Maybe We Shouldn't Take Our Black Bodies To South Beach
Prior to 1959, Black people were restricted by law to one beach.
April 06, 2021 at 6:14 pm
Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
Aside from the "Bruh, what's going on in your state?" texts I get whenever #FloridaMan is trending, there is nothing more irritating than having to make the distinction between Miami and Miami Beach — a source of irritation for most Miami natives. (See JT’s opening bars from "City On Lock.") There is context to this sensitivity. With the circulation of recent spring break footage and news coverage in Miami Beach, my phone is buzzing. So, let's talk about it.
First, let's open up with some history. We are one generation removed from Black people needing a permit to even be in Miami Beach. In The Beast In Florida: A History of Anti-Black Violence, quoting Jim Loewen, Dr. Marvin Dunn noted, "all Florida cities with the name 'Beach' in them, including Miami Beach, prohibited nonwhites from living within their borders."
Dunn goes on to describe Black people being "required to have a pass signed by a white person explaining the reason for their presence" if they remained in these cities after dark. This undergirds the way Black people are treated in Miami Beach and covered in the media while visiting.
Not only that, prior to 1959, Black people were restricted by law to one beach — Virginia Key Beach — which we not only had to fight for through the "wade-ins" at Haulover Beach, but was also only accessible by boat from downtown Miami. This is equivalent to taking the ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island, just to go to the beach. Policymakers and property owners in Miami Beach have historically made it hostile and inhospitable for Black people, even as they contribute significantly to the billions of dollars that flow through the city’s economy every year.
Fast-forward, I remember being on South Beach in 2002 during Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day weekends were legendary then. I saw the most beautiful women on the planet, countless celebrities — including Janet Jackson — and a display of automotive and fashion brilliance that is still unmatched almost 20 years later. It was also stressful. Just to get to Miami Beach required passing through checkpoints. Once you got to the strip you were met by more police from three to four different municipalities (including state troopers). They were positioned on roofs, patrolling on foot, bikes, rollerblades, four-wheelers, in patrol cars, paddy-wagons, unmarked cars and, lest we forget, Miami-Dade County's customized "greyhound" bus that was used to load detainees for transport to pre-trial and return for refills.
There were officers in uniform and others who walked around in tourist attire waiting to catch you smoking weed or with an open container of alcohol. The phrase, "I came on vacation and left on probation," became popular at this time for obvious reasons. Just to put this in context, though what I described above sounds sufficient for a world war, I’m referring to a strip of land between Washington, Collins and Ocean from 5th street to about 17th street. That's a 2.5-mile perimeter.
The City of Miami Beach would collaborate with the neighboring Miami-Dade County and City of Miami to organize an around-the-clock military to patrol, over a four-day period, an area just short of a 5K, a distance my 84-year-old Grandma can jog comfortably.
Here is why context matters: We are less than three years removed from Florida's last gubernatorial election. The same voter suppression and disenfranchisement that robbed Stacy Abrams of her place in Georgia's governor's mansion allowed Ron DeSantis to be elected over Andrew Gillum in 2018.
We are still in a pandemic and economic crisis because over 62 million people and a slavery-inspired electoral college elected an unqualified, uneducated, racist criminal as President of the United States.
It was on this man's coattail that the current governor of Florida hinged his campaign, pulling directly from 45's playbook the straight-faced denial of science and the logic behind masks and lockdowns. Say what you want about Andrew Gillum, but I think it's safe to say this would not have happened on his watch.
So, let's have a real conversation about how "we" got here. Pundits, commenters and others want to make this about race. More specifically, about wild ass Black people on South Beach. Here is a quick geography lesson. These Florida counties — Gadsen, Leon, Alachua, Duval, Seminole, Orange, Osceola, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach — have two things in common: (1) large concentrations of Black people and (2) electoral victories for both Andrew Gillum and Joseph Biden. Now, you tell me where the wild things are.
To answer your question, what’s going on in my state is that white Floridians voted as a majority for 45 — who referred to COVID-19 as a “Chinese virus” — and the current governor’s irresponsible stances in a pandemic are putting all Florida residents and visitors at risk. Property owners in Miami Beach have never been welcoming to Black people, and the media continues to jump at the opportunity to propagate a narrative to justify that hostility. Never mind the wild, white, spring breakers just a couple of hours away at Ft. Myers Beach.
So here we are in 2021. I'm still responding to texts. And clearly, we still need a signed pass from white people explaining the reason for our presence in Miami Beach after dark.