A member of the Birmingham, Ala., City Council has raised a surprising objection to supporting the popular Honda Indy Grand Prix.

The local Fox News affiliate reported, “Councilman Steven Hoyt questioned why a majority black city should continue to give money to the event run at the Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds.”

Leeds is a predominantly white suburb on the outskirts of Birmingham.

In a public meeting, Hoyt openly declared, “I’ve seen nobody, nobody who looks like me make any decisions with Barber sports. None. Zero.”

The city council also raised concerns about “diversity within the event’s promotion organization” among other issues such as marketing and the economic worth of the Grand Prix event.

In 2010, the Indy race brought in 80,000 fans and was widely regarded as having tremendous economic benefits. Despite these benefits, the status of city funding was placed in limbo by a city council fixated on the race-based benefits of that funding.

Birmingham’s mayor was seeking multi-year support for the Grand Prix. However, because of the city council’s pushback, “questions about the city’s support” were “on the table and in the news even as the race weekend [was] under way,” as the Birmingham News pointed out.

The Grand Prix took place, and the city council funded it, for this year. Yet, the uncertainty about funding the Indy race is the latest example of the city council’s impact on Birmingham’s business climate, an impact that is hotly debated within the city.

Racial preferences

By voicing explicitly race-based preferences, Hoyt reflects a leadership culture often found in troubled cities. For instance, Detroit Councilwoman JoAnn Watson proclaims on her website that “Detroit’s population is 85 percent African American and business, contract awards and investments should reflect same.”

Detroit’s leadership even floated the now-defunct idea of an ‘Africa Town,” which would have directed government funds exclusively towards black businesses.

It remains to be seen whether Birmingham’s leadership will create a climate of uncertainty for outside investment akin to the climate permeating Detroit.

There has already been a flight of both affluent whites and affluent blacks from Birmingham, as Alabama State University political science professor D’Linell Finley notes.

Finley attributes Birmingham’s decline to its losing “a significant portion of its affluent population.” This is a variation on the “white flight” theory of urban decline.

John McWhorter, author of “Losing the Race: Self Sabotage in Black America,” has addressed that theory in his writing and rejected it:

“[T]his explanation does not hold up. Why would white flight devastate blacks, when, only a few decades earlier, blacks had built up their own cities-within-cities?”

The right priorities

Unlike its reaction to the Indy car race, the Birmingham City Council showed more support for a different objective, one of more interest to those who do “look like” the city council: The city will spend over a quarter of a million dollars commemorating the 50th anniversary of civil rights events.

Arguably, the aura of civil rights has been used as a diversion from the root causes of Birmingham’s ills. Perhaps most famously, former Mayor Richard Arrington and supporters once wore chains in a 1992 march to reportedly symbolize “the chains of oppression that still bind black Americans.”

Arrington’s protest march wasn’t aimed toward civil rights, as traditionally understood. Instead, his march in chains stemmed from a government corruption investigation, with which he refused to cooperate. The march began at the 16th Street Baptist Church, where a KKK bomb exploded on Sept. 15, 1963, killing four young black children in Sunday school. Today, Arrington’s name is often invoked in criticisms of Birmingham government.

Birmingham’s governmental status quo has upset many citizens, of all races. As pointed criticism of the ills facing the city becomes more common, public sentiment appears to be turning against the city’s status quo.

In fact, statements reflecting racial in-group favoritism have placed the city under risk of further legal action, on top of an ongoing anti-white discrimination suit.

Warning from city attorney

Birmingham’s city attorney has warned the city council that statements like those made by Hoyt could place the city at risk of a lawsuit.

For instance, late last year, a World of Beer franchise appeared before the city council and asked for a tax incentive to encourage the construction of a new store in Birmingham. Hoyt pushed World of Beer to describe their level of minority ownership or use of minority contractors. In response to that line of inquiry, the city’s chief of operations delivered a memo warning the council that they could be placing the city in danger of a lawsuit.

City Attorney Thomas Bentley said “statements indicating illegal [racial] preference” made by council members were of serious legal concern.

Bentley stated, “It’s my sincere hope and belief that no councilor is seeking to unilaterally impose a personal policy in violation of the U.S. Constitution and also other federal, state and local law.”

Hoyt said, “I say what I want to say, when I want to say it and how I want to say it.”

Echoing that analysis, Councilwoman Lashunda Scales backed Hoyt, saying, “We’ll do what we want to do when we want to do it.”

Scales is known for her quest to rid the city of payday loan businesses, which she has called “the number one product the city offers to its citizens.”

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