The Enduring Legacy of Slavery

February 18, 2019 § 2 Comments

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This came through my feed on Facebook a few days ago.  It’s worth re-posting and it’s worth a deeper commentary.  The United States was founded upon slavery.  Fact.  The Founding Fathers included slave owners.  Face.  The Founding Fathers didn’t deal with slavery in the Constitution.  Fact.  The Civil War happened because the South seceded over slavery.  Fact.  The Southern response to Emancipation was Black Codes, the Ku Klux Klan and segregation.  Fact.  Desegregation only happened because of the intervention of the Supreme Court.  Fact.

But.  None of this is a Southern thing.  Slavery initially existed in the North as well.  But even after the North banned slavery, it benefited from slavery.  The American industrial revolution began in Lowell, MA, due to the easy availability of Southern cotton.  The North got wealthy, in other words, on the backs of Southern slaves.   The North countenanced slavery.

After the Civil War, the North countenanced segregation.  The second Ku Klux Klan emerged in Atlanta, true, but it operated all over the country.  And, following Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision that desegregated schools, the North was affected, most notably during the Boston Busing Crisis in the 1970s.

But even with the official end of desegregation with Brown v. Board, it’s not like segregation went away.  Schools today remain very segregated across the United States due to the outcomes of racism, poverty and housing choices.  In fact, one of the outcomes of the Boston Busing Crisis.  The busing ‘experiment’ in Boston ended in 1988, by which time the Boston school district had shrunk from 100,000 students to only 57,000.  Only 15% of those students were white.  As of 2008, Boston’s public schools were 76% African American and Hispanic, and only 14% white.  Meanwhile, Boston’s white, non-Hispanic population in 2000 was 55% white.  White Bostonians pulled their children out of the city’s public schools and either enrolled them in private schools, or moved to the white suburbs.

As for housing, the Washington Post found last year, the United States is a more diverse nation than ever here in the early 21st century, but its cities remain segregated.  Historian Richard Rothstein has found that the segregation of American cities was not by accident.

Then there’s the question of redlining, which was officially banned with the Fair Housing Act of 1968.  But all that means is that banks and financial institutions have become more clever at discriminating against African Americans and other minorities.  And more to the point, those areas of American cities that were redlined when this was legal in the 1930s continue to suffer from the same prejudices today.

Slavery and the complete and utter failure of Reconstruction after the Civil War means that African Americans in the United States today live in the long shadow of slavery and institutionalized racism.  So, while the meme above is correct that it was only in 1954 that segregation is outlawed, I would be a lot more hesitant about the green light African Americans have there from 1954 onwards.

 

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Residential Segregation

September 23, 2015 § 2 Comments

Sometimes I’m shocked by segregation, in that it still exists.  It exists in Canada.  Don’t believe me?  Look at East Vancouver, the North Side of Winnipeg, the Jane-Finch corridor in Toronto, or Saint-Michel in Montreal.  But, in the US it is even more shocking.  Boston was the most racist place I’ve ever seen, the casual racism of Bostonians towards black people, the comments on BostonGlobe.com. Or the fact that people told me that The Point, an immigrant neighbourhood of Salem, MA, was a place where “you can get shot.”  Or the simple fact that residential segregation was very obvious in and around Boston.  Unless you take public transit (as in the bus or the subway), you could live your entire life in Boston without noticing people of colour there.

Down here in Alabama, though, it’s not a simple question of race, class is also central to residential segregation.  I live in a small city (so small, in fact, that my neighbourhood in Montreal is about the same size as this city in terms of population).  I live in a neighbourhood that is comfortably middle-class, veering towards upper-middle class the closer you get to the university.  But, in the midst of this, there are a few blocks that look like something you’d expect to see in the 1920s in a Southern city.  These images below are from one of these streets, a block behind my house.  These houses are essentially a version of a shotgun house.  The block behind me is about 70% black, 30% white.  It is also full of abandoned houses, empty lots, and lots with the ruins of homes.  The street itself is about a car-width wide, and where I come from, would be called a back alley.

IMG_0137 IMG_0138IMG_0143IMG_0130What is perhaps most shocking to me is how an apartment complex (which my neighbours all eye suspiciously) ensures this segregation with fencing designed to keep the riff raff out. To me, the very clear segregation of this block is shocking.  Almost as surprising and shocking this block is in the midst of my neighbourhood.  For example, the final photo is of the next block over from this street.IMG_0140

 

 

 

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