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Chitown Kev

(2,197 posts)
Sat Dec 12, 2015, 08:15 PM Dec 2015

Think Des Moines Is Full of Corn and White People? Think Again.


by Matt Vasilogambros

DES MOINES, Iowa—In an old movie theat­er on 13th Street with lead pan­els and wavy floors, in the heart of Des Moines’ black com­munity, pho­to­graphs of a lar­ger-than-life state as­sembly­man hang on the walls next to por­traits of Rosa Parks, Mal­colm X, and Big­gie and Tupac.

Ako Ab­dul-Sa­mad uses this space as the headquar­ters for his day job: CEO of Cre­at­ive Vis­ions, a hu­man-de­vel­op­ment or­gan­iz­a­tion that helps the mar­gin­al­ized Afric­an-Amer­ic­an com­munity in Iowa’s cap­it­al. “Des Moines is not bad,” says Ab­dul-Sa­mad, who was born and raised here. “The key is Des Moines is savable.”

Des Moines is a sur­pris­ing city for folks who don’t know it well. It’s been many years since it was a sleepy, over­whelm­ingly white, man­u­fac­tur­ing town in the Corn Belt. After the Vi­et­nam War ended, then-Gov. Robert Ray opened Iowa’s doors to refugees from Vi­et­nam, Cam­bod­ia, and Laos—an act that led to waves of oth­er refugees from places like Bos­nia, Su­dan, and Burma over the years. The town has a deeply rooted and suc­cess­ful Latino com­munity, which—if trends con­tin­ue—will one day be the ma­jor­ity demo­graph­ic here. The ar­rival of well-edu­cated, young pro­fes­sion­als, along with sig­ni­fic­ant in­vest­ments in the down­town area, has made Des Moines one of the fast­est-grow­ing eco­nom­ies in the coun­try.

It’s also a city with a stag­nant black com­munity that ac­counts for most of the area’s poverty.

“Down­town, there’s ser­i­ous de­vel­op­ment: awe­some. East Vil­lage: awe­some. West Des Moines: awe­some. Wau­kee, Ankeny: awe­some. The urb­an core: pathet­ic,” Ab­dul-Sa­mad says. “There’s no de­vel­op­ment in the urb­an core.”

The urb­an core just hap­pens to be where the city’s poverty and Afric­an-Amer­ic­an pop­u­la­tion are con­cen­trated. Afric­an-Amer­ic­an fam­il­ies in Des Moines on av­er­age make only 38 per­cent of what white fam­il­ies in Des Moines bring in. That works out to $29,000 in black me­di­an fam­ily in­come, com­pared with $74,000 for white fam­il­ies. This puts Des Moines near the top (27th out of 417) of U.S. met­ro­pol­it­an areas in wage dis­par­it­ies.

Don't be fooled by Iowa.

Yes, the rural/farming population is very very very white.

But Des Moines is 11% black and 12 % Latino (very close to national averages)
Davenport is 9% black/5% Latino and Waterloo is 15% black.

FTR, in the 2008 Iowa Dem Caucuses, 4% of Dem caucus participants were black and of those black participants, 72% voted for Obama.
8 replies = new reply since forum marked as read
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(9,891 posts)
2. Thanks for posting this positive, uplifting piece. It's this kind of incremental change that we
Sat Dec 12, 2015, 08:40 PM
Dec 2015

need all across the whole country--one that reflects the kind of country we really are instead of the BS that is portrayed on popular media.

Love your user ID. Toni Morrison is an amazing writer. If you've ever listened to her read one of her books on audiobooks, it is totally obvious that you are listening to the voice of God

Chitown Kev

(2,197 posts)
4. I think that I need to do some rereading of Morrison
Sat Dec 12, 2015, 08:45 PM
Dec 2015

I mean, it usually takes at least 3 reads to get the gist of what she's trying to say in any one book.

My favorite by Morrison is still Love.


(9,891 posts)
7. My favorite is Song of Solomon. I also loved Home. Listening to her read Sula
Mon Dec 14, 2015, 04:26 PM
Dec 2015

on audio book, while recovering from eye surgery, was a joyful experience, even though the book is very sad.

brer cat

(24,746 posts)
3. Thanks.
Sat Dec 12, 2015, 08:43 PM
Dec 2015

I am one who thought Iowa is almost entirely white. The income disparities are really stark. I liked the quote at the end of the piece: "you have to ad­dress the worst-off in the com­munity be­fore you can cel­eb­rate the rest of it." Oh so true.


(62,537 posts)
5. let me just say that you wouldn't believe the town I live in then
Sat Dec 12, 2015, 08:51 PM
Dec 2015

in the very heart of the corn belt


(15,381 posts)
6. Thanks for posting this.
Mon Dec 14, 2015, 02:02 PM
Dec 2015

Here's another good article about Iowa and its changing demographics. http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/iowa-isnt-the-state-presidential-candidates-pretend-it-is/

In February, Iowans will cast the first votes of the presidential nominating process, just as they have for 44 years. Over that time, reams of paper and pixels have been spent on the question of whether a racially homogenous and basically agricultural state should have such a prominent role.2 But the state is not exactly the bucolic land of yeoman farmers that candidates, critics and Iowans themselves think it is.

Iowa is whiter than the country but has grown more diverse. It houses multinational corporations and more people whose work revolves around spreadsheets than around tractors.

Some of that has to do with the march of time. Since 1972, Iowa has in many ways become less and less an outlier as farmers went broke, and African-Americans and Hispanics migrated to its cities.

More at the link.


Hal Bent

(59 posts)
8. Even my little burb Windsor Heights is 3.5% African-American
Tue Dec 15, 2015, 05:00 AM
Dec 2015

For a burb in this state, that's practically the UN!

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