Follow the Money
Published April 4, 2022

Follow the Money

As has been the norm since America’s founding, the prospect of successful Black communities rattles the cages of White conservatives who often view the success of the “Other” as a detriment to their own prosperity. Mason City and BlueOval City are no different.

by Susan E. Stutz

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Black and white photograph of a sign that reads, "Welcome to Mason, a good place to live, established 1955"

Screengrab via WREG

In 1971, Coke released its “I Would Like to Buy the World a Coke” commercial. It was an ad born of a communal sense of frustration with the Vietnam War and was meant to show how together, we can realize a more peaceful global community. The Coke commercial included people of every color, shape, and size in a time when other companies such as McDonald’s were airing ads that included discriminatory stereotypes of people of color to sell their products. Coke’s ad stood out in a way that others did not–it was a positive portrayal, not one that furthered racist ideology. Since then, one company after another has used advertising to portray a sense of community awareness in an effort to sell more products. One of the more famous examples is Colin Kaepernick’s Nike “Just Do It” campaign which added fire to the discussions about racism and inclusion and their role in the sports world that ostracized one of its best because of his desire for a world that is truly equal, not one where it is only paid lip service.

For many years now, we have seen business after business talk about making their organizations more diverse, inclusive, and equitable. Commercials now include people who look a lot more like the faces of actual Americans as opposed to the standard heteronormative, caucasian perspective that has ruled popular culture for centuries. Additionally, many of the largest companies are hiring individuals whose primary function is to implement diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI) into their culture. But, what happens when those companies embark on endeavors that have the potential to richly benefit communities of color, bringing with them thousands of jobs and an influx of money? What happens to diversity then? Look no further than the city of Mason, Tennessee.

Mason City was created in 1855 on land donated by a planter named James Mason for use as a train depot and sidetracks of the Memphis and Ohio Railroad. More than half of its population is Black, which includes descendants of slaves who lived in the area before emancipation. Early on, Mason was popular with surrounding communities of color whose residents visited its nightclubs which did not have the restrictions of clubs in other areas. Since then, residents and businesses have come and gone as have the city’s officials who have been predominantly White. In 2015, almost all of the city’s White administration resigned following allegations of fraud and embezzlement, leaving the city $500,000 in debt. Since then, the predominantly Black and Democratic residents of Mason have elected Black officials across the board. And, they have been working to dig the city out of the disastrous financial situation left behind by its prior administration.

In September of 2021, Ford announced BlueOval City which is set to open in 2025 and will be the site of their newest electric truck and battery plant. One of the largest manufacturing ventures in Ford and Tennessee's history, it is but a few miles from Mason’s city limits and is expected to employ tens of thousands of construction workers beginning this summer. Once completed, the plant will provide an estimated 22,000 permanent jobs as well as pour millions of tax dollars into the community which will benefit other local businesses and their residents. Mason City is but one of the local areas that look to benefit financially from the plant but Tennessee’s conservative White officials are not interested in letting that happen.

Earlier this month, in an unprecedented move, Tennessee’s Comptroller, Jason Mumpower, sent a letter to all of Mason’s residents telling them that the City needs to relinquish its 155-year-old Charter. If it does not do so, the State would step in and the City would come under the control of GOP-led Tipton County. Mumpowers’ letter implies that Mason will only benefit from BlueOval if they relinquish their Charter but conveniently does not say how that would work. Nor does Mumpower say what steps the City would need to take in order to regain its Charter. It is hard to argue that this is not a hostile takeover by a governing body that has dollar signs for pupils and who believes that they can simply run over the communities of color that stand in their way.

Why now? Why did Mumpower and company not step in when the prior administration embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from its coffers? Is the timing just a coincidence? That is unlikely. Instead, as is the way in most politics, the State has laid the responsibility of the prior bad deeds of the city’s mostly White administration at the feet of the Black individuals currently in office. And, as has been the norm since America’s founding, the prospect of successful Black communities rattles the cages of White conservatives who often view the success of the “Other” as a detriment to their own prosperity. Mason City and BlueOval City are no different. The false narrative that Black success means less for Whites looms large in the minds of this country’s White population—some of whom will go to great lengths to keep that from happening. Even if that means dismantling a city that has existed for more than 150 years so that the success of the automotive plant, its workers, and surrounding communities do not benefit everyone.

There has been a lot of conversation about race and the institutions that are built on and benefit from it in recent years. For the White population who sees itself as superior to everyone else, that conversation has centered around the idea that this country’s racist history is unimportant and no longer a problem for modern America. One need only look at what is happening in Mason City to know the truth. Racism is alive and well in this country and its effects, although different, are felt as much today as in years past. It has been said before and will continue to be said in the future, it is long past time for this country to confront its racial history and look to make amends. It is the only way we will ever get close to fulfilling the promise of what we can become as a nation.

Grab Episode 24 of Resistbot Live and listen as we take a closer look at this issue. And as always, we are here to help you reach out to your officials on the issues that are most important to you. Send resistNot sure where to start? Start here! to 50409 and reach out to your local and state legislature on this topic or any other.

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