Lefty Resource Library

Posting articles as I go

Month: December, 2014

Creating racial categories to divide and conquer

Exploitated white and black workers were rising up together in the US in the 17thC. The government reacted by outlawing slavery of white people but not black people. This was a strategy used to quash uprising and placate the underclasses in a way that would allow exploitation to continue efficiently because “The great thing about the divide-and-conquer of creating white-skin privilege is that you don’t have to give people thusly bought off anything more” – having power relative to some others is enough.

Similar ‘divide and rule’ approaches were used throughout the colonial project:

As the aristocrats and their successors traveled around the world through the colonial age, Europeans all over would find or define a group within the colonial territory and elevate it above the other groups, give it some privileges, though never enough to challenge the intruding rulers. In exchange for this slightly elevated status, the rulers would make those people do the colonial dirty work, and usually keep them slightly more well off than their fellows. Over time, these slightly elevated people often tried to keep their European masters in power even after the people realized how evil colonialism was, maintaining the system both to keep above their fellows and out of fear of retaliation for the dirty work they’d done.

God made the whites to serve kings, and everyone else to serve whites. 

View at Medium.com

Government policy creating segregated neighbourhoods: Ferguson case study

Government policy did much of the work in creating the segregation and inequality of today’s US (with potential implications for the power of government policy and institutional change in general).

Points out that often seemingly integrated neighbourhoods today are actually just in transition from mostly black to white or vice versa.

Some tools used:

Racially explicit zoning decisions that designated specific ghetto boundaries within the city of St. Louis, turning black neighborhoods into slums;
Segregated public housing projects that separated blacks and whites who had previously lived in more integrated urban areas;
Restrictive covenants, excluding African Americans from white areas, that began as private agreements but then were adopted as explicit public policy;
Government subsidies for white suburban developments that excluded blacks, depriving African Americans of the 20th century home-equity driven wealth gains reaped by whites;
Denial of adequate municipal services in ghettos, leading to slum conditions in black neighborhoods that reinforced whites’ conviction that “blacks” and “slums” were synonymous;
Boundary, annexation, spot zoning, and municipal incorporation policies designed to remove African Americans from residence near white neighborhoods, or to prevent them from establishing residence near white neighborhoods;
Urban renewal and redevelopment programs to shift ghetto locations, in the guise of cleaning up those slums;
Government regulators’ tacit (and sometimes open) support for real estate and financial sector policies and practices that explicitly promoted residential segregation;
A government-sponsored dual labor market that made suburban housing less affordable for African Americans by preventing them from accumulating wealth needed to participate in homeownership.


Once the first zoning ordinance was adopted, City Plan Commission meetings were consumed with requests for variances. Race was an important consideration. One meeting in 1919 was devoted to a proposal to reclassify a single-family property from first residential to commercial, because the area to the south had been “invaded by negroes.” Bartholomew persuaded the commission to deny the variance because, he said, keeping the first residential designation would preserve homes in the area as unaffordable to blacks, and thus stop the encroachment. On other occasions the commission changed an area’s zoning from residential to industrial if black families began to move into it. In 1927, violating its normal policy, the commission placed a park and playground in an industrial, not residential area, in hopes that this placement would draw black families to seek housing nearby.


Called “restrictive covenants,” the first in St. Louis was recorded in 1910.28 Later, covenants were promoted nationwide by the National Association of Real Estate Boards, which provided model language. In St. Louis, the Real Estate Exchange provided a “Uniform Restriction Agreement” for neighborhood associations to use. By 1945, about 300 neighborhood covenants were in force.29

The legal instruments took two forms. In one, homebuilders attached clauses to property deeds committing the first and subsequent buyers of a house never to sell that property to an African American or permit the property to be occupied by one. Exceptions were typically made for live-in domestic servants. In the other, associations of homeowners in particular neighborhoods signed mutual agreements that no member of the association would sell to, or permit occupancy by, an African American – again, with a similar exception. The second form was easier to enforce, because any signatory had standing to compel compliance. The Real Estate Exchange itself was typically a signatory, and it frequently initiated litigation to prevent a breach.

Suggests many things about the relationship between contemporary government decision making and history, e.g. seemingly deliberate ahistoricism that refuses to take past policy into account in decision making about service provision and discrimination. All subsidisation decisions are probably deeply steeped in this approach, not only in regard to race, but also other discrimination. Governments should not pretend they have no responsibility for the actions taken by previous governments. Ahistoricism in policy is the enemy (or, one of the enemies).

Although policies to impose segregation are no longer explicit, their effects endure in neighborhoods segregated by race in the North, South, East, and West. When we blame private prejudice and snobbishness for contemporary segregation, we not only whitewash our own history, but avoid considering whether new policies might instead promote an integrated community.

Various thoughts

designated zones for future industrial development if they were in or adjacent to neighborhoods with substantial black populations

– Health and standard-of-living discrimination with ongoing effects

– ALL slums in the developed world created, with varying degrees of intentionality (including, of course COMPLETE intentionality) by policy?

– ALL zoning decisions generally racist and classist?

Even accounting for home improvement investments that owners of these homes have made since 1952, the capital gain for white homeowners, and their heirs, endures. The federal government’s support for residential segregation in the mid-20th century is largely responsible for the fact that while the median family income of African Americans is now about 60 percent of whites’ income, the median household wealth of African Americans is only about 5 percent of whites’ wealth.47 This enormous difference translates into differences between blacks and whites in the security and comfort of retirement (and in the obligations of adult children to divert their incomes to support elderly parents), in the ability of young people to attend college, and in the selectivity of the colleges they can afford to attend.

– Restricting social services and subsidies to some groups gives those groups massive demonstrable intergenerational advantage

Whites observed the black ghetto and concluded that slum conditions were characteristic of black families, not a result of housing discrimination. This conclusion reinforced whites’ resistance to racial integration, lest black residents bring slum conditions to white communities.51 Thus, to the extent we attribute segregation of the contemporary St. Louis metropolitan area to white flight, government policy bears some responsibility for creating conditions that supported the racial stereotypes fueling such flight.

– cf. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples