By Allen R. Gray
NDG Contributing Writer
Social injustice comes in many forms, with one being no more harmful than the other. Yet, when it comes to the distribution of wealth, one will find that failing to provide sustainable forms of income to Black communities may be the most damning injustice of all.
A 2020 report of the affairs of the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) revealed a grave disparity in the amount of contracts it awards to Black businesses compared to contracts with whites.
The NTTA receives federal and state funds in the billions for the construction of freeways, tollways, and other services that are associated with the construction of the state’s infrastructure.
By law, 30% of those tax dollars are to go to “minorities.” The problem is this: whereas, a small percentage of those funds actually are awarded to “minority-owned” businesses, the businesses that are wholly-owned Black businesses again find themselves on the outside looking in.While all Black businesses ever wanted was their small piece of a rather sizeable tax-funded pie.
Construction contractor John Proctor serves as Chairman of the Regional Black Contractors Association.Proctor has been in the construction business for the past 46 years.
After nearly a half-century of dealing with the contract procurement system, Proctor has grown annoyed at the way the wealth of contracts is unevenly distributed to businesses competing for construction contracts.Proctor says NTTA’s maze of requirements for earning a contract are something akin to systemic racism, something Blacks believed they had overcome.
“It’s simple to me,” Proctor declares, “Segregation today.Segregation tomorrow. And segregation forever in the infrastructure business.”
Proctor isn’t talking about segregated water fountains or restrooms, but the segregation of wealth.Proctor says that NTTA is run by rich white men, who will casually spend $20 million on a project, but as a Black contractor “You won’t get a dime of your own tax money.”
NTTA is not a privately-owned entity, but rather, a political subdivision of the State of Texas.NTTA is authorized to acquire, construct, maintain, repair, and operate turnpike projects in the region of North Texas.With each execution of its authority, a contract is awarded and sometimes millions of dollars change hands.
“All you have to do is look at the arithmetic,” Proctor contends.
A recent report published by MGT Consulting Group bears witness to Proctor’s math.
The May 7, 2020 Availability And Disparity Study report of NTTA’s contractual expenditures supports Proctor’s math. During the course of the study, the report shows that NTTA’s contracts with all businesses were approximately $2.5 billion. Report also shows that white-owned companies netted 93.93% of that $2.5 billion, while Black businesses (construction, professional services, consulting services and goods & services) received a little over 2%.
A major factor in the disparate distribution of wealth to Black businesses is housed in the label of “minority-owned” as opposed to Black-owned.One is then left with the ambiguity of the definition of “minority” and the many ways it can be manipulated.The use and ultimate abuse of the more socially acceptable term “minority” and its effect on contracts being awarded to Black businesses have a history that was born in the wake of decades of Civil Rights demonstrations.
A pacification of sorts for America’s injustice to Blacks was issued by President Richard M. Nixon when he signed Executive Order 11458 on March 5, 1969. That order created the need for the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), which was originally established as the Office of Minority Business Enterprise. Then in1971, President Nixon signed Executive Order 11625 expanding the scope of the MBDA and its minority business programs by authorizing grants to public and private organizations to provide technical and management assistance to minority business enterprises (MBEs).
In 1972, the first ever survey of Minority-Owned Business Enterprises was published by the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey revealed that in 1969, minority-owned businesses received approximately $10.6 billion. Wholly Black-owned businesses, though, had less than half that amount with total receipts of $4.5 billion.
Black contractors argue that Nixon’s Executive Order was intended to aid Blacks almost exclusively.The complexity of the matter is in how companies chose to interpret who and what a “minority” is.Companies tend to define a minority as anyone who isn’t a white male.
Proctor contends that in a lot of ways the designation of MBE has been “hijacked.”
Ultimately, Proctor says, the cause for the disparity in the awarding extends beyond just white men sitting around a boardroom table making those decisions that have adverse consequences for the Black contractors.Proctor submits that the remedy lies squarely in the hands of Black people in positions of authority especially ignoring the interest of Black contractors.
The creation of the bills, executive orders, acts and offices of opportunity during the 1960s and into the 70s were supposed to put an end to systemic forms of racism, yet those systems have endured — and are, perhaps, as strong as they have ever been.Systems purport they are promoting diversity, but the definition of diversity has become skewed and disjointed.
All a seasoned Black contractor wants to know is, “Why isn’t diversity me?”