The visit to the Kearney Park and Mansion earlier this semester reminded me of the history of racism and settler colonialism in the United States. Although California was admitted to the U.S. as a free state in 1850, we must remember our history. The Treaty of Hidalgo was signed in 1848, which ended the Mexican-American War, resulting in the “acquisition” of several portions of land by the U.S. In 1865, slavery ended in slave states and the Reconstruction Era began. At the end of Reconstruction, in the late 1870s, Jim Crow laws went into effect until 1954. The Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted in 1882, which suspended Chinese immigration until 1943.
This is crucial to note when discussing Kearney Mansion, as it requires historical context and relates to various forms of inequality, in particular wealth. Wealth can be defined by how much you own, e.g., houses, cars, stocks, trusts, etc. (McNamee & Miller 2004). During our tour of the Kearney Mansion, we learned that Mr. Kearney amassed his wealth through real estate. Although Kearney was an Irish immigrant, he benefited from white supremacy, which allowed him to build and maintain his wealth.
Today we see the effects of restricted access to purchase real estate, particularly in Fresno. In addition, the tour of the mansion and park reminded me of our retreat at the beginning of the semester where we learned of the residential segregation that continues to exist in Fresno. For example, Whites predominantly living in north Fresno, Latinxs and African Americans living below Blackstone Avenue, and Asian Americans living in both of the aforementioned areas.
Nonetheless, Kearney was in fact an entrepreneur and leader with a vision for the future, i.e., starting his own community. However, the question must be asked, who was this community going to be built for? Who would have access? Would it include groups along the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, citizenship, etc? Today we also see the consequences of white flight and white avoidance in south Fresno, e.g., high levels of concentrated poverty, food insecurity, joblessness, infant mortality, crime, over-policing, substandard housing, environmental hazards, and health issues (Crowell 2017). As Dr. Amber Crowell mentioned in her lecture, “Residential Segregation and Inequality in the Metropolitan U.S.: American Apartheid,” because of the manner in which race and class intersect, “racial segregation and concentrated poverty are intrinsically linked” (Crowell 2017).
It is true that most of us will never accumulate the financial wealth of Mr. Kearney as most people are only likely to move up one class from which they were born in. It is also essential to note the distribution of wealth in this country and who holds that wealth, which is mostly concentrated at the top and held by the dominant group. For example, White Americans hold 12 times more wealth than African Americans and 10 times more wealth than Latinxs (Urban Institute 2013). For minorities it would take over 200 years to catch up (Crowell 2017).
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,
“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”
We must remember that change happens through collective action. Martin was not alone. Malcolm was not alone. Chavez was not alone. As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.
Crowell, Amber. 2017. “Social Classes and Inequality.” Presented at California State University, Fresno.
— “Residential Segregation and Inequality in the Metropolitan U.S.: American Apartheid.”
McNamee, Stephen J. and Robert K. Miller. 2004. “The Meritocracy Myth.”Retrieved from http://www.ncsociology.org/sociationtoday/v21/merit.htm
Urban Institute. 2013. “Median Family Wealth by Race/Ethnicity, 1963-2013.”