struggle for Black liberation as a feminist agenda.
"Black feminism is the political, intellectual, and moral anchor of our freedom struggle. Black women, and specifically Black feminists, have consistently theorized, organized, and struggled for the most ambitious and inclusive freedom dreams possible. Radical Black feminists have not only struggled to end patriarchy but to produce a world devoid of all forms of oppression...
The sad irony, of course, is that Black women have engaged in these inclusive forms of world-making at the same time that they have been placed at the bottom of the social ladder."
—Marc Lamont Hill, We Still Here (Haymarket Books, 2020)
"What happens when you define policing as actually an entire systemic harassment, violence, and surveillance that keeps oppressive gender and racial hierarchies in place? When that's your definition of policing, then your whole entire frame shifts. And it also forces you to stop talking about it as though it's an issue of individuals, forces you to focus on the systemic structural issues that need to be addressed in order for this to happen.
"It also gives us space to consider other kinds of victims. And other kinds of had that are foreclosed when we use terms like police brutality and violence. This is not an issue of police brutality. And police violence is a misnomer. It's actually redundant because policing is violence. In and of itself. It is."
—Mariame Kaba, excerpted from "Invisible No More: Resisting Police Violence against Black Women and Women of Color in Troubled Times," in We Do This 'Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice (Haymarket Books, 2021)
In 2019 the city's black population was 23% and 63% of arrests by the Pittsburgh police were of Black people.
In a county that is less than 13% Black, 56% of all arrests between Aug 14 and Dec 31 of 2020 were of Black residents.
Allegheny county's population is around 1.2 million, however 126 different police agencies made arrests leading to preliminary arraignments between August and December 2020.
The Abolitionist Law Center, whose study gathered the previous statistics (see alccourtwatch.org, @ALCCourtWatch), also noted that across England and Wales, which has a population of 60 million, "there are 43 police forces." Compare that number to the 126 different police agencies that made arrests in Allegheny County. Such numbers are that of a police state which is used to restrict mobility.
Policing and over-policing is state sanctioned violence used to legitimize racial capitalism. The current and constant police presence in impoverished neighborhoods and communities of color in Allegheny County is reminiscent of the slave patrols of old, when Black women were thoroughly held in check and used to reproduce capital. Given the evidence, this paradox is not an anomaly—it is proof that racial capitalism is alive and well in the Steel City.