Historian Ibram X. Kendi’s new book, How to Be an Anti-Racist, argues that, like people, government policies can either be racist or antiracist. There’s no such thing as neutral, non-racial, colorblind policy-making. 

Two stories that came to light in Raleigh last month suggest he has a point. 

In one, the city placed six giant trash cans, called Moloks, next to the only Black-owned bank downtown—then, after complaints, removed them, which led to an uproar by white business owners. In the other, a Black resident was detained and handcuffed at gunpoint in his own home following a false alarm, which led to renewed calls for a civilian oversight board. 

In both cases, government agents relied on non-racial policies to justify their actions. The city installed the Moloks on city-owned property, so it didn’t need to consult M&F Bank. Similarly, the cops followed normal procedures for a breaking-and-entering call. 

And, of course, neither incident had anything to do with race. 

After the INDY reported on the demise of the Moloks experiment, city council member Nicole Stewart asked on Facebook for volunteers willing to put the Moloks on their property to contact her or the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. No one responded to that part of her message in the comments, but plenty of people had other things to say.

“It was only one complaint!”

“That bank doesn’t own the street! The city didn’t have to tell them anything!”

The “urban progressives” who railed against removing the Moloks wouldn’t suspect that their politics overlap with those of the authoritarian pro-cop crowd in this unfortunate way. But the Black community is far from shocked. The insidious thing about white privilege is that it’s willfully blind to its impact on Black and Brown people, insisting that damaging policies are not racist even as the oppressed show them their scars and share their stories.

For too long in Raleigh, Black businesses and residents have been short-changed by city ordinances and overlooked by its leaders. Many Black Raleighites don’t believe that City Hall or the Raleigh Police Department has their backs. To gain their trust, the city may sometimes have to disappoint the dominant class. That’s what equity and restorative justice look like. 

Equality feels like oppression to the privileged.

Some of these same white liberals who demanded action after a video of Kazeem Oyeneyin’s encounter with the police surfaced also vented at M&F Bank for standing up for its interests—and for the city taking its concerns seriously. The bank is “butthurt,” one commenter wrote on Facebook. A business owner posted that M&F “doesn’t give two shits about their patrons having to sit/stand in trash juice from rotting trash bins …. Their argument is total BS.” Still another business owner accused M&F of “having two shareholders tossing racial emails directly to the city manager in order to make a backroom deal with no public oversight.”

And finally, a different business owner accusingly noted that the bank had given money to the campaign of Corey Branch, the city council’s only Black member. (Campaign finance reports show that Joseph Sanson, a retired IBM executive who sits on M&F’s city advisory board, gave Branch $200 in August. Branch appears to have received no other contributions from M&F or individuals connected to it this cycle.)

This rhetoric avoids the taboo language of the civil rights era. But it’s evident that while these folks have trained their mouths not to use race-specific words, they haven’t trained their minds to recognize their own privilege. 

The Moloks experiment is a wonderful concept. But, much like the gentrification and displacement occurring in Southeast Raleigh, Black communities and institutions are often the ones expected to absorb the pain that comes with growth and prosperity—and do it with a smile. 

In the end, the city did the right thing in responding to M&F’s concerns—an example of antiracist governing. And had someone on the city’s staff consulted with M&F before dropping the Moloks next door, this likely would never have been an issue. With luck, the city will find a new location soon. 

But let’s not kid ourselves: The indifference to the concerns of North Carolina’s only Black-owned bank is just as racist as the excessive policing that Kazeem Oyeneyin experienced, whether or not our urban progressives want to admit it. 

After all, there’s no such thing as a non-racial policy.  

COURTNEY NAPIER is a Raleigh native, community activist, and co-host of the podcast Mothering on the Margins

NEXT WEEK: Barry Saunders, a former News & Observer columnist.

Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com. 

INDY Voices—a rotating column featuring some of the Triangle’s most compelling writers—is made possible by contributions to the INDY Press Club. Visit KeepItINDY.com for more information.

2 replies on “Yes, Raleigh’s Moloks Debacle Really Is About Race”

  1. I absolutely hate how stupid this article is…because a black-owmlned bank complained, all the white people are racist? This type of attitude is regressive and ignorant. It misuses the term “racism” and diminishes the value of the term in public discourse. Courtney is not an excitit addition to the Indy and this type of inflammatory reporting needs to stop. Go get a life, Courtney. The world doesn’t revolve around you or this miserable bank.

  2. I told the city when the project first came up that I’d love to have them next to my business. They said that it wasn’t possible because of underground cables. The Moloks were put next to an empty parking lot which is not owned by the bank. They can’t even be seen from the bank. You’re wrong. This isn’t about race. It’s about the assholes from the bank who don’t care to be part of the downtown community.

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