Thursday, April 9, 2015

American Apartheid

In the wake of the Walter Scott murder, Lawrence Brown notes an interesting fact at TPM:
As statistician Nate Silver has noted, most police don’t live in the cities they serve and patrol. This is especially true for white police officers. Out of the 75 largest cities in the U.S., only 35 percent of white police officers live in the cities they serve; rather, a large majority of white police officers live in suburbs surrounding the city.

In cities such as Baltimore, Houston, Detroit, Denver, Newark, Los Angeles, Birmingham, Tampa, Orlando, Minneapolis, Oakland and Miami, fewer than 25 percent of white officers live in the cities they patrol. This might not seem to be a big deal—until one considers that most suburbs were extremely segregated until the 1980s due to the critical role of the Federal Housing Administration in subsidizing the construction of suburbs. Therefore, white police officers live in and/or grew up in disproportionately white suburbs.

Federal, state and local policies also explain the conditions of urban black neighborhoods that white police officers will patrol after commuting from their suburban home. America’s residential segregation is a result of over 100 years’ worth of race- and eugenics-based policies, including... [the article lists five of them] ...

Due to these devastating government policies that sanctioned racial segregation, the areas where more than 60 percent of white police officers live are jurisdictions where black people have been intentionally excluded. This creates a dynamic where most white police officers who live in suburbs and patrol in black neighborhoods are commuting to work with ingrained, longstanding racial biases and stereotypes intact. As James Loewen argues in Sundown Towns: “Segregated neighborhoods make it easier to discriminate against African Americans in schooling, housing, and city services.”

Shocking, isn't it? I certainly didn't realize that.

The effects of racism linger on for generations. Indeed, despite changed policies, younger people are still raised racist - less so than previously, true, but we're definitely not 'over' racism.

And let's not forget the politics of it. After the Democrats took a stand for equal rights and against racial segregation, Republican Party leaders began their 'Southern strategy' of deliberately wooing racists. They were probably no more racist than most Americans, but they really wanted to use those people for their own political advantage. (It worked, but that flood of racists into the party has had a huge long-term effect on the GOP.)

And the South did not integrate. If state-sponsored racial segregation was illegal, there were still plenty of other ways to stay segregated. White southerners took their kids from public schools,... and stopped supporting the public school system. Meanwhile, they still wanted government support for their schools (the initial impetus behind vouchers and the 'Moral Majority,' among other right-wing policies).

As this article points out, racial zoning was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1917. And restrictive covenants, which also kept blacks, Jews, and other minorities out of neighborhoods, was found unconstitutional in 1948. Those rulings didn't stop the problem. They helped, but... it's just not that easy.

Note that politicians from both parties betrayed the 1968 Fair Housing Act, either through politically motivated racism or cowardice. And LBJ's war on poverty is, to date, the only war right-wingers haven't loved, the only war in which they were willing - even eager - to surrender and accept defeat.

Even today, de facto racial segregation is a reality. Even today, the Republican Party uses racism for political purposes. Today, white Americans are actually raising money to support Michael Slager, the white cop who murdered Walter Scott (while another white cop did nothing and went along with the coverup).

The effects of generations of slavery, followed by generations of segregation and blatant racism, aren't so easily fixed. We've definitely made progress - we should never forget that - but we still have a long way to go.

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