Bruce Ratner has stabbed his black supporters in the back.
The Atlantic Yards developer’s arena naming-rights deal with Barclays, the British bank whose history includes funding the slave trade and doing business with South Africa’s apartheid government, is a stunning insult by a man who has so aggressively courted the support of black leaders over the past three years.
Whenever Ratner needed to show that his oversized, gentrification-causing Atlantic Yards project would be a good deal for Brooklyn, he trotted out those usual suspects, many of whom he paid, to sing his praises.
Yet now — a few weeks after his project gained state approval, and a few days after a national holiday to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. — Ratner has trashed whatever legitimate good will he might have had in the black community by announcing that his arena would bear the Barclays name.
Councilwoman Letitia James — an Atlantic Yards opponent who is black — saw the significance immediately, saying that Ratner’s deal insulted blacks.
“[Blacks] were just tools used by Ratner to get this project passed,” she said.
It’s further insulting when you consider that many project supporters have urged Ratner to name the arena after a truly great African-American whose contributions to Brooklyn are still being felt: Jackie Robinson.
But that wouldn’t have earned Ratner any money, let alone the hundreds of millions he’ll pocket from the Barclays deal, so you know where that idea ended up.
That an old, established, global bank has some skeletons in its closet should not surprise anyone. But the particular nature of Barclays skeletons should have given Ratner pause.
Those who downplay the significance of having the Barclays name atop a publicly subsidized arena that African-Americans will walk past every day — and where African-Americans will earn their living, both on the court and in the concessions stands — should put themselves in the shoes of the descendents of the slaves that Barclays family members once traded as property.
Naming an arena after a slave-trading family is a slap in the face, akin to a developer building an arena in Borough Park — with its high population of Holocaust survivors — and naming it “Volkswagen Field.”
It is time for elected officials, most of whom enabled Ratner’s use of racial politics throughout the Atlantic Yards approval process, to stand up for blacks, for history, for integrity and, indeed, for all of Brooklyn and urge Bruce Ratner to find another corporate partner.